What Happened Just Happened to Happen

by Patrick Henry

 Patrick Henry, who retired in 2004 as executive director of the Collegeville [MN] Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research, published a book in 1999,  The Ironic Christian’s Companion: Finding the Marks of God’s Grace in the World (Riverhead Books; now available as an eBook). In one of the chapters he reflects on what has been his favorite book since childhood, Dr. Seuss’s  The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins . Here is an extract from that chapter of the book (pages 215-17):

Patrick Henry, who retired in 2004 as executive director of the Collegeville [MN] Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research, published a book in 1999, The Ironic Christian’s Companion: Finding the Marks of God’s Grace in the World(Riverhead Books; now available as an eBook). In one of the chapters he reflects on what has been his favorite book since childhood, Dr. Seuss’s The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins. Here is an extract from that chapter of the book (pages 215-17):

[In Dr. Seuss’s The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins], King Derwin’s Wise Men (not to be confused with the ones who visit Bethlehem in Matthew’s Gospel) are stymied by the mysterious appearance of hat after hat on Bartholomew’s head.

[The Wise Men] are something of a joke when they appear in the book, but in the end they prove to deserve their title.  The final word will be that what happened “just happened to happen,” and had no parallel in “all [the] kingdