Vol 37 No 4
CONSCIENCE OUR GUIDE
THE ROLE OF THE CHURCH IN THE FORMATION OF CHRISTIAN CONSCIENCE
Philip Malone MSC
THE COMPLETE IDIOTíS GUIDE TO UNDERSTANDING MORAL THEOLOGY
Liz Hepburn IBVM
THE CULTIVATION OF CONSCIENCE
Tom Ryan SM
IN GODíS IMAGE: TOWARDS A THEOLOGY OF OUR EMOTIONS
JUNG AND THE MORAL SELF
Bruce Duncan CSsR
A SCHIZOPHRENIC PROCESS IN THE CHURCH? THE CONSERVATIVE RETREAT FROM THE
SOCIAL DIMENSION OF THE GOSPEL
PRAYER - ANSWERED?
NEW RELIGIOUS BOOKS BY AUSTRALASIAN AUTHORS
MANY TIMES WHEN pushed for a phrase that describes me I have opted for
the restless believer. Somehow that seems to sum up my passion
for the Good News which is the Gospel, along with my conviction that we
are currently struggling to discover the ways to proclaim it in our modern
I had been in Chicago for two weeks at the invitation of Fr Jim Gill,
the Jesuit priest psychiatrist who headed up The Jesuit Educational Center
for Human Development and The Christian Institute for the Study of Human
Sexuality. They had been heady days investigating both human and spiritual
development and it is possible that I had wandered into that place where
one begins to feel one has a grasp on what life is all about! Maybe I
was in danger of losing touch with what Eric Seal (another great Christian
psychiatrist) once referred to as the serendipitous nature of the human
experience. Anyway whatever the explanation, the following is an account
of what happened on my way home. It is mainly an account of a series of
facts that are helping me understand the effectiveness of prayer and how
the Spirit leads us to pray from within (cf Romans: 8/26).
It is Sunday July 1st 2001, I head to Chicagos OHare International
airport to embark on my nineteen hours in the air and another four or
five hours in the various airports on the way home to Canberra. I check
in my one suitcase with United Airlines and am told that except for clearing
it through customs in Sydney it will be booked through to Canberra to
await me there on the morning of July 3rd. All boarding passes and seat
allocations are issued for the three legs of the flight and with a passing
remark that the first leg to San Francisco will be delayed by fifteen
minutes, I made my way through Security to enjoy the stimulus of a people-saturated
terminal and relax as I prepared for departure. When purchasing my tickets
for this trip I had questioned the tightness of the connection at San
Francisco but now with everything almost on time I felt no apprehension
During one of the perpetual announcements I vaguely noted mention of some
inclement weather somewhere in the West which was causing some delay to
incoming flights. A check of the departure board showed my flight details
unchanged and I continued to enjoy my search for a few last minute souvenirs.
As it got closer to my scheduled departure time, for some unknown reason
I again checked the departure details and was shocked to see that my flight
was now showing a new and greatly delayed departure time. My mathematical
mind quickly went to work and I calculated that this new schedule would
make the San Francisco link to my 11pm Sydney flight doubtful. My cautious
temperament led me towards the United Customer Service Counter where I
joined the usual endless queue that surround such places. An official
who was moving along the line no doubt to help those for whom time was
running out, suggested I go back through Security and approach the main
ticketing counter near where I had made my entry earlier. Here again the
queue was daunting and from being relaxed and grateful that all was going
well I was beginning to feel anxious.
Some years back I missed a West Coast connection and experienced the subsequent
hassle with an eventual twenty-four hour forced stop-over. My memory of
that time along with the fact that I was already a day behind in my planned
schedule made me want to avoid what suddenly I was beginning to see as
a likely scenario. Like an invitation that comes from nowhere
the idea that this was an appropriate context for prayer came to me.
When finally I made it to the counter a pleasant and efficient young woman
agreed that my concern was well founded and quickly she set out to ensure
that I could exit the country that evening as planned. After several calls
she managed to get a seat on an American Airlines flight that promised
a credible connection to my United flight from San Francisco to Sydney.
