The Long Journey Home - Part Three
I had begun the weekend praying about family and communion. By Saturday I was sure that God was answering my prayers in an unexpected way. Like Gabriel Syme amidst the Council of the Days, I began to feel a solidarity with my fellow Chestertonians that might be described as sacramental. Love of truth and goodness had brought us together; the same love with which Gilbert Chesterton lived and wrote. In that common love we were united to Chesterton; we were united to each other; and we were united to the source of love and goodness Himself.
I had known Aidan Mackey's name from various Chesterton research over the past couple of years. I knew a little bit about him. I was already excited just to have seen him briefly on Thursday evening, when he approached our dinner table to speak with Peter Floriani. After he walked away, Peter nodded towards Aidan and said, "That was Aidan Mackey. He's the original Chestertonian." I would learn that Aidan had known many of Chesterton's friends and acquaintances personally, including his daughter-like secretary Dorothy Collins. For years after Chesterton's death, when fads were against Chesterton's writings and some rare materials might have fallen into obscurity , Aidan labored to collect and preserve anything and everything Chesterton. He might be credited with making possible the Chesterton revival now underway throughout England and America.
At the banquet on Saturday night, I told Mike and Steve to find us a place to sit, saying it would be good to mingle. So they found us a completely empty table of six chairs. Luckily, immediately after sitting down, two other young men came over to sit with us: Chris and Matthew from Columbus, Ohio. A little more pleased now that we had company, I got up to find us a couple bottles of wine. Imagine my surprise when I returned to find Aidan Mackey sitting in the seat next to mine!
(Photo courtesy of Peter Floriani)
Having Aidan at our banquet table was the highlight of the weekend. His humility and gracefulness impressed me very much, as he insisted that he considered his work a privilege. He continues to receive students and Chesterton fans at his house in England, and to share his resources with others. The greatest of these resources, though, is of course his memory.
We were honored by the opportunity to ask Mr. Mackey questions during the meal about all sorts of subjects, from Chesterton's canonization cause to what kind of cigars he liked to smoke. Most of the time, however, we just listened as Aidan shared memories - and not just about Chesterton, but about his own inspiring life and his own notable accomplishments.
At the end of the evening, Aidan received a well-deserved standing ovation from the Society; standing next to him, I could see that he was visibly moved. To my surprise, I found that I was a little choked up as well. It struck me that I should feel so much love and gratitude toward the man after only having spoken with him for an hour or two. My emotion only became more intense when Geir Hasnes, the Norwegian Chestertonian who had earlier admitted to being a "cryer," came over after Aidan's ovation and embraced him.
I have felt this way before. Occasionally, I've been invited as a seminarian to some sort of youth rally or other gathering of the faithful. I am always struck in such circumstances by the paradoxical largeness and smallness of the Church. The Church is everywhere: from the rising of the sun to its setting. And yet, wherever the Church is, it is One. It is the living Body of Christ, united under the same Head. And there is some share in that mystery as well even for those who are not in full communion yet bear the name Christian. Two millenia ago, Christ commissioned men to go out and be fishers of men. And in each generation, Christians have heeded the same call and shared in that mission to some degree. This was the mission of G.K. Chesterton.
The conference stands as a testimony to Chesterton's success. He continues to call people together from all walks of life and all faiths and to change them in a deep way. And part of the way he changes people is through a sharing of the mission; those newly called are energized and edified by the ones already in the fold. Spring and harvest go on unceasingly, and even though Chesterton's earthly toiling has ended, I am sure that he and Frances continue to watch over their wide-spread garden from Heaven.
I am thankful for people like G.K. Chesterton - and for organizations like the American Chesterton Society - who continue to bring the Church together, making it at once larger and smaller. I was filled with this gratitude when I arrived at the airport at 430 on Sunday morning and checked my bag.
"We'll need to open this," said the clerk at the desk, jingling the small lock on the front of my suitcase.
"Oh, sure," I said, reaching into my pocket for my keys. My keys - were back at the seminary.
I rushed out of the building and hailed a cab who hurried me back to my room. Security let me into the building and I was able to get my keys and get back to the airport and through security just on time for my flight. Steve and Mike were waiting for me at the gate to bid me farewell as we parted ways for the summer again.
As I sat down on the plane I chuckled to myself about my latest mishap and thanked God that it had ended well. It seemed a fitting conclusion to such an adventure. As the plane got airborne, I thought back on my flight out to the conference and how keenly I'd felt that I was going away from home to a strange place. Oddly, I didn't feel so terribly different now.