Mark Twain wrote, “I have found out that there ain’t no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them.” I think this is probably true and, as most of you know, the day after Christmas, I went traveling again, but this time I went by myself and discovered that I’m not a bad travel companion.
I went to Portugal on this trip and spent most of my time in Lisbon. However, I was able to travel to several nearby locations, including Fatima, the site of perhaps the most significant Marian apparitions.
I left Monday morning and arrived in Lisbon three flights and roughly twenty-six hours later. I want to be able to sleep on planes, especially flights that long, but that is not the case. In addition, the host of the VRBO that I would be staying in gave me a great restaurant to have lunch in when I arrived, so I passed on the last meal offered on the flight. Bottom line: when I got to Lisbon, I hadn’t slept or had anything to eat in quite some time. From there, the situation began to decline.
I had purchased an international data plan for my phone so that I would have access to Google maps and the like, yet, when I arrived, it would not connect, even after I spent half an hour on the phone with the provider. It was at this point that no sleep and no food gave me my first stupid idea: “I can do this. No problem.”
My host told me the subway to take and what stop to get off at. How hard could that be? The only piece of information I forgot was that, at one point, I needed to switch trains. I rode that train and rode that train, and when it finally came to a stop, and everyone was getting off, a little older lady leaned down to me—and I must have been looking baffled at this point—and said, “This is the end of the line.” I said, “Thank you,” but what I thought was, “No…. kidding.” I then proceeded to make my second mistake: I got off the subway and rode the elevator to street level, the entire time thinking, “Surely I’ll be able to recognize something.” The problem: no Google maps or any map for that matter. In The Fellowship of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, Gandalf writes a letter to Frodo and the letter includes a poem. A line from that poem reads, “All that is gold does not glitter, not all those who wander are lost.” I got off that train, and I was one who was not only wandering but also terribly lost and—no sleep, no food—did not have the sense to figure it out, so I found a spot in the shade and just stood there, staring blankly into a city I knew nothing about.
A wristwatch used to have only one function: tell the time. After a while, they added the date, then Seiko and the others added calculators, etc., and now, we have the Apple Watch and other similar devices that have more computing power than the first rocket to the moon. This little watch can do all sorts of things, but for the most, it is tied to your phone, so if your phone has no signal, your watch isn’t going to do much. If it is connected, then you’ll be able to get notifications on your watch.
As I stood there in the shade, staring blankly into that unknown city, my watch vibrated and dinged, and I was suddenly elated. That notification could mean only one thing: I had data services and could find my way out of this mess. However, specific functions on the watch work without data, one of which is the healthcare monitoring functions. Specifically, in this case, it was the heart rate monitor.
I raised my wrist, hoping to have a data-related message, but what I read was this: “High Heart Rate: your heart rate rose above 120 BPM while you seemed to be inactive for ten minutes.” You know you’re a little stressed when your watch tells you to chill out.
I took a deep breath and slowly walked around until I spotted a police officer. He didn’t speak a lick of English, but we were able to mime communicate enough that I could tell him where I was trying to get; when he realized where it was, I didn’t understand what he said, but it meant, “How in blue blazes did you get all the way over here?”
I asked, “How do I get there? Can I walk?” “No,” he said, wide-eyed. He then indicated he would get me to the train station; I said, “No. Taxi.” He then gently took me by the arm and led me to the street. Standing there with me, he flagged me a cab. He had a conversation with the taxi driver and told him where I needed to go. There was more to the conversation than this, but I didn’t understand any of it other than the grin, and the eye roll exchanged between them.
I don’t know either of these two individuals’ names, but the police officer I named Angel because, following a fifteen-minute taxi ride, I was deposited in the exact spot I needed to be.
For the duration of the trip, when I was out and about, I had no data services, but André, my VRBO host, was brilliant and helped me learn how to get around. After a thirteen-hour nap and some tasty food the following day, I set off into that remarkable city and had a brilliant time. I got lost a few more times and occasionally missed a train stop, but I really had no problem getting around after that first day.
St. Augustine of Hippo (d.430) was one of the greatest theologians the Church has known. One of his books is the City of God. In it, he writes of the City of Man and the City of God, where “the earthly city glories in itself, the Heavenly City glories in the Lord.” There are many other comparisons: “The earthly city was created by self-love reaching the point of contempt of God, the Heavenly City by the love of God carried as far contempt of self.” Although there are two cities, they are intertwined, just as in the parable of the wheat and the weeds that grow in the field together.
Augustine says that it is in this intertwined city that we live, and it is a place where, for the most part, “the strongest oppress the others because all follow after their own interests and lusts.” It is a city where it is easy to become lost, bouncing from one thing to another, never settled, anxious, and not truly knowing where you are going.
It was in such a city, such a time, that Jesus was born and lived. People wandered in the city, lost with no means of finding their way. Anxious, with no knowledge of how to calm their hearts and their souls. But then, like my angel in Lisbon, along came John the Baptist, who took them by the arm and directed them to the one… the only one, who could bring peace to their souls and get them to where they needed to be: “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” So, coming to Jesus, they asked, “Rabbi—teacher—where are you staying?” “Where are you staying? We are lost. How do we get there?” And Jesus responds, “Come and see.” Jesus says, “Come with me, and I will show you the way through this city. I will show you the path that leads to God, for not only can I show you the way, but I Am The Way.”
If you are anxious and lost in the city, there are many here who can help show you to the one who is the Way. If you know of someone who is lost, be a John the Baptist to them, be an Angel to them, and point them to the Lamb of God, who will give them safe passage through this City of Man to the Eternal City, the City of Our God.
While in Portugal, I had the opportunity to visit Fatima, the site of the great Marian Apparition. During one of the apparitions, the Virgin Mary gave the children a prayer she asked to be prayed at the end of each decade of the Rosary. It is brief but addresses our most profound need while we walk the streets of this City of Man. Let us pray: “O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell, lead all souls to Heaven, especially those most in need of Thy mercy. Amen.”