Last Wednesday their 9 pm flight to Sydney was canceled. 200 nervous passengers were told to get off the plane in San Francisco as it was revving up for the 15-hour flight to Australia. Two Carmelites, in full flowing habits, deplaned with the rest of them and stood in lines until 7am the next morning. In this sea of airport misery, unaccountably, two Carmelites maintained a peaceful joy. A man ahead of them in line, no doubt agonizing over missed connections and meetings, asked Sister Thérèse why she was smiling. “Because I’m happy,” she replied. The man was amazed, and simply said “marvelous….” He was a little less hungry, angry, lonely, and tired because of their presence. Sister Thérèse really was happy, because she was on her way to their daughter house, serenely under holy obedience, with Sister Maria Immaculata. What could go wrong?

The sisters asked if I would offer Mass for them on Friday in the older usage, which was their custom. Offering Mass for holy women is one of the most striking graces of the priesthood. A priest knows that he is then at Calvary with Our Lady and the two holy women. Contemplative women, especially, understand what is happening in the Mass, and they communicate that intense longing back to the priest.

After Mass I asked the sisters to step into the schoolyard for a moment with the children. Upon entering the schoolyard, a group of students ran up to them, but I was amazed at one little girl in particular. She buried her face in Sr. Mary Immaculata’s habit, throwing her little arms around her. She took up Sister’s crucifix and studied it, locking her eyes on it for five minutes without saying anything. Some other girls, too, hugged the sisters, but this little girl, in particular, simply would not let Sister Maria’s habit go or take her eyes off her crucifix. I doubt that this child had ever seen a Carmelite habit or even a nun before, but she knew immediately and instinctively who Sister Maria was.

It took fifteen minutes to gently pry this little girl, and some other girls, away from the Carmelites. We were all amazed at this manifestation of a contemplative vocation at such a young age. Truly God will not cease calling hearts to His Heart. Knowing this, Sr. Thérèse and Sister Mary Immaculata keep on smiling, even while in an 8-hour line, in the middle of the night, at San Francisco airport.

From Father Illo’s Blog. Father Illo is pastor of Star of the Sea parish in San Francisco.