You can tell a lot about a person by what they read, no? And you can tell a lot about a person by what they wear.
Before I get to my main point, though, let me share a little background. This week, we’ve had a special guest at our parish. Fr. Leo Patalinghug has been giving a parish mission or retreat, you might say. Some might know Fr. Leo from his weekly cooking show on the Eternal World Television Network (EWTN), or the books he’s authored, or his regular radio program. He’s also a black belt in karate, and as I learned last night, a beautiful singer.
|Fr. Leo and Me Oct. 2013 when he was in Fargo for another event|
Beyond all that, though, Fr. Leo is a great story teller, and on Monday night, he shared a story about a nine-hour plane ride, whereby he ended up sitting down with a gal who was reading Dan Brown’s novel, “The Da Vinci Code.”
When you sit down with someone you don’t know on a plane, you can’t help but be curious about what they’re reading, right? I’ve had more than one conversation when traveling by air surrounding the subject or title of the book either my seat buddy or I had in hand. Reading material is revealing, and can be good fodder for a conversation.
Fr. Leo noticed right away that the stranger he’d be traveling next to for nine hours was reading a book that deeply criticizes the Catholic faith and is, incidentally, fiction, in case anyone was wondering.
As much as he wanted to take a nap, he realized early on that clearly that was not going to happen; not when the woman caught sight of Fr. Leo’s garb. He was, after all, wearing his Roman collar, which meant…there was no getting out of it. The nap was nixed.
“Are you a priest?” the woman asked, closing her book.
“Why yes, I am,” Fr. Leo responded.
And so it began, and continued, for nine hours. At first, he said, the woman was furious and full of anger. As he listened, he could feel his blood pressure rising. But then something happened. He felt a sense of the Holy Spirit, with a little nudge from Our Blessed Mother, Mary. He was, at that moment, put in his place, and he realized that an articulate defense of the faith was not what this woman needed. More than anything, she just needed someone to listen.
And so he did. He listened, and listened some more, and more beyond that. I’m sure at some point, he answered some of her questions, and offered consolation. Fr. Leo didn’t share the details of what that conversation beheld, but he did tell us that the nine-hour journey ended with the woman insisting on giving him a big old hug.
Is that not beautiful? I mean, really. Think of the tension that began the plane ride, and how each of them was looking at the other as the enemy, and how God used that opportunity — a priest seeing a book, a woman seeing his priestly collar — to encourage a discussion; a discussion that turned fruitful and full of love.
God can use anything to reach His people. Even a book on a plane. You never know when the opportunities will come. They can come anytime, including just when you’re just about to nod off into dreamland and take that long-awaited luxury nap.
God bless Fr. Leo, and God bless the woman whose heart was listened to, then softened. That we all would see such opportunity as it presents itself.
Q4U: Do you have a book-on-plane story? What fruitful conversations have you had on an airplane, if any?