This article was created by my dear friend and sister, Madonna Escolano. I came across this while reading the CBCP monitor Vol. 18 No. 19, September 15-28, 2014 edition and thought of posting it on my blog to remind me of the presence of God in chance encounters. Happy reading!
LOVE AT 30,000 FEET
“Dreaming of love while cruising at high altitude… Closer to heaven we’re thirty thousand feet up in the sky…”
So goes some lines from the song composed by Mr. Jose Mari Chan, which has been close to my heart being an early-retired airline employee and previous choral member of the Philippine flag-carrier’s company.
On a recent 18-hour flight, I found myself answering to the call to be “ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.” (1Peter 3:15) It was also an opportunity to share God’s love.
An Englishman, who said he’s an atheist, was seated next to me. Like most Caucasian men I’ve met, he was quite good in the art of small talk. It was a long-haul flight, and sleep wasn’t being good to me. What started as a polite conversation about trivial, uncontroversial matters turned into a profound discussion about travel, life and faith. He told me that his work as an engineer for a submarine communications cable company allows him to travel and marvel at the world. He was proud to tell me that being part of a team that makes it possible for fiber optic technology solutions to carry digital data across oceans gives him satisfaction. It’s indeed a blessing to be doing what you’re passionate about and being paid for it!
He said he served the army during World War II and was totally changed by it. No more nightmares, fortunately for him. The war, he narrated, taught him many things and made him thankful and appreciative of his very existence and of everyone around him.
He talked about Faith; about how he was brought up as a Catholic, went to Catholic schools, served as an altar boy, and used to attend Sunday Mass religiously. He said he lost his faith not because of anger towards God, nor disagreeing about dogma he could not totally comprehend, but because he simply did not have time for it. He explained that being a Christian involves hard work: It is not enough to accept Jesus as one’s personal savior. He added that everyone around him should see through his actions that he is a follower of Christ and worthy of the name Christian.
And then came the all-too-familiar questions: Why does God allow pain and evil in the world? Why do evil men prosper, while the just suffer and remain poor? What do Christians do about this?
I am not an expert in Sacred Theology, so I shared with him a little bit of my Faith journey, and how God has been faithful to His promises to me in spite of my own wretchedness and sinfulness. (Unbeknownst to him, I whispered a prayer to the Holy Spirit for wisdom and guidance!) I wanted to reassure him that God loves him dearly, that there is always a reason to hold on to hope, and that faith makes wonders.
I retold the Creation story; that man was created in God’s image and likeness, and was given the gifts of knowledge, integrity and free will. We were created in Love, and God saw it fit to allow us to love freely as He does. But then came the fall of Adam and Eve; God allowed them to be tempted, trusting that they knew what to do. That was the essence of our free will after all: to choose what is good. We know how that story ended, and how evil and death came into the world. “God did not make death. God takes no delight in the ruin of anything that lives. God created humans to live forever. Death entered the universe only through the devil’s envy.” (Wisdom 1:13; 2:23-24) Pain then is a consequence of our sins. We suffer when we choose evil over good. And every little sin we make not only hurts us, but also everyone around us.
I told him about those unsung heroes who have chosen to live lives serving the least, the last and the lost. I shared with him how blessed I am to know people who have gone through what seemed insurmountable trials, yet courageously overcame and are the same ones who help alleviate the affliction of others and remain selfless in making the world a better place to live. I briefly shared with him the lives of missionaries I am honored to call my friends who have left their comfort zones and have answered the call to share the joy of the Gospel and be fishers of men. I told him of the faith of saints whose sufferings sanctified them. And I reminded him that God loves him and all of us so much that He had to send Jesus Christ to die on the cross that we may all live.
At that point in our conversation, he told me that his Filipina wife was diagnosed with stage four cancer several years ago. He said that the faith of his wife and the prayers of her family and friends helped her go through pain and treatment. Ten years after, her wife is still very much alive and full of life. He said her wife attributes the miracle of her healing to the power of God.
Before our final descent towards Manila, he said he would love for his wife to meet me one day, and looks forward to inviting me to their house warming and “blessing” once the renovation of their home is completed. The best part about our entire conversation was when he expressed his interest in revisiting his faith, and hopes one day to join her wife to attend Mass again.
I was thankful, certain that it was the Living Flame of Love~ the Holy Spirit, at work. I told him that God shall patiently wait for his return; and the angels and saints will celebrate in heaven when that day comes. He smiled and, to my surprise, said Amen!
Pope Francis said that “Although the life of a person is in a land full of thorns and weeds, there is always a space in which the good seed can grow. You have to trust God.”
I said goodbye to him, assured that God’s infinite and unfathomable love rekindled in his heart will bring him back into the Lord’s merciful arms, all in His perfect time.