Last week, our family was present as my wife's mother took inevitable steps toward a death whose arrival is countable in days.
On Thursday night, returning from her bedside, my son and I were almost killed when a pickup truck ploughed into the suddenly out of control taxi in which we were riding.
During the weekend, I attended a three-day conference on The Inexorable Positivity of Reality. Most normal, compos mentis people would see the first two events as an active negation of the third.
Had the conference been some happy-clappy sales pitch on the seven essential steps to achieving eternal happiness, lifelong financial security, and winning Olympic gold medals in your sixties, I would have heartily agreed. Actually even that isn't true. I would have shunned it.
But no. On the contrary, the conference message affirmed vigorously the positivity in the long, slow, debilitating tearing away of my mother-in-law through Alzheimer's and in the instantaneous, violent collision that left my son and I unhurt by sheer grace and good fortune. The message affirmed, in a name, Jesus Christ.
Not, it must be made immediately clear, Christ merely as doctrinal marketing brand or universal good luck charm or omniscient babysitter or supernatural day planner or Someone to pay respects to on Sunday mornings before the NFL playoff games start or even as moralistic ready reckoner hectoring us little boys and girls to colour mostly within the lines.
Rather, Christ as Event. Historic event, of course, locked down in time, traceable—as we testify in the Apostles Creed—by placement in a geographic setting through verifiable personages such as Pontius Pilate. But more, much more: a capital 'e' Event, ever present, as a something, as a reality, that is happening to me now. Happening to me whether I am sitting by a hospital bedside attending the inevitable death of a woman who has treated me like a son for almost 30 years, or whether I am coming back to dazed consciousness in the rear seat of a wrecked vehicle desperately asking my own son if he is all right.
It is Christ as reality made utterly unavoidable by hard, cold, crunching facts forcing themselves upon reason. Let me assure you there can be fewer facts harder, colder or of greater impact than staring at an unstoppable black truck pointed toward you on a snow blown road, waiting for it to bring death, then awakening with terror in your heart that it might, in fact, be your beloved son who has died beside you. Such a moment is as positively real as life can get.
There, in that positively real, is Christ present. Again, not as lucky charm. Nor even as the exhalation of inexpressible relief that both of you, and most importantly your son, escaped relatively unscathed. But as the ultimate, and ultimately merciful, primary meaning within those discrete events, at the point that reason itself tells us is the end of all human events.
As Father Julian Carron, president of the lay Catholic organization Communion and Liberation expressed it at the conference: "We don't have to deny the painful face of reality. In fact, we can affirm that reality is positive because (any given event) is not the last word of Christ."
As Father Carron put it, Christ's eternal Word is the "gaze of mercy that confirms our humanity." Whatever we are involved in, whatever we are waiting for, long and slow and abrupt and frightening, that merciful gaze is present to us, not just upon us for, indeed, we are as essential to its love as its love is to us.
"The Christian Event," Father Carron said, "is not present because 'it is' but 'it is' because it is present."
I have believed, all my life, in the Something Happened nature of that Christian event. After the confluence of events last week, I begin to see the inexorable, positive reality of my place before it.