Flight Night

atonement-lgThere are two kinds of stories. Someone goes on a journey. A stranger comes to town. Often these storytelling techniques occur simultaneously.

For instance: years ago, the kind words of a Cuban rosary warrior named Rosemary Sharpe spurred me to begin anew my journey to the priesthood.

One morning I was praying in the chapel when she approached me and said, “You should be a priest.”

“You must have me confused with somebody else,” I replied.

“You look holy,” she said.

Now I was sure that she was crazy. Muy loca. “Senora, you don’t know me very well.”

The following Monday found me sitting in the vocations office. “Discernment,” the VD told me. “Start shopping around. You never know where God may be calling you.”

Most definitely. And now here I in one of the finest Catholic churches I’ve ever encountered.

This morning at the Chrism Mass in the Cathedral my brother priests and I renewed the promises we made at our respective ordinations.

We do this on Holy Thursday because it was on this night that Jesus gave us the Eucharist and, by extension, the ministerial priesthood.

The priesthood and the Eucharist are inseparable, which is why we must not only pray for more vocations to the priesthood but we must also put the question to men in the pews: Have you ever thought about becoming a priest?

Rosemary Sharpe, bless her heart, was a little loca, but because she asked the question, I came a priest. Gracias.

To that I say, “It happened to me, it could happen to you.” If it happened to ME it could happen to anyone!

None of us priests are worthy to the calling, but we follow the call nonetheless.

It’s not just became I’m broken, flawed, skewered, and filled with fear and trembling, like Saint Paul wrote. It’s because I rise each morning and choose to take up my cross, neither an obstacle nor a stumbling block.

I can’t not take up my cross. Why? Because I am my cross, and will live with and carry it until the day I die. The priest is nailed to his own cross as was the Lord.

Jesus could have come down from the Cross—his enemies derided him to—but he remained on the Cross to consummate the covenant of the Eucharist.

The cross stands revealed as the tree of life in the Garden of Eden. And the cross is the key that gate which barred Adam and Eve from the Garden.

Everybody who knows me personally knows that I don’t fly. It’s not because I fear falling from the aircraft. Rather, I’m claustrophobic and sitting in a giant steel tube hurtling through space at five hundred miles and hour and thirty- thousand feet above the earth is an unpleasant experience, worse than trying to fold a fitted sheet.

“Airport logic” mandates faith.

But when I accepted that God was calling me to become a priest I boarded many flights because I was on a mission

issued to me by the Mysterious Stranger. A journey. I wanted to reach my destination as fast as I could.

The ancient Israelites were kind of like that, but not really. Enslaved in Egypt for 430 years they weren’t too cool with Moses when in the middle of the night he commanded them to leave the only homeland they had ever known. But Moses wasn’t the type of man who took “no” for an answer.

So he roused them from their beds, told them to suit up, show up, and shut up, and that they were about to witness an event the likes of which they had never seen before, a marvel that God commanded them to commemorate for eternity.

In short, Flight Night. The Passover. The firstborn of the Egyptians struck down by creeping death, who spared the Israelites because they painted their doorposts with the blood of the Lamb.

On my vocational journey I flew to New Orleans to visit the Society of Jesus. Don’t call us, we’ll call you, I was told. Fair enough. I never felt that I was smart enough to join a religious community full of brainiacs.

I took another flight to Washington, D.C. and spent time at a Franciscan friary. That didn’t feel right either. How could I live down being known as “Friar Tuck” for the rest of my life?

Onward. Journeys shape and enhance our identity, change and challenge us.

The Israelites never could imagine at the outset that God called them to be a special people who belonged to the invisible presence that vanquished their enemies, parted the Red Sea, and gave them the Ten Commandments.

In time they grew to love, serve, and fear God and his servant Moses.

They could look back and realize that God’s plan for them was greater than the slavery under which they suffered in Egypt for hundreds of years.

Paradoxically submission no longer meant enslavement but freedom. God empowered them. Christ does the same with us through his Body and Blood.

The Passover of the Lord established an eternal relationship between God and his children. Jesus put a new spin on that, extended the covenant to include all nations on earth.

As with Passover, it is the Eucharist that forms us, shapes our identity, and provides Viaticum: food for the journey. Jesus is the mysterious stranger who commands us to keep the perpetual memorial of the night he gave us the Eucharist and established the priesthood.

If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow. As I have done for you, you also should do for one another. (Jn 13:15)

I can’t do anything on an airplane except pray. No in-flight movies, reading, or chatting with other passengers.

The last time I boarded a plane – July 2009, to return from Mexico City to Boston – was the worst flight I ever encountered.

The craft climbed to more than 40,000 feet to avoid turbulence but she pitched and jumped and rocked for hours. Many airsick bags got soiled.

I knew I wasn’t the only passenger on board praying. But I had faith. I thought, “Nothing’s going to happen – we’re on a mission from God.”

We have now begun the Sacred Paschal Triduum, the most holy moment in the long, strange trip that is Christianity, a never-ending voyage across the sea of tranquility with occasional turbulence.

We’ve followed Christ through the desert for forty days of Lent and are prepared to press on along the journey to inconceivable heights to which Jesus Christ, yesterday, today, and tomorrow, leads us. Destination: Easter, the Resurrection. I know that we are near.

We are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a people special to God in ways not even the Israelites could have imagined.

There is reason for the season. The Lord has commanded us to keep the faith and to sacrifice him on the altar, to take the Word into the streets, on the road, on the highways, the byways and aboard Jet Blue.

Jesus is God’s gift to us but in order to keep that gift we have to give it away.

Ladies and Gentlemen: Please put away all electronic devices and fasten your seat belts until we’ve reached cruising altitude.

We’re on a mission from God.

Father Cordani was ordained to the priesthood in 2011. He holds an MFA in Writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts and an MDiv from Pope Saint John XXIII National Seminary. He has written for Our Sunday Visitor, the National Catholic Register, and Columbia Magazine. Follow him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/tucker.cordani and Twitter @tuckercordani