Vinny Flynn provides a treasure chest you can draw from, again and again, for gems of insight on the Eucharist.
Fred Berretta, with his wife, Liz, and their children, Jonathan, 14, Evan, 13, Lauren, 9, and Benjamin, 7. After Fred was pulled to safety aboard a ferry boat, he called his wife back home in Charlotte and said, "I'm doing OK." She responded, "That's great. I'm doing OK, too." She didn't yet know about Flight 1549. "I had to explain how the plane just crashed into the Hudson River," Fred recalls with a laugh.
By Felix Carroll (Feb 4, 2009)
A banker on a business trip in New York City, Fred Berretta had just checked into his hotel room. He had about 20 minutes down time before he had to meet his colleagues.
For some reason he decided to clean out his briefcase, something he hadn't done in a long time. As he emptied it out, he came across a booklet he had stuffed into a pocket years ago on praying the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy. He recalls having prayed it a few times years ago. But by Jan. 15, 2009, it was a good intention mislaid — among spreadsheets and quarterly reports and matters that seemed far more pressing.
Only two weeks prior, Fred had made a New Year's resolution to try to get into better spiritual shape. Here in this hotel room was an opportunity to fulfill it. So he followed along in the booklet and prayed the chaplet, a prayer our Lord gave to St. Maria Faustina Kowalska in the 1930s during a series of revelations that have sparked the modern Divine Mercy movement.
The time happened to be 3 o'clock, known as the Hour of Great Mercy, when Jesus died on the cross. Fred would consider that detail the following day — as he was preparing to die.
He would be among the 155 people to board a jet airliner at LaGuardia Airport bound for Charlotte, N.C., his home town. Ninety seconds after takeoff, the jet would apparently hit a flock of geese, the engines would explode, and the plane would lose power at 3,200 feet. The aircraft would be out of reach from any airfield. It would lose thrust and altitude. Everything would become eerily quiet. Fred would cinch his seatbelt. His left hand would clutch the armrest, his heart would race, his face would be flush.
He would think about his family — his wife and four young children. He would think about God, about death, about trust, about an extraordinary promise made by Jesus that he read the previous day in that booklet.
"Prepare for impact," the pilot would say over the PA system.
What was the promise? Suddenly, it would come to him, the last passage he read before heading off to his meeting. Jesus said to St. Faustina, "This is the hour of great mercy. In this hour, I will refuse nothing to the soul that makes a request of Me in virtue of My Passion (Diary of St. Faustina, 1320).
As the ground surged into view, Fred would look at his watch. It would be 3:30, the Hour of Great Mercy!
"I prayed with every fiber of emotion and sincerity I could muster, 'God, please be merciful to us,'" Fred would recall two weeks later.
'Miracle on the Hudson'?
You've probably heard about the crash landing of Flight 1549 in the Hudson River on Jan. 15. No one was seriously injured. Politicians and news anchors quickly dubbed it the "Miracle on the Hudson." In the history of aviation no jet airliner had ever made an emergency landing on water without casualties.
Then, there were the news images of a US Airways Airbus floating gently down the frigid Hudson, like some sort of breaching, people-friendly, aquatic creature. The passengers stood on its wings, calmly awaiting rescue. Amidst all the news of economic collapse, of tens of thousands of layoffs on a weekly basis, of families in peril, of a reckoning at hand for a culture of greed, this plane, these passengers, its pilot, all served as a sort of restorative balm on our nation's collective conscious.
The story made you gasp, gulp hard, smile widely, and be thankful. Thankful for what? For good news. For heroes in the pilot, Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, and the rest of the crew. Thankful in the knowledge that in the panic-filled moments when the plane lurched to a stop it wasn't every man and woman for himself or herself. Thankful that humanity's better nature was on display. Thankful the incident wasn't terrorist-related, but apparently geese-related. Thankful that a guy like Fred Berretta, 41, would live to walk through the door of his home once again, hug his wife and children, and make sure they knew he loved them — that he always had and that he always will.
Vinny Flynn who?
For devotees of Divine Mercy, Flight 1549 serves as further proof that the Lord keeps His promises.
We may never have learned Fred Berretta's story if it weren't for Vinny Flynn. Following the crash, Fred felt compelled to send an email of thanks to Vinny, the former executive editor at the Marian Helpers Center, in Stockbridge, Mass. Though Vinny and his family are seen daily at 3 p.m. (EST) on EWTN singing the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy from the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Fred had never heard of Vinny until about two hours before he boarded Flight 1549.
