Flying, Thanksgiving, Suzie and Catholic Social Teaching

I really get nervous flying. 

Part of it is an irrational fear of a painful death: i.e. a plane crash. Part of it is I just can’t quite get my mind around the fact that I’m 30,000 feet above the earth and I’m supposed to trust that the foot of Aluminum Alloy between me and a very long jump is really supposed to keep me safe. On top of all that there are would be terrorists, strange noises and popping in my ears that doesn’t happen anywhere else. Yikes. 

Yet, I still fly. I made a commitment to myself that I wouldn’t let fear keep me from doing fun things, like travel, etc. True, I haven’t gotten over the fear of those roller coasters yet because the last time I rode the “Mantis” at Cedar Point I got a little sick. Does the Mantis still even exist? 
Nevertheless, a couple of weeks ago I had to get back on a plane to fly home from Washington D.C. I had the tremendous opportunity to participate for a week in a Certificate Program in Catholic Social Teaching (CST) at Catholic University through the Centesimus Annus Pro Pontifice (CAPP).

You may have never even heard of Catholic Social Teaching and if I am honest, before I took the course I’m not sure I could have articulated what exactly it was either, at least not in detail. In short though it was amazing to delve the depths of CST for a week by studying Papal Encyclicals from Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum (On the Condition of Labor) to Pope Benedict’s Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth). 

I’m a theology major and I had never read a Papal Encyclical before so it’s ok if you haven’t either, but let me tell you something – these dudes are smart. 

No, rather, these men are inspired. Inspired by the Holy Spirit. So next time you do not understand a church teaching or question a church dogma – do yourself a favor and just actually read what the Popes and the Church have to say. It may just blow your mind and challenge the paradigms you’ve created due to the popular culture around you. 

But I digress. Allow me, ever so briefly just to share the three foundational principles CST is built upon: 

  1. Human Dignity: Every human person conceived is made in the image and likeness of God and is thus deserving of fundamental rights and respect. 
  2. Solidarity: As Pope Francis has said we have a ‘common father’ and thus we all belong to one family. Being a part of one family we have a responsibility to care for one another. 
  3. Subsidiarity: The belief that problems are best handled at the level in which they arise. Subsidiarity then insists on limits to States intervention in the affairs of the family and society. 

There’s so much more to CST and while the week brought me closer to God through the studying, new relationships and time I had for prayer, it quickly came to an end. 
It was time again to fly. Crap, here come the nerves! I prayed my rosary, made the sign of the cross on the plane, found my seat and then I met Suzie. 

Suzie is 77, a great grandmother, black, and a lifelong Democrat. But despite our age, race and political affiliation not being similar we immediately connected. She had a large smile, a casual personality and was herself a convert to Catholicism. We talked family, sports and values. She, as I, loves politics so we talked about all the recent news and all the candidates for President. 
Toward the end of the flight I asked Suzie if she would like to pray a decade of the rosary with me. She agreed. 

We prayed the rosary, and then, no sooner had we taken off did the plane land safely in Detroit. 
Because my attention was on Suzie all my normal nerves about flying didn’t have time to take hold. I was engrossed in another human being, in our conversation and in finding common ground. 

This week many of us will head home for Thanksgiving with our families. If your family is like mine there is a wide array of political affiliations, disagreements on family matters and personalities that make you wonder how in the world we had the same parents.

I challenge you however this week to pray for everyone you’ll encounter around your Turkey dinner. Pray that you might see their inherent worth and dignity. Pray that you might experience a sense of solidarity with them. Pray that you might find common ground on which you might all give thanks. 

Thankfully I don’t have to fly home as I’m only about two hours from my sisters for Thanksgiving. Yet I know the next time I fly, I’m going to try to live out Catholic Social Teaching the best way I know how: I’m going to forget my own worries by loving the one who God puts to sit with me on the plane. 

Perhaps this Thanksgiving, maybe you can forget any worries you have and lose yourself in loving who God has placed next to you at your Thanksgiving table. It’s no accident God placed Suzie next to me on the plane, and it’s no accident who God has placed around your family table.