Shortly after boarding a recent flight from Orange County, California to Houston, Texas I pulled out my rosary to advance my daily prayers. This is a common practice among members of the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property (TFP). The practice frequently catches the attention of nearby passengers as it did with the lady sitting next to me. I will call her Jean.
“Now I feel safe,” Jean said. When I asked why, she responded, “Because of that,” as she pointed to my rosary.
“It’s made of ivory,” I said, “a friend gave it to me.” At that moment her husband who I will call Bill, chimed in, “That is the best ‘insurance policy’ you could have.”
Prayer as an “Insurance Policy Mentality”
After this brief interaction, our plane made its way to the designated runway when I witnessed a frightening scene. A small Cesna had just landed and was racing down the runway when, further down the runway, a passenger plane entered and stopped in its path. The Cesna veered side to side as it attempted to stop. It then accelerated, took flight once again and barely made it over the top of the jet.
I pointed this out to the couple who were more than a bit startled but quickly dismissed the event with a note of optimism. After all everything usually turns out well… especially if you have an insurance policy.
Our plane took off without a problem. During the four-hour flight, Jean played Candy Crush—a video game for which she admitted having an addiction—for nearly the entire flight before switching to a jig-saw puzzle app game. Bill distracted himself in other ways before he too got out his smartphone.
Despite being engrossed in a fascinating book about a young man who escaped from a hellish North Korean gulag, I would occasionally stop and reflect on Bill’s comment about my “insurance policy.”
What struck me was how the remark transmitted the idea that prayer is only what people do when their lives might be in danger. While this is a legitimate reason to pray, the primary reason for prayer is to honor God and ask for the graces to mold ourselves into what He wants us to be. This “insurance-policy-mentality” makes prayer a kind of lightning rod that protects the person and those around him from misfortune.
“I Assessed my Relationship With God and Found it Wanting”
My thoughts then wandered to the story of Frederick Berretta who was aboard the plane which made a miraculous landing on the Hudson River on January 15, 2009. In his book, Flight of Faith: My Miracle on the Hudson, he vividly described what went through his head as the plane silently floated downwards toward the frigid waters of the Hudson. He instinctively reached for his Blackberry to call his wife, but realized there would be no time.
He then grabbed his Pieta prayer book, placed it in his shirt pocket close to his heart, and began to pray like he never had before. He asked God to have mercy on all of his fellow passengers. The most gripping line in his book was how he described the feeling of being minutes away from appearing before his eternal Judge.
“I must go as the man I am now, sitting on this airplane, not the one I wish to be someday,” he recalled thinking. “I assessed my relationship with God and found it wanting.”
His brush with death had a very happy end with his survival. My flight mate would have said that Mr. Berreta’s “insurance policy” paid off big time. However, there are also those who pray but do not have the same “happy end.”
When God Called, She Was Ready
My thoughts then turned toward the circumstances of another flight. I wrote an article titled “When God Calls” about Elizabeth, who boarded Flight 3047 bound for Buffalo, New York in February of 2009.
Years before that fateful day she had been living in sin with a man to whom she was not married. Her conscience bothered her. She eventually gave him an ultimatum: “Either we get married and regularize our situation or I am going to move back home and care for my elderly mother.” He refused and she followed through on her promise.
Elizabeth not only returned home but she got back into her Catholic Faith. She started going to daily Mass and praying the rosary. Whenever asked how she got through this difficult time in her life, she would simply hold up her rosary and say, “This is how.”
She was most likely praying on the plane as it approached its destination and thus had her own “insurance policy.” However, her “policy” did not “pay off” on this Earth. Due to icy conditions and pilot error, her plane crashed in a residential area. There were no survivors.
While she did not survive, she did spend her last years on Earth honoring God and His Blessed Mother. She did not go before God as a person leading a sinful life but rather as an exemplary devotee of Our Lady. “When God called,” as I said in my article, “Elizabeth was ready.”
With these reflections swirling through my mind, I glanced over at Jean who was still playing mindless games on her phone, as was her husband. Perhaps they felt safe since they were sitting next to someone who had an “insurance policy” that covered them from an untimely death in a plane crash.
Frenetic Intemperance Is an Enemy of Interior Life
When the captain announced that we were landing, I took advantage to pray another rosary. My travel mates were so engrossed in their glowing screens they did not even notice me making “payments” on my “insurance plan.” Before landing, I decided to share with them my reflections about Mr. Berretta and Elizabeth.
It turns out that Bill is a fallen away Catholic who grew up listening to Archbishop Fulton Sheen. He shared my sadness regarding the changes in the Church, and seemed visibly moved by the stories narrated above. What seemed to grab him most was the idea of Mr. Berretta facing death, and wishing he had more time to prepare. He also was impressed by Elizabeth who did not get a second chance but was ready to go.
I actually liked Bill and Jean very much, but could not help but notice how they are victims of the frenetic intemperance that dominates our society. If they were able to detach themselves from technology and so many other distractions, they could cultivate their interior lives, which would include prayer, study, silence and reflection.
As I wrote this article on the second leg of my trip home, these reflections triggered me to ask myself: Am I the person I want to be or am I also waiting for that someday which may never come?
Dear reader, I hope you might also benefit from these considerations and ask yourself the same question.
The frenetic intemperance of our rushed and impulsive society is like a disease that does not necessarily kill the body but pollutes the soul. Not taking measures to combat it is extremely dangerous because no one knows the day or hour when God will call. One thing is for sure, when that time comes, we will go as the person we are at that moment. Let us pray that we will not be the one we wish to be someday.