A little way into the flight, Linda came to my seat to show me her beautiful Rosary beads, each white bead hand-painted with beautiful blue designs.
Later on again, she introduced me to one of her colleagues. After a small chat and greeting, they both went off to carry out their duties. I thought that would be the end of it and settled down again to reading Newman's Development of Christian Doctrine (always good to have a little light reading when travelling!)
Some time later, Linda's colleague came by and stopped to chat. After enquiring where I was working and where I was from, she said that she is of Danish origin and how sad it is that nobody goes to Church in Denmark whereas in the US "everybody" goes to Church. She said that she was Lutheran but married to a Catholic and they had brought up their children as Catholics. I asked if she had ever considered becoming a Catholic. She had but found the prospect of giving up all that was dear to her - the memories of her First Communion and Confirmation in the Lutheran church - difficult. I had just read the following passage from Newman about true conversion being ever positive and never negative in character which I said I would write out for her and give her.
A gradual conversion from a false to a true religion, plainly, has much of the character of a continuous process, or a development, in the mind itself, even when the two religions, which are the limits of its course, are antagonists. Now let it be observed, that such a change consists in addition and increase chiefly, not in destruction. "True religion is the summit and perfection of false religion; it combines in one whatever there is of good and true separately remaining in each. And in like manner the Catholic Creed is for the most part the combination of separate truths, which heretics have divided among themselves, and err in dividing. So that, in matter of fact, if a religious mind were educated in and sincerely attached to some form of heathenism or heresy, and then were brought under the light of truth, it would be drawn off from error into the truth, not by losing what it had, but by gaining what it had not, not by being unclothed, but by being 'clothed upon,' ' that mortality may be swallowed up of life.' That same principle of faith which attached it at first to the wrong doctrine would attach it to the truth; and that portion of its original doctrine, which was to be cast off as absolutely false, would not be directly rejected, but indirectly, in the reception of the truth which is its opposite. True conversion is ever a positive, not a negative character." (quoted from Tracts for the Times, No. 85, p. 73, by Newman in Development of Christian Doctrine, 1903 edition, p. 201)Before we arrived in London, she collected the text and said that she would probably re-enroll in RCIA in Chicago. Please keep her in your prayers.
Upon my return to Chicago, I boarded the shuttle-bus to take me to the hotel where I had left my car. The driver - a woman - looked at the paper and asked: "You are Reverend John?" to which I replied in the affirmative. "Oh, I need your blessings!" "Why?" "My life is in a mess. My husband left me two years ago and now I'm divorced." And so the conversation proceeded. She is Polish, having come to the US many years ago. She has found it hard to go to Church since her life fell apart but always has her Rosary and picture of Our Lady with her. In the fifteen minutes it took to arrive at the hotel, we were able to have a wonderful conversation and she was so happy when we parted. I was too. I have no idea how she has followed up from our conversation but I remember her now by name in prayer. (Her name is very similar to my above-mentioned nephew's grandfather so it is easy to remember.)
Had I not been wearing my clerics, none of these would have happened.
So, my brother priests, I encourage you to be visible when using these means of public transportation. You never know how the Lord might use you. And even if you face awkwardness or abuse, it is for the Lord's sake you bear it, not your own.