As my baggage had already been booked onto the now delayed flight my helpful
ticketing officer warned me that though she would send a message to the
baggage area, there was little chance that my suitcase and I would be
travelling together on any part of this re-arranged trip. She did console
me by saying that United would eventually get it to me in Australia hopefully
within the next few days. I recalled gratefully that I had taken travel
insurance and made my way to the airport train which would take me to
another terminal and another carrier.
As I approached the American departure lounge I immediately noted that
there was little action and that the scheduled departure time for this
flight had also been delayed and was now listed as 7.30pm. Again my mathematical
mind went to work and while there was now the added complication of changing
terminals again in San Francisco there didnt seem to be a need for
panic; concern! yes, but not panic. When eventually we boarded we were
looking more to a 7.50pm departure time; still no need for panic!
As we sat waiting to pull back from the gate a cheerful voice came from
the cockpit welcoming us on board and as if as an after-thought, he mentioned
that there was some slight irregularity and that the mechanics were coming
to do a safety check which he anticipated would not delay us for long.
By now I was very conscious of time and became toey as the minutes began
to tick by. I began to berate myself for making the move from my scheduled
United flight which had been delayed to 8.30pm; at least it would be into
the same terminal and if I were to be stranded for the night in San Francisco
there would not be any confusion about who I would have to deal with.
The idea that this was a context and a time for me to pray had already
taken on and my prayer started to move onto a new level. I had become
aware that I was due to arrive home on the feast of Thomas the Apostle;
the one whose doubts had brought us a very salutary instruction on faith.
As I put this mounting problem before the Lord something deep within began
to energize me to further action. Uncharacteristically I pressed the hostess
call button and another helpful woman agreed that I had a problem. She
consulted the bursar who ushered me off the plane to talk to the heavies
in the terminal. With cool efficiency they snapped into gear and were
soon able to tell me that there was no plane in Chicago that could get
me to San Francisco on time.
They advised me that all things considered it would be best to stay with
their flight which would surely be taking off shortly.
Convinced now that I would be staying at least another night in the USA
I returned to the mechanically stricken plane and continued to wait. By
this time the cabin crew were sympathetic to my predicament and my call
to prayer was becoming even stronger. The connection to St Thomas and
faith had moved me to that other text about faith being able to
move mountains and all in all I was into feeling inspired. It was
a very uncanny experience. The awareness of a prayer rising up within
me deepened and I was clearly aware of a call to trust and not give
up. Something was happening here and I felt called to go along with it
for whatever reason. Was this an example of the Spirit within leading
me forth to prayer?
Eventually we moved off from the terminal at 9.00pm and the captain informed
us that he hoped to have us on the ground in San Francisco at approximately
11.10pm. The helpful bursar noted with surprise that this was a shorter
flight time than previously advertised; with a touch of irony he said
that we could be on the ground in San Francisco in time to see my United
Sydney flight disappearing over the horizon.
As we got underway the bursar returned and we spoke of the possibility
that the Sydney flight might be delayed and I even ventured to suggest
that a call to United might get them to hold the flight for a time for
me to make the connection. The bursar (I wish I had got his name!) agreed
to phone ahead and check on the departure time but was keen to assure
me that no airline would hold a plane for a passenger. He explained the
staggering economics of why pulling away from the gate on time was critical.
Sadly his phone call confirmed that the United San Francisco to Sydney
flight would be departing on time. He also found out the departure gate
for that flight and commented that it was quite a distance from where
we would disembark.
The uncanny idea of continuing to pray and not give up persisted. When,
against all expectations, the captain announced that we had made up time,
I was further energized. By now the bursar was thinking with me and for
me and unsolicited came to tell me that he had decided to move me to a
seat towards the front of the plane prior to landing and arrange for someone
to be at the door to give me directions to what was now the all important
We landed and taxied with a short teasing interruption and as I made my
way from the plane I had a few short moments to make what I calculate
to have been something like a three kilometre run to Gate 94. As I was
pointed in the right direction my mind and imagination went back nearly
fifty years to days when I was in training for the Inter-School 440 yard
dash. My sixty-five year old body groaned, stumbled and protested as I
tempted sanity and decorum and headed towards Gate 94. A couple of times
the directions I had turned out to be ambiguous; I had to take a punt
and head in the direction I judged to be the most likely.
