When the Friendly Skies Aren’t So Friendly

This past Sunday I was at the Novitiate of the North American Pacific Capuchin Conference (NAPCC), which is located at the grounds of San Lorenzo Seminary in beautiful Santa Ynez, California.  We were celebrating the investiture of our conference’s latest group of novices.  It was a fine celebration.  The novices received their “habits of probation” and were challenged by their Novice Director, Br. Robert Stewart, to make the coming year one in which they spend the time and take the risk to deepen their relationship with the Lord in order to discern their vocations.

Every time I participate in the investiture of our novices, the commissioning of our postulants, our younger friars’ first and final professions of our vows, ordinations and the jubilees of our older friars, I am invited to renew my own commitment, rooted in Baptism, to follow the Lord as a Capuchin friar and priest.  The short time I spent in Santa Ynez also reminded me of the beginning of my own novitiate 32 years ago. 

Novitiate was not an easy year for me.  I chafed at the quiet and the rural environment, the relative lack of ministry, and most of all the need to take a hard look at myself and where the Lord was leading me and calling me to change.  We were blessed to have two very good novice directors, brothers whose personalities and gifts were different but complementary.  I am grateful for that year.  Most of the time I’m also grateful that I don’t have to repeat it!  At the same time, I sometimes feel regret.  I could have used it even better.

While the experience of the investiture and the hospitality of the brothers at San Lorenzo was uplifting, my flights to and from were not.  Each way our flights were delayed by bad weather.  On my way from Milwaukee to Santa Barbara (SBA) the airport closest to the novitiate, I barely made my connecting flight in Denver.  My roller bag did not.  It was delivered during the investiture liturgy, which made for a comical but providential sight:  me hustling to put on my habit in the back of the chapel literally moments before Br. MJ Groark and I invested our brothers, Ashwin Kumar and Jacob Schultz!

On my way back to Milwaukee, a horrific and somewhat unexpected storm delayed us in Denver.  Our plane arrived at its destination more than an hour late. 

In over twenty years of regular flying, it was the first time I can remember having such problems coming and going.  The “friendly skies” weren’t so friendly.  While there were definitely some anxious moments, my novitiate training kicked in and kept me from an emotional meltdown. 

What do you do when confronted with a situation that you cannot control, when your plans and reality are in parallel and quite different universes?  Look for peace and find it where you are.  I found it in the kindness and professionalism of the pilots, flight attendants, gate agents and ground crew.  I found it in parents comforting their young children experiencing varying degrees of crankiness.  I found it in the delicious (and very expensive) food I ate.  I found it in the grace of arriving safely. 

I’ll soon be ready to fly again. —jc