Navigating the Darkness

Only by God's grace can we pilot through our own inner trials



Handsome and adventurous, John F. Kennedy Jr. fell into the self-destructive behavior of other men in the Kennedy clan. Fame and fortune have a way of corrupting the soul.

In his late 30s, JFK Jr. decided to fulfill his persistent childhood wish to fly a plane. His mother begged him not to do this, fearing he could be the third victim of the Kennedy curse, but she failed. In 1998 he received his pilot’s license with sufficient day-time flight experience in his single-engine plane, but none for night flying on instruments only.

The trip to a cousin’s wedding on Martha’s Vineyard took place on a hazy moonless night. A concerned flight instructor volunteered to accompany him. A proud John said, “I want to do it alone.” To reach his destination, he, his wife, and his sister-in-law would fly 200 miles—partly over the dark ocean. That’s where inexperienced pilots lose sight of the horizon and get confused. Unable to see shore lights or other landmarks, Kennedy needed to “fly blind” but didn’t know how.

Needless to say, the plane went down with no survivors. America’s “crown prince” had lost his life. I grieved that tragic loss, as did many others.

Recalling all this, I saw parallels with my own youthful pride and confusion as a lapsed Catholic wrestling for belief in God’s existence. In the 1960s, college was a free-for-all featuring weekend fraternity parties at which we rowdy teenagers guzzled kegs of beer. Promiscuity in our “make-out room” initiated me, and other virgins, into a living hell that set us ablaze with burning desires hard to extinguish.

At graduate school, I had a fling with a woman I met in a bar who afterward told me she was married and her husband was due back anytime. I dressed hurriedly and rushed out the door hoping to avoid his anger. That, along with other adventures, had me flirting with danger — like a Hindu snake-charmer teasing cobras.

I imagined myself as the center of attraction, God’s gift to all women. Narcissistic to an extreme, I eventually had a breakdown that became my own “dark night of the soul.” The false ideas of my purpose for living had to go. Across half a year I had to learn how to navigate the inky inward darkness and discover who I truly am and what I’m doing here. Over time and by God’s grace, I learned to quiet my restless mind, listening for His “still small voice” (cf. I Kings 19:12).

Like a lost pilot dependent on radio guidance from Christ, I landed safely through the fog and haze, in spite of my disorientation. Listening in silence to His whispered directives proved essential to my survival.

After the dark night, the dawn brings glimpses of eternal life.

“Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love Him” (James 1:12).


Richard M. DellOrfano spent ten years on a cross-country pilgrimage following Christ’s instruction to minister without possessions. He is completing his autobiography: Path Perilous, My Search for God and the Miraculous.

From The Narthex

Time Passing Me By

I arise each morning, stumble to the sink, wash my face, and then stare in…

Laity Rising

Many a cardinal and bishop has praised lay involvement in the Church. One wonders if…

Blessings of Our Faith

I once wrote an article claiming that the Incarnation of Christ had been the central…