Annie Glenn and John Glenn (RIP) and me preaching with my eyes closed

john glenn annie

Update: As you know, John Glenn died the other day. I thought I might re-publish this article in honor of he and his wife and the encourgement I also take from his hero.


A great Australian lady who had once been invited to be an astronaut with NASA sent me a story written some years ago about the still very much alive American hero John Glenn and his heroine, his still very much alive wife Annie Glenn. My own father must have known John as they followed each other around the Pacific at the very same time as USMC fighter-attack pilots, at one time both flying Corsairs, both flying a zillion combat missions, both getting planes filled with bullets. So, the story caught my eye. Very moving. Well worth the read. This is the beauty of marriage, for better, for worse.

Annie Glenn, mind you, is the heroine who stands out amidst all the hoopla about John and his extraordinary career. She had a terrible stutter which made some people fairly disgusted with her. Meanwhile, what comes to mind for me is my absolute inability to preach with my eyes open. I just can’t do it. And for some people, this is unforgivably disgusting. They feel used and abused, as if I couldn’t care less about them, or didn’t believe what I was preaching, blah blah blah. All pretty hurtful I must say. I now and again get told off pretty severely after Mass by those in the pews of whatever parish (not mine, as I not infrequently beg my congregation’s forgiveness for this disability). Those who criticize create all sorts of scenarios for the psychological genesis of such a phenomenon, not excluding it being all my fault for moral reasons. Through the decades, priests have been the most awful in their attacks, condemning my total lack of pastoral sensitivity and holding this against me. I regret that some blind themselves to the message of the homily just because I have my eyes closed. A bit of irony there, perhaps?

I have often joked that this is like the Irish monks who made a practice of closing the eyes during Mass since there was Someone more important to whom we are to look during Holy Mass than each other. And if that bit of ecclesiastical history doesn’t work then I add that this eyes closed thing has surely saved me many times. For instance, if I speak about prostitutes as I did recently (what with the Gospel from Luke 7), wouldn’t it be terrible if every time I said the word prostitute I happened to look at this or that woman who thought that I was then judging her in front of everyone else? Yikes!

Anyway, I could certainly identify with Annie Glenn. She overcame her difficulty. I wonder if I’ll just continue with my own little cross until I die. Anyway, no eyes closed in heaven. There is the beatific vision, after all! Please God I get to fly up to heaven better than any astronaut after this life is over and see the Most Holy Trinity, including Jesus, who will, of course, come to judge the living and the dead and the world by fire. Amen.

A quick read: The story of John and Annie Glenn


Filed under Military

14 responses to “Annie Glenn and John Glenn (RIP) and me preaching with my eyes closed

  1. Mary Fran

    This is very interesting. One of the woman I admired most, a mentor, really, always closed her eyes whenever she talked with me. I always thought it odd. I wondered if it helped her concentrate better on what she was saying. Only heard years later that she did the same whenever she talked to anyone. Never considered it a disability and certainly nothing disgusting. Just odd. A peculiarity of my friend.

    • Father George David Byers

      @ Mary Fran – more oddly, I’ve never had a difficulty looking into the eyes of those to whom I’m personally speaking one on one, no matter the conversation.

  2. Rory O'Callaghan

    I’m reminded of the ltwo and a half year old little boy, kneeling with his mom and dad in the pews of his local church, gazing up into the miracle on the altar, eyes wide open.

  3. pelerin

    That article on the Glenns is very touching. I had no idea the astronaut was still alive. [[Men almost never die first. We wouldn’t know what to do!]]

    Regarding your need to close your eyes when preaching, I wonder if you had ever thought about keeping them open and focussing on something at the back of the church ie a clock or the organ thus avoiding eye contact with your parishioners? [[It’s not to avoid eye contact.]] I believe this is what public speakers are advised to do. [[I would hate that as it’s so impersonal.]]

    Incidentally I can assure you that at your Masses I attended in Lourdes I never noticed your eyes being closed but do remember when you excused yourself as having to preach in English! [[At the beginning until I learned French for the French chaplaincy. I was told I spoke French incomparably better than those from Quebec, but that even the French don’t admit that native French speakers speak French unless you are from their region!]]

    Still on the subject of eyes I remember many years ago being told that Protestants pray with their eyes closed and Catholics with their eyes open. The reason is we have beautiful things to look at in church (unless we are unfortunate enough to be in a 1960’s built church!) and of course usually focus on the Tabernacle whereas Protestants don’t. A mosaic of Cardinal Newman now in Westminster Cathedral shows him with his eyes closed which has disappointed many of us as he looks as if he is asleep! When I mentioned this to the artist who I first met many years ago he told me he saw nothing wrong with this and presumably the powers that be who commisioned it didn’t either. [[Perhaps I am putting myself to sleep with my own homilies!!! ;-) ]]

  4. James Anderson

    Thank you Fr. George for reminding me about Annie Glen’s story.

    I can see how your affliction could be disconcerting to those who don’t know you. Maybe you should always give an explanation up front when preaching in a new church. Is this related to Autism?

  5. I often close my eyes during the prayers of the liturgy if the Eucharist. That way it really does not matter in which direction the priest faces white reciting them, or how appropriate his liturgical attire.

  6. The way many people dress for Mass, I wouldn’t blame a priest if he felt he had to keep his eyes closed for the whole Mass.

  7. I have to agree with Andrew Saucci. Some people really dress so horribly you wonder if they ever looked into a mirror.

    On the other hand, if you were to preach in my diocese, I could care less if you stood on your head. Good preaching is almost nonexistent around here.

  8. monicaharris58

    Sometimes we probably wish God wouldn’t love us so much, to send these little crosses!

  9. Nan

    I read the Glenn’s story last night. How sweet that John considered Annie to be his hero.

    People need something to complain about, I guess. Priest closing his eyes would fit the bill.

  10. How wonderful it must be to be loved like that!

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