(Mary Immaculate Church, Annerley: 7:30am, 9:00am & 5:00pm)
27 April 2014
[Readings: Acts 2:42-47; Ps 117; 1 Pet 1:3-9; Jn 20:19-31]
Perhaps you recall from 2009 the story of US Airways flight 1549 bound from New York to Charlotte, North Carolina. Shortly after taking off, the plane hit a flock of geese. The engines exploded, the plane lost power. It was out of reach of any airport. Miraculously, the pilots brought the plane down on the waters of the Hudson River. It was an amazing sight to see the passengers climbing out of the plane onto the wings, calmly waiting to be rescued. In the history of aviation no jet airliner had ever made an emergency landing on water without casualties. The whole episode was quickly dubbed, the “Miracle on the Hudson.”
What has this got to do with Divine Mercy Sunday, you might be asking?
One of the passengers on that flight was Fred Berretta, a banker, in New York on a business trip. Frank would admit that he was a half-hearted Catholic. The previous year had taught him some hard lessons. At one stage he had considered himself among the “titans of commerce,” however, coming through the global financial crisis he lost most of his savings of the previous 20 years, and he realized that he’d been wrong to think that money would bring security and peace of mind. In fact, two weeks before the ill-fated flight on January 15th, he had made a new-year’s resolution to improve his spiritual life.
Having checked into his hotel room in New York, Fred had about 20 minutes before he had to meet colleagues. He decided to clean out his briefcase while he waited, and one of the things he came across was a booklet he had stuffed into his pocket years ago on praying the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. Since he had a few minutes, and in light of his new year’s resolution, he decided to pray the chaplet there in his hotel room. He followed along in the booklet, praying the prayer that Our Lord gave to Saint Faustina Kowalska in the 1930s. He noticed as he prayed that it happened to be 3 o’clock, the Hour of Great Mercy when Jesus died on the cross. Fred would remember that the following day – as he was preparing to die.
On the next day, January 15th, the day of the flight, Fred had morning meetings, but then found himself with some free time. It was noon, so he went to St Patrick’s Cathedral and stayed for Mass. Afterwards, he went into St Patrick’s gift shop and a book caught his eye: “Vinnys 7 Secrets of the Eucharist,” which uses citations from Saint Faustina’s diary to give a greater understanding of the mystery of the eucharist. He also bought a St Michael scapular.
After his visit to St Patrick’s, Fred got into a taxi and went to the airport for his flight home. His flight was delayed 15 minutes, so he pulled out Vinny’s book and was really taken by it. He boarded the plane and continued reading it. As the plane was rolling off for takeoff he put the book away and closed his eyes and began reflecting on what he had been reading. He reflected on how God is real, and how God loves us and that He wants us to turn to Him in trust.
Then, at that moment, Fred heard the impact of the plane with the geese, he heard the explosion and felt the plane shake violently. He was sitting in seat 16A, which is behind the wing, so he could see smoke coming out of the left engine. He could smell the jet fuel.
Fred happened to be a private pilot, and once he realized that the second engine was not functioning, he knew what it meant. He heard some cries from the cabin, and some people looked at each other, but he said, “There was nothing to be said. I knew that the only thing I could do was pray.”
Fred new that this sleek, high performance jet airliner had suddenly and irreversibly become a 73-ton glider sinking above one of America’s most densely populated regions. It would touch down somewhere, somehow, very soon, at a speed of about 190 kph. The chances of survival would be practically nil. Fred thought about his family – his wife and four young children – and how hard his death would be on them. That was the most painful part of the experience for him: his concern for them.
In those crucial seconds, Fred thought about the thing that had stopped him growing in his faith all those years: and it was his lack of trust. But as the plane was going down, and as he realized that he would probably be dead in a matter of seconds, he truly trusted for the first time. He admits he was in shock, but he also felt a deep peace. God had allowed him to find the Divine Mercy booklet; God had steered him to Vinny’s book; God had done this, he thought, to prepare him for death. He recalled the last thing he had read the previous day in the Divine Mercy chaplet booklet – the great promise Jesus made to St Faustina: “This is the hour of great mercy. In this hour, I will refuse nothing to the soul that makes a request of Me in virtue of My passion” (Diary of St Faustina, 1320).
Fred heard the words of the pilot, “Prepare for impact.” He looked at his watch – it was 3:30pm, the Hour of Great Mercy. He hunched over in his seat to brace for impact. He prayed with every fiber of emotion and sincerity he could muster, “God, please be merciful to us.” He prayed two Hail Marys, an Our Father, and made it halfway through the prayer to Saint Michael when the plane hit the water, came to a stop, and bobbed up and down in the water like a toy.
Fred said, “Under the most precarious situations I could ever imagine, God taught me what true peace is all about – that it’s found in accepting God’s will. That we must try our best in this life, but not sweat the small stuff, and hand control over to God.”
Another thing to mention is that a couple of weeks before the flight, Fred had prayed the Rosary for the first time in years. He had recently learned of the 15 promises that is believed Our Lady made to St Dominic and Blessed Alanus to all who pray the rosary with a faithful heart. At the time he wondered, “Are those promises real?” Fred feels like he got his answer. He still has the boarding pass from his flight, and he can’t help but notice all the 15s associated with the flight. The flight left on January 15th, from gate 15. It was flight 1549, with 155 passengers. It took off during the 1500s according to military time.
Fred’s story is one of mercy. How he came to know the mercy of God in his life. His story is just yet another of the signs that Jesus works, the same signs that Saint John speaks of in his gospel, the signs that Jesus worked and his disciples saw. Jesus was merciful to his disciples: he gave them signs to help them believe. In his mercy he gave Thomas the great sign of being able to touch his wounds, and in that mercy Thomas’s damaged faith was healed.
The image of Divine Mercy is a powerful sign that Jesus has given us. It is a great gift – an image through which Jesus draws people to Himself – through which he leads sinners to repentance – through which he stirs lukewarm faith.
As we celebrate his Mercy today, may His graces flow in torrents over us and over the whole world. May all the world come to say, with faith and sincerity: Jesus I trust in you.
=== +++ ===