Monday, June 27, 2016

But Never the Heresy

'The dogmas of the church are like bricks, solid things with which a man can build... the Church has been and will always be intolerant so far as the rights of God are concerned, for heresy, error and untruth affect not personal matters on which She (the Church) may yield, but a Divine Right in which there is no yielding. The truth is divine; the heretic is human.

'Due reparation made, the Church will admit the heretic back into the treasure of Her souls, but never the heresy into the treasure of her wisdom. Right is right even if nobody is right; and wrong is wrong even if everybody is wrong.'

Fulton J. Sheen

Painting: John Macallan Swan, The Prodigal Son, 1888

Thursday, June 23, 2016

With Singing Lips

Painting: Thomas Cooper Gotch, Alleluia; in US public domain due to age PD-1923

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Someone Interesting on the Plane

Until fifteen years ago, I had never met anyone "interesting" on a plane.  Oh, I know amazing persons were all around me, but I'd never struck up a conversation with one.

That changed the day I decided to say a prayer.

I felt a little silly, asking for something as trivial as "could I please sit beside someone interesting on the plane?" It was a quick prayer, uttered as I hurried out the door to board a flight to another (American) state. 

I don't remember exactly how the seating went, but for some last-minute reason there was a quick exchange. By the time we were airborne, Mr. and Mrs. S. had switched to the seats beside me.

I have no idea how the subject of "Australia" came up (I probably was carrying a souvenir tote bag), but here we were, shortly after take-off, going from hello-nice-to-meet-you into conversation about a land across the earth.  Mr. and Mrs. S. had never been there; I had.  They said they knew one person in Australia, a lady named Katherine, who was from the U.S. and had once lived in their American hometown.  Katherine had been a neighbor of Mr. S., and a good friend of his mother's when he was growing up.  After being widowed at a relatively young age, Katherine met and married an Australian gentleman.  As Katherine's story unfolded before me, I began to think of Kate.

Dear American Kate.  I'd met her when my husband and I were staying with friends in a tiny Australian town.  Kate was a member of my friends' Catholic parish, was so happy to meet us, and loved to talk with The Americans about "home."  She was a refined elderly lady who welcomed us into her home for tea. We wrote each other several times a year after my return to the States.

Mr. and Mrs. S. and their family had lost touch with their friend Katherine, but they'd been so intrigued by how she'd met her Australian husband that they told me more about it.

This was starting to sound familiar.  Why, Katherine had met her husband in the same way Kate met hers.  How unusual.  I told Kate's story to my new friends. The two accounts were identical.  

Could Kate and Katherine be one and the same person?  Mrs. S. was astonished at the very possibility.  I mean (she kept asking), what were the odds?  The Australian town was a tiny one, across the continent from Sydney... not a place many Americans happen to visit.  To sit on a plane next to a woman who'd been there and knew their friend would be an amazing circumstance. 

Long-story-less-long:  Katherine was, of course, Kate.  And through a last minute switch of plane seats and exchanged addresses, I was able to help long-lost friends re-establish contact across the earth.

Mrs. S. phoned me several times over the years after our meeting.  In almost every conversation, she said, still with that obvious astonishment, "we know ONE person in the entire continent of Australia, and we happen to sit on a plane next to a woman who knows her too!?!!"  

Of course, the woman sitting next to Mrs. S. had prayed.  Taking a quick minute as I headed out the door, I'd asked for something quite tiny in the grand scheme of things.  Or so it seemed.  Only God knows how it all played out in the lives of reconnected friends.

Mrs. S. phoned me for the last time a few years ago.  She wanted me to know that, just after celebrating her 100th birthday, Katherine had recently died.

Always when I think of that day on the plane, I am struck by the power of prayer.  I'm reminded of the truth that anything we ask of God can never be too "small" for His attention.  God answered my tiny prayer in a big way.

I sat beside someone interesting on the plane.

This is a slightly updated repost from our archives. I thought of it when I read a kind comment on a recent post.... thank you, Wilma! 

© Nancy Shuman

Photo via Unsplash.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Who Do I Think I Am?

I have tracked down my spiritual roots! This is no small thing for someone whose Baptismal name is different from the one on her birth certificate, and who had been told years ago that there was "no church by that name" in the city where she was baptized. And whose parents and alleged godparents (was my favorite uncle really my godfather? one seemed totally sure) are all deceased.

But today, here it was. A call from a chancery. Yes, there was a church by that name, of course there was. When I was born it was a tiny, brand new parish in a tiny, rural suburb. Part of the city, but not exactly. A tiny unknown parish for a tiny, unknown, brand new baby girl. Thankfully it still exists, as do its records. They're kept in old books, like the ones people thumb through on the TV program "Who Do You Think You Are" (explained a friendly secretary on the phone today).

Never mind that my family moved from there when I was a toddler. Never mind that my baptismal name was not the same as my birth name - I had always known why, and it was simple. I'd been named Nancy Ann, and on Baptismal Day the priest refused to give me that name. Babies were baptized in Latin in those days, and in that language Nancy and Ann were the same. Father was not about to baptize this child "Anna Anna." My suddenly-rattled mother thought of one of her sisters, and I was baptized Nancy Helen. Which caused a bit of confusion in my Catholic grade school years, but fortunately provided me with an additional patron saint.

There is a lot of interest in genealogy today. Television programs feature people who are thrilled to discover heroic ancestors, long lost links, even living relatives. I find it intriguing.

Nothing, however, has been as thrilling for me as learning the exact date of my Baptism (which I had never known), and that this took place in a church I'd been told did not exist, and that my favorite uncle was indeed my godfather. With one simple phone call, I was able to track down actual, written-on-paper evidence of my relation to every saint in every age of the Church.

"We believe in the communion of all the faithful of Christ, those who are pilgrims on earth, the dead who are being purified, and the blessed in heaven, all together forming one Church." (Pope Paul VI)

I am Nancy Helen, a member of the Body of Christ, and I'm thus related to every hero of the faith throughout the ages. I was claimed by Jesus Christ through the Sacrament of Baptism when I was three weeks and three days old. I am Nancy Helen, a daughter of God the Father and a servant of Christ my only Lord.

And that is who I know I am.

Painting: Matthijs Maris, Christening Procession in Lausanne

A Silent Yearning

Painting: Carl Frederic Aagaard, The Deer Park, in US public domain due to age

Thursday, June 2, 2016