A Glimpse of ProvidenceDEACON DOUGLAS MCMANAMAN
Years ago I was involved in a CBC Online discussion forum on the topic of Robert Latimer. Most of those participating in the forum were in favor of Latimer’s decision to murder his daughter and regarded him as a courageous man.
I believe I was the only one on the forum who applauded the court's decision to send him to prison, but I found myself going over the many subtle distinctions involved in the ethics of killing for people who should know better.
I was determined not to insult any of my opponents in debate, because I knew through experience that although the opposition feel no need to refrain from employing insults or ad hominem arguments, the instant our side so much as colors one word with even a tinge of sarcasm, we are immediately dismissed as unworthy of further debate. Who was going to break first? I was determined to stay the course with patience, and so I continued to put forth the strongest arguments against Robert Latimer. But it wasn't long before I became the target of their ad hominem attacks of a rather vicious variety. One Tuesday morning the CBC Message Board was a veritable barrage of personal attacks on my character and so, instead of replying, I decided, in despair, to turn off the computer for the remainder of the day.
My good friend and former philosophy professor, Dr. Floyd Centore, encouraged me not to give up and suggested that we really don't know who might be following the debate. We might be having a more positive influence than we realize, he insisted.
Later on that evening I discovered that he was right. Someone had entered the ring on my behalf, and she was doing a much better job than I was capable of doing. She was a 28-year-old girl with Cerebral Palsy, who underwent all the operations that Tracy Latimer had and was scheduled to undergo. This girl suffered tremendously throughout her life, and she quickly pointed out that there was only one person on that forum who provided her with hope and strength to continue her difficult life at that difficult time, and that the rest of them had no idea what they were saying, much less any idea of the pain that their words were causing her -- a pain greater than any surgery she'd suffered through.
I decided to lay low and follow the discussion; for the arguments in favor of life were no longer coming from an abstract philosopher, but from a woman who knew exactly what was in store for Tracy. Would she succeed where I could not? I thought she would. But her experience was a very important chapter in the lesson I had learned about human nature. She changed no one on that forum. In fact, after a time, they even turned ad hominem on her, and so she eventually gave up the discussion.
Shortly thereafter we made email contact, and upon learning that she lives just down the road from an old and beautiful Church I once visited in Ottawa, I suggested that she wheel herself over there and spend time before the Blessed Sacrament. She did so and later remarked how much peace it brought her and how much it seemed to relieve her depression. Since she was spending so much time before the Blessed Sacrament, I suggested that she think about becoming a Catholic.
As my friend Monsignor Wells used to say, "sometimes the providence of God is blindingly obvious."
Shortly after that, a very close friend of mine, Monsignor Tom Wells of the Archdiocese of Washington D.C., was murdered by an unemployed tree trimmer living out of his van, who'd gotten drunk one night and decided to rob the Church rectory. He stabbed my friend 21 times, leaving him for dead. Before that tragedy, Monsignor Wells had been trying to get my wife and me to meet another friend of his, a Lieutenant Colonel in the Canadian Army, stationed in Washington at the time. But we had never been able to swing it -- until Monsignor's death. Lieutenant Colonel J.R Bernier had returned to Canada and was now living in Ottawa, involved in medical research. He called one night, and soon my daughter and I were on our way to Ottawa to stay with him and his wife and their six adopted children. While there, I'd also arranged to meet my new Internet pal with Cerebral Palsy. That weekend we met on Parliament Hill.
During that stay in Ottawa, however, the Lieutenant Colonel invited a priest over for dinner, Father Lindsay Harrison. During our conversation, I learned that Father Lindsay was being moved to an old and beautiful Church in downtown Ottawa and was going to be taking over the RCIA program. Need I continue?
One year later I stood at the front of that Church on Easter Vigil, witnessing the Baptism, Confirmation, and First Holy Communion of my friend, Michelle.
As my friend Monsignor Wells used to say, "sometimes the providence of God is blindingly obvious." The one theological truth that I find myself regularly sharing with the depressed and mentally ill is that God is in total control. Nothing happens outside of His providence, and only occasionally do we get a glimpse of the harmonious workings of that providential plan, like the story above. But the entire picture of that plan is a specter that possesses a beauty that is unimaginably richer and more awe inspiring than any human work of art is capable of, and it is something that will be ours to contemplate in heaven for an incalculable duration. It is a vision that will manifest the mercy and power of God and raise us up to praise and adore Him forever, something that every genuine work of art attempts to accomplish.
Douglas McManaman. "A Glimpse of Providence."
Reprinted with permission of Douglas McManaman.
The painting above is a pastel on sandpaper of Michelle in front of her apartment building in Ottawa, summer of 2007, by the author.
Doug McManaman is a Deacon and a Religion and Philosophy teacher at Father Michael McGivney Catholic Academy in Markham, Ontario, Canada. He is the past president of the Canadian Fellowship of Catholic Scholars. He maintains the following web site for his students: A Catholic Philosophy and Theology Resource Page, in support of his students. He studied Philosophy at St. Jerome's College in Waterloo, and Theology at the University of Montreal. Deacon McManaman is on the advisory board of the Catholic Education Resource Center.
Copyright © 2009 Douglas McManaman