Sunday, April 11, 2010

Flight 1549 and The Divine Mercy

Chesley Sullenberger

(Second Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy Sunday, Year C): This homily was given on April 11, 2010, at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read John 20: 19-31.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Divine Mercy Sunday 2010]

It was January 14th, 2009. The New Year was in full swing. Something was different for me this year. It was something I could not quite put my finger on. It was something that made me pensive and reflective.
That’s how businessman Frederick Berretta began an article that he wrote last July for the Saturday Evening Post.

He then proceeded to talk about the routine business trip to New York that he took later that winter day.

After flying into LaGuardia Airport, he went immediately to his hotel. Once he settled in there, but before he went to his mid-afternoon meeting, he decided to spend a few moments in prayer, since he had made a New Year’s resolution to pray for 10 to 15 minutes each day. Here’s what he wrote in his article:

As I removed paperwork and emptied all the contents of my briefcase, I found two old prayer booklets. I had forgotten about them and glanced over each. One was called the Pieta, which contained a variety of devotional prayers, some of which were many centuries old. The other was a small booklet on the Divine Mercy Chaplet. On the cover was a picture of Christ from a painting with two rays of light shining out from his chest; one red, the other pale white. The booklet contained excerpts from a diary kept by a Polish nun [Faustina Kowalska] in the 1930s. She claimed to have had visions of Jesus and even dialogue with him. There were several quotations from her diary, but one in particular struck me. It was regarding the 3 o’clock hour, the hour in which Christ died on the cross: “In this hour,” Christ told her, “I will refuse nothing to the soul that makes a request of Me in virtue of My Passion.” As it happened to be the 3 o’clock hour, I reflected on that and began to pray the chaplet. I prayed slowly and with devotion, in a way that was unusual for me.
He then went to his meeting.

The following day he left the hotel late in the morning and made his way back to LaGuardia for his return trip home. There was nothing unusual or especially noteworthy about any of that, except that the plane he eventually boarded at about 3p.m. was none other than US Airways, Flight 1549.

Sound familiar?

It should—that’s the plane that ended up in the Hudson River shortly after it took off! Thanks be to God—and to the God-given skills of the pilot, Chesley Sullenberger—the plane landed safely in the water and every single person on board survived.

Mr. Berretta’s account of his experience during the last few seconds before impact is worth quoting here at length—especially on this Feast of the Divine Mercy:

I thought about my family, my wife and four children, and my eyes started to water. I thought about how hard it would be for them, and I felt so sad about leaving them, halfway through my life. I just shook my head and closed my eyes.

While I cannot say I witnessed my life flash before my eyes, I suppose I did experience a hybrid version of that. I thought about my life holistically for a few seconds, as a boy, an adolescent, and as a man. I knew I had tried to do my best and had made mistakes. Having been to confession the weekend before and having just received the Eucharist, I felt I could meet God as I was, but desperately wanted more time.

As we continued to descend, I thought I should try to find my BlackBerry and call home. I had forgotten it was in my pocket, thinking I had stowed it in my briefcase. There wasn’t time, I thought.

Then a small epiphany occurred in my mind. I thought about the Chaplet of Mercy I had prayed the day before, and I recalled the words of Jesus to Sister Faustina. Nothing would be refused if prayed in the 3 o’clock hour. I could see the image of Jesus, smiling, on the front of the cover, and I wanted to retrieve that booklet too, but I knew we had just seconds left until we hit the water. I just didn’t have time, so I just thought about the image.

In my mind, and with all the devotion and intensity I could muster, I said, “God, please be merciful to us, for the sake of your Son. Please spare us. I trust in you. Jesus, I trust in you. Mother of God, help us.” I then said the Lord’s Prayer and a Hail Mary, or maybe two. I looked out the window again, and we were below the skyline rooftops, the river approaching fast.

Then, I knew I needed to accept the outcome, whatever it may be. I needed to reconcile to the fact that I was not in control, and I had to make a decision. I did not want to go into that river in anger or denial, and my conscience was being moved to make a decision. Like the Captain who had to decide in a few seconds where to glide a 73-ton jetliner to minimize loss of life, I had to make a decision on where to point my soul. I closed my eyes, trying to envision the image of Jesus I had seen the day before on the Mercy booklet, and said again, “Please be merciful to us. . . . But it’s OK, it’s OK.”

Frederick Berretta obviously saw God’s hand—and St. Faustina’s intercession—in the events of January 15, 2009 on US Airways, Flight 1549.

Jesus said to Thomas in today’s gospel, “You became a believer because you saw me. Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”

Thomas, in effect, said to Jesus, “I’ll believe it, only when I see it.”

Jesus, in effect, said to Thomas, “Believe it, and then I’ll show it to you.”

Frederick Berretta believed—and God showed it to him. He believed in God’s ability to do the extraordinary. He believed in the holiness and intercessory power of St. Faustina Kowalska, who gave the world the Divine Mercy image and devotion.

And he believed that God would give him exactly what he needed in order to face whatever would happen: “Please be merciful to us. . . . But it’s OK, it’s OK.”

May God help us to believe those very same things, so that we might see—and receive—all the blessings and graces he has for us.