Saturday, April 2, 2005

The vectors of Providence

A vector is -- if my elementary knowledge of physics still has any traction -- the speed and direction according to which an object moves. A couple vectors in current events have caught my eye for their peculiar interplay. First -- may God have mercy on her, and especially on her killers -- Terri Schiavo died recently. Second, the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, is facing (again) the veil of death. Make no mistake: as a Catholic and as a more or less optimistic person, I refuse to say he is "done for." In fact, it appears he is still quite cognizant. All the same, he has tangoed with death more than once, and it's simple honesty facing the fact he may die soon.

The interaction of these two vectors, in terms of their narrative logic as well as their play in the media, caught my eye. As I wrote to a dear someone earlier today: "Our Pope's suffering is providentially tied up with Terri's, just as his teaching and witness for the Gospel of Life was providentially tied up with all the efforts to rescue her and any other target of the Culture of Death. His sufferings unite him not only to Terri, of course, but also to Christ Himself (see Rom 8). Our prayers, in turn, must unite us to all three of them. This is Catholicism." I am stunned by the basic harmony coming from the chorus of death in Terri's and now in the Pope's case. Both have outlasted their usefulness; both have reached an irreversible low of human importance; both, therefore, should be "taken out of their misery" so that the families and the Church can "get on with life." Terri's vector, the first, was that of a Christian life smothered by clinical and legal maturity. The Pope's vector, the second, is that of an apparently tired, old, confused man being asked not so indirectly to bow out with grace for the sake of all involved.

And the third vector? That is my own reception into the Catholic Church. My vector of ecclesial wholeness hits Terri's in that I feel almost as if my new Catholic life is pledged towards filling the gap left by Terri's demise. She has left the Pilgrim Church and I have been called to enter it. I'm certainly not worthy of this honor, much less am I alone among the many Easter converts this year in enjoying such grave timing. Nevertheless, I do feel this obligation, so I'm going with it. My vector hits the Pope’s in that his pontificate has spanned my entire life. He became Pope about eight and a half months before I was born and has lived to “see” my reception into the Church. The longer I considered entering the Catholic Church, the more deeply I saw him as a spiritual father. His pontificate, a pontificate of hope, truth and zeal (with its admitted share of failures and inconsistencies), has become in my eyes a sort of sign of contradiction for the era in which I grew up. I was barely aware of his ministry as a boy, and then only dimly interested in his legacy as a Protestant, but I now see how he was fighting the good fight while God did His work in me.

These are the incalculable vectors of Providence. I'm left in humble awe. attempting each day to keep in sync with the vectors of the Holy Spirit (cf. Gal 5:25).

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