A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the White House!

As I have written here before, I don't often have the time to read for the sake of leisure. Once SNC Graduation comes, though, I do have an opportunity to delve into some of the books that were either never opened, or have been closed since late last August. This summer I may keep some of those books in a holding pattern while I take a closer look at SPANISH -- via Rosetta Stone! Let's see what time affords.

One of the authors who always puts a smile on my face is Rick Reilly, a columnist for Sports Illustrated. Perhaps in true homiletic style, one is never quite sure where Rick is going with a story. For instance, it might be his intention to write a provocative account of a Brewers - Cubs game -- and in the end, it is a story about the best Chicago hot dog he's ever devoured. Again, you're never quite sure what you'll end up reading; but trust me: it's always an entertaining and pleasant read!

Since returning from the White House early Wednesday evening, I have wanted to share with you via this forum, the beauty, joy and hope that I encountered in Washington DC. Unfortunately, within one hour since touch down at Austin Straubel, I have been in bed. Always a late bloomer, I seemed to have caught what was going on with my family, staff and friends last February: body aches, night sweats, the chills, nasal and chest congestion, sinus headache... ... ... you name it, I'm encountering it. I've been sleeping by day and seem to be "up all night!" As I continue to stay close to the bed -- for your sake as well as mine, I do share just one quick story for you in the fashion of Rick Reilly.

The day's events on Tuesday finally ended at 12:00 AM -- Tuesday night / Wednesday morning. I was informed that the plane on which I would be a passenger and guest would be taking off at 3:30 AM. There's the dilemma: dare I even try to sleep, or do I just pull an all nighter?

It was neither!

By 2:00 AM I would be back in my JMS office. My White House passes were left in my desk there, wouldn't you know it, so I made the early morning journey to my second home. Normally, that route is filled with the brightness of day and the light of so many wonderful SNC student faces. This trek was made in complete darkness and quiet. In a sense, a bit of a retreat from the activities of Tuesday, and a settling down before all that would take place later in the day, several hundreds of miles away.

As I walked back to the Priory at 2:51 AM, hands filled with things that needed to return from office to home, my cell phone began to ring. AT 2:51 AM, THAT IS NEVER A GOOD SOUND! Once I returned to my room and set the articles down, I viewed my phone to see a text message from one of our students which read:

"Hope you have an amazing trip, Father!
Safe travels!
If you get the chance
maybe you could ask the Pope
to pray for my discernment... ;)"

A lump formed in my throat. I know this student well enough to know that it was a sincere message, made out of love and hope -- albeit at a very unique time of the day. I finally climbed into my car at precisely 3:00 AM, right on schedule. I could not get the text message out of my mind; it was a reminder that this trip was not just for me -- although at this point, knowing of this invitation for the past four weeks, I seemed to have made it all about myself: the text message seemed to have changed all of that.

Towards that end, it was a pretty prayerful and powerful trip to the airport, wondering to myself what and whom I could pray for while on government-land-turned-sacred. An answer seemed to come so quickly. I was stopped at the corner of 172 and Babcock Road, headed west. Spinning around the corner making the turn much too quickly and sharply was a young girl, driving all alone -- looking about 16 years old [maximum] at 3:07 AM!

The scene may be very innocent -- or even very common place; I just know I am not accustomed to seeing such a young girl, traveling alone at such a furious pace at such a late hour. Something seemed out-of-sorts to me. Two blocks later I would see florescent red and blue lights surrounding a car pulled to the side of the road at the corner of 172 & Packerland. Spotlights would illuminate a young 20-something looking guy in bluejeans, white tee shirt and no shoes 'walking the line.'

I often wonder why stuff like that gives me pause? I preached a homily last semester, in the midst of Advent, the darkest time of the year, asking, "Does anything good really ever happen after midnight? In the darkness of night, are we then at our best?" The events on 172 would make me wonder; and yet the call at 2:51 was a blessing, indeed, preparing me not only to see the President and the Pope -- but to encounter the People of God along the way.

The Pope and the President were equally provocative, in my judgement, when they addressed the faithful at 10:30 AM EST on Wednesday morning. They both preached a message of "HOPE" -- specifically, "CHRIST OUR HOPE!" ....That in the midst of darkness, acts of terrorism or violence -- in Church, society, government or on Highway 172 at 3AM, Christ, Our Hope, comes again.

Heading to Washington DC this week was a real treat. I'll share more later. And while I would never wish my current case of pneumonia on anyone, being in bed for these many days has also been a bit of a mixed blessing. It has allowed me to watch every moment of the Holy Father's visit to America -- and then some -- when not fading off to sleep! It has been a time for retreating, just a bit. ... ... ...But to keep some very special people in prayer, even as I type these words from bed as Benedict celebrates Mass at Yankee Stadium.

In the beauty and splendor of these sacred moments from DC and NY, I pray for the grace to continue to seek Christ also in the both natural and darkened moments in DP and GB. And though it all, I've learned that sometimes good things do happen after midnight: I welcome your text messages! Here's a text message for you:

"God's flock is in your midst;
give it a shepherd's care!"

Father James Baraniak, O. Praem.


Katie C said...

What a wonderful trip! Can't wait to read any more stories you may post about your Papal Encounter :-)
Feel better soon!!

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