Even when I arrived at the sign announcing Gate 94, I wasnt there
really because unlike the other lounges this one was downstairs. At the
bottom of the stairs I turned left instead of right; my one false step!
When I finally turned and saw some people at Gate 94 I had a glimmer of
hope. I presented my boarding pass only to be told that the gate was closed
and the plane had departed. The people I saw were the United staff mopping
up after the turmoil of a 747-400 Jumbo departure. Almost speechless after
my run I started to ready myself to accept the fact that now it was a
question of sorting out where I would spend the night and what arrangements
could be made for the morrow.
The dream that had kept me going over the last four or five hours now
seemed to be just that, a dream. Yet just as I was coming to accept the
inevitable I noticed something was happening. Indeed it was this that
I had been prepared for earlier in the evening when, while praying, I
recalled the phrase that more things are wrought by prayer than this world
ever dreamed of and was reminded of the fact that the flapping of the
wings of a butterfly in Hong Kong could result in some effect being experienced
in New York!
Again it was an uncanny feeling. An attendant working on a computer nearby
had picked up the name Ryan and blurted out his luggage is on board.
That long-despaired-of luggage had somehow made it to San
Francisco and was now aboard the Sydney flight and was about to take on
a significance that was beyond my wildest dreams. How it managed to get
there raises some mysterious questions that are hard to answer.
The woman who had my boarding pass started to sing out to those who were
clearly her superiors and began typing into her computer. Unbelievably
she was yelling out Call the plane back, we must get this man on
board. There was immediate confusion yet somehow her words had a
life of their own and as if moved by a power beyond them, the little group
initiated a manoeuvre not unlike the moving of a mountain.
The concerned attendant had now become my Guardian Angel, she printed
out another pass in the process of finding me a new seat number on Flight
UA 863. Then she pointed me to a nearby door and soon moved from her side
of the counter to join me there. Through the door we were at the beginning
of a long corridor which eventually led to a dark opening sealed off with
a colored rope at the point where the corridor spilled out into nothingness.
There we stood at the end of the gantry awaiting the unlikely return of
a fully laden Jumbo. Could this be true? As we waited we talked. She told
me that it was my luggage on board that led to the recall of the plane.
She also said that the delayed 8.30pm United flight from Chicago along
with some other flights had all failed to make the connection. She added
that if I were to miss this flight there would be big problems for me
as their Sydney flights for the next evening were already fully booked.
As we stood there facing into the darkness I had a vision of Leonardo
Di Caprio and Kate Winslet facing out from the bow of the Titanic. Im
not sure what the connection with the Titanic was but I suspect it had
something to do with the notion of impossible possibility.
Eventually as if from a dark nowhere the nose of the huge Jumbo came into
view and I saw the people behind the windows of the first class section.
Obviously some of these passengers were very unhappy about having to return
from their journey to take-off. When the huge door opened I was directed
to my seat which took me the full length of the plane and back a few rows
on the other side. Here the passengers were more accepting, even the couple
who were banking on a spare seat between them and now found it taken by
a mysterious stranger who though he traveled in Economy merited the recall
of a departing Jumbo.
We waited for the best part of an hour before Flight 863 eventually departed
and I was on board. By the time we arrived in Sydney it was Tuesday morning,
the feast day of the doubting St Thomas and we were only half an hour
This trip home stays with me a very special experience and has led me
to rethink my understanding and appreciation of prayer. The overall experience
so impacted on me that I felt I had to witness to it in some way and so
it is that I decided to record it in this story.
John E Ryan is a priest of the Diocese of
Sandhurst. He founded the St Peter Centre for Clergy Education and with
Fr Vince Dwyer introduced the Ministry to Priests and Ministry to Religious
programs to Australia.