April 25, 2019

Why I Can’t See Heaven

I consider myself the “Job of Travel.” I am convinced that God and the Devil wait to see how much my faith can be tested each time I travel through O’Hare airport.

Seriously, is there a smartphone game out there for trying to see how many bags qualify for the “one carry-on plus personal item” rule that no one has informed me about? Does anyone besides me actually notice how many bags people drag on the plane and expect to have overhead space for? I think at times that I’ve moved a family of five with fewer bags than some people try to board with. Furthermore, why do airlines even have that little box at each gate telling passengers the maximum size for overhead bags? That display easily fits inside the luggage that many people bring on board these days. I recall once, after getting charged $50 for checking a bag on a flight, being scolded for using the overhead compartment that other passengers, who did not pay the luggage tax, wanted to use. Gate Checking is the best scam out there. No hassles finding overhead space, no luggage fees, and your bag is ready for you upon departing the plane after landing.

Does Canada count as “international travel?” I had a flight in Alberta once where I was “guaranteed” a seat, but the airline could not tell me where it was until 45 minutes before departure. I didn’t quite understand the issue. I was asked to be there two hours in advance. I booked the flight weeks in advance and had no problem being charged for the travel. Yet, I could not be told if I really had a seat on the flight home. It was Canada. It was not like I could go anywhere without traversing a lot of customs gates if I thought about leaving the terminal. Being held hostage by a terrorist Canadian airline was a new experience for me.

I understand the issue with profiling but, when it comes to terrorism on domestic U.S. air travel, the stats really do bode poorly in a noticeable area. Waiting for a plane in Kansas City, I saw a woman resembling that bias drop off a bag at the gate and leave. “Mmm, kind of strange,” I thought. Then the woman returned. Great, I guess I was destined to watch that bag like it was 9/11. Then, I noticed that a random-passenger screen included this person. I relaxed, took a nap, and was happy to remind myself to go to confession for that profiling sin… after I got home safely.

Has anyone else had their flight canceled like me for rain while traveling in the desert?

Anyone who drives I-294 in Illinois knows that travel frustrations are not limited to airlines. I-294 is magical in that it can back up for miles only to suddenly open up when one hits a certain section. I have not figured out if there are some gapers blocking my view every time I drive southbound on the Bensenville Bridge. It can take an hour some nights to go a few miles in that area and then “poof!” it all of a sudden opens up. I’d like the “Miracle Hunter” to look into this one.

One approach to remedy this aggravation is to listen to a buddy of mine who reminds me to “put my big boy pants on” and quit whining. I actually appreciate it when he jolts me back into reality. However, after laughing, I still remain annoyed at the world.

Finally, while sitting in my cramped airline seat, as passengers were boarding and again fighting for overhead space, I realized that traveling was one of the reasons “I can’t see heaven anymore.” How can anyone see the goodness in God’s creation when traveling these days? “Offering it up” just doesn’t get it done for me in this regard. I’ve already used that enough times to cover the release of the 1919 Black Sox… I don’t want to live a life that is so focused on the ugly in this world that I miss the beauty. Modern theologians emphasize that our focus should be “the bits of heaven among us,” not some distant place in the clouds. For some reason, I am supposed to see heaven like a Chicago Union Boss sees McCormick Place. Is that possible without a bar tab?

The short answer is “No.” At least not without a change in mindset.

One can never “see heaven” while their focus is on “me.” That is not how love works. A love turned inward is ego. Ego is a cause of great unhappiness in this world. Why? Because ego can never be satiated; it is hollow and works within a void that never fills. Ego is a craving for more “me” without regard for the “you.” Society says this is ok, as long as we are not hurting anyone. But, sadly, we are hurting someone. We are hurting ourselves. In fact, society is totally wrong. What it proclaims as “freedom” is not freeing at all. It is simply catering to unhealthy addictions.

Jesus gives us another way.

God intends love to move outward, not inward. His love is to pass through us to others. We can’t keep it, hoard it, or save it for a rainy day. Paul reminds us that we are to share the same concern for one another: “If [one] part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy.” (1 Corinthians 12)

Michael Simone, S.J. in America Magazine recently reminded me that my travel anxieties, ego-driven passions, and “the normalness of everyday experience” distract my attention from the “quiet and inexorable” divine action all around us. My focus each day is too much on “me.” Why does scripture remind us to “pray constantly?” I am guessing to remind us that this world is not where our focus should be all the time. Why do we pray the rosary daily? Again, to remind us of the Good News rather than the not so good news I traverse in life.

A sign in my office says “Remember: if the world didn’t suck we’d all fall off.” It makes me laugh as I walk out the door of my office. I then greet the world with a smile. I need to recall that, unlike when I travel, my “final destination” is not Chicago. Perhaps, in getting better at losing the “me” in my daily grind I can then smile leaving O’Hare as well.

May I help you with your bag?

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Written by
Deacon Gregory Webster

REVEREND DR. GREGORY WEBSTER is a permanent deacon of the Archdiocese of Chicago. He was ordained to the Permanent Diaconate by Francis Cardinal George in May 2014 and is assigned to St. Raphael the Archangel Parish in Old Mill Creek, Illinois. Deacon Greg holds a Ph.D. in Analytical Chemistry from Northern Illinois University, M.A. in Theology from Holy Apostles College and Seminary and an M.A. in Bioethics and Health Policy from Loyola University of Chicago. Deacon Greg and his wife have been married more than twenty-five years and are blessed with three beautiful daughters and two pretty cool terriers.

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Written by Deacon Gregory Webster