October 12, 2006

Over southern France

Our cabin is starting to buzz again after most everyone had a few hours of shuteye.  Unfortunately, I was not one of them.  I ordinarily have a difficult time sleeping on airplanes.  My current seat, on an aisle, made it more difficult, with people walking by usually brushing up against me.  I have a feeling that I’ll really be dragging later on today.

For here, it’s a little after 7 a.m.  Back where we started, it’s around 1 a.m.

So, in a way, I’ve been keeping vigil over the past few hours.  I watched a monitor in our cabin matter-of-factly tell me that we were traveling more than 600 mph and that the temperature just a matter of feet away from me outside of the plane was a mere -67 degrees Fahrenheit.

The monitor also tracked our course across the Atlantic.  When I gave up hope of sleeping, I noticed we were tracking along the south coast of Ireland, the home of my fathers’ ancestors.  Soon thereafter, we were flying along the south coast of Brittany, the region of France in which Blessed Mother Theodore Guerin was born in 1798 and from which, as a religious sister, she came in 1840 as a missionary to the fledgling Diocese of Vincennes on the American frontier.

Mother Theodore’s voyages across the Atlantic were long and often treacherous, the ships on which she rode often being tossed about by storms.  Along the way, she was known in especially dire situations to turn to her provident God in prayer.  A book of the Psalms that she used in these trans-Atlantic trips is on now on display at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. A photo of it and other examples of her personal articles can be seen on this website.

My own flight has been not been like Mother Theodore’s passages.  The airplane on which I’ve been riding has only experienced some very minor turbulence.

But the soon-to-be-saint’s voyages and that of my own got me thinking of an ancient image of the Church—that of the ship, the barque of Peter.

This has been a powerful ecclesial metaphor for most of the history of the Church since those who traveled by ship could easily connect the protection a ship gave to its passengers from the storms that raged on the seas with the spiritual defense the Church gave its children against the snares of the Devil.

Could a jetliner be a modern updating of this image?  Perhaps.  Somehow, almost miraculously, the airplane’s powerful engines allow us to sit peacefully 35,000 above the earth, protected from the bitter cold just outside the thin windows along its fuselage.

The Church, with its spiritual treasures, gives us the opportunity to fly to spiritual heights and to find the warmth of God’s love when we have been in the dark coldness of this broken world.

Yes, this updated analogy might just work.  But, as St. Thomas Aquinas once wrote, all analogies limp.  And I suppose I experienced the shortcomings of the Church as jetliner after giving up my attempts at slumber.

Using a control panel that came out of an armrest, I played a video game displayed on a small screen on the back of the seat in front of me.  I think it would be a stretch of one’s spiritual sensibilities to fit that into the image of Church as jetliner…

Posted by Sean Gallagher at 3:10 p.m. on Thursday, October 12, 2006


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