Following morning meetings on Jan. 15, Fred found himself in the unusual position of having some free time on a business trip. It was noon. He stepped inside Manhattan's St. Patrick's Cathedral. He stayed for the 12 p.m. Mass. Afterwards, he went into St. Patrick's gift shop. A book caught his eye — Vinny's 7 Secrets of the Eucharist (Mercy Song Ignatius, 2006), which, with citations from St. Faustina's Diary, gives a greater understanding of the mystery of the Eucharist. Fred also purchased a St. Michael's scapular.
In an interview with thedivinemercy.org this week, Fred explained what happened next:
"I got into a cab and went to the airport," he said. "My flight was delayed about 15 minutes, so I sat there and started reading Vinny's book. I was really taken by it. I boarded the plane and continued to read. Just as we were rolling out for takeoff, I put the book away and closed my eyes and began to reflect on what I had been reading. Then, I heard the impact, then the explosion, and the plane shook violently. I was sitting in seat 16A, which is behind the wing. I could see smoke coming out of the left engine. You could smell the jet fuel."
As soon as Fred, a private pilot, realized the second engine was also not functioning, he became tense, like everyone else around him.
He heard some cries from the cabin.
"Some of us looked at each other," he said. "There was nothing to be said. I knew that the only thing I could do was pray."
These were the other things he knew: This sleek, high performance jet airliner had suddenly and irreversibly become a 73-ton glider sinking fast above one of the nation's most densely populated regions. It would touch down somewhere, somehow, very soon, at a speed of about 120 mph. The chances of survival were almost nil.
He thought about his family, how hard his death would be on them. Indeed, that was the most painful part of the experience for him, his concern for them.
He thought about the very thing all these years that seemed to stand in the way of growing deeper in his faith. It came down to this: trust. He didn't have much. Ever. He had once fancied himself among the titans of commerce. He once trusted that money would bring security and peace of mind. This flight wasn't the thing that taught him otherwise. Rather, it was this past year. The bottom fell out of the economy, and with it, much of Fred's savings of the last 20 years.
By Christmas, the self-described "half-hearted Catholic" knew in his heart the only security in the world is the security found in God, which led to his New Year's resolution; which led to him praying the chaplet in a hotel room; which led him to buy Vinny's book; which led him to close his eyes in seat 16A, his trajectory heavenward, and reflect upon how God is real and He loves us and that He wants us to turn to Him in trust.
Which is exactly what Fred did when he suddenly realized it was the Hour of Great Mercy and he would probably be dead in a matter of seconds. He trusted, truly, for the first time.
All these fragments of thought seemed to piece themselves into place. The plane was going down, yet everything was making sense. He admits he was in shock. But he also felt at peace, a deep peace. God had allowed him to find the Divine Mercy booklet in his briefcase. God had steered him to Vinny's book. God did all this, he thought, to prepare him for death.
He hunched over in his seat to brace for impact. He prayed for God's mercy. Then he prayed two Hail Marys and one Our Father. He made it halfway though a prayer to St. Michael, the archangel, when the plane hit the water, came to a stop, and bobbed up and down like a toy in a kiddy pool.
"Under the most precarious situations I could ever imagine," says Fred, "God taught me what true peace is all about — that it's found in accepting God's will. That we must try our best in this life, but not sweat the small stuff, and hand control over to God."
One more thing to mention. A couple weeks before the flight, Fred had prayed the Rosary for the first time in years. He had recently learned of the 15 promises that, as legend has it, the Virgin Mary made to St. Dominic and Blessed Alanus to all who pray the Rosary with a faithful heart. Fred remembers thinking at the time, "Are those promises real?" He feels he recently received his answer.
"I still have my boarding pass from the flight," Fred said this week, "and I couldn't help but to notice all the 15s associated with the flight. We left on Jan. 15, from gate 15. It was Flight 1549, with 155 passengers. Also, it took off during the 15th hour, by military time, which is what the world of aviation uses. I smiled when it hit me later. There was my answer right there."
He's vowed to embrace the Eucharist, thanks to Vinny; the Rosary, thanks to all those 15s; and the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, thanks to that booklet.
God was doing more than preparing him for death: God was preparing him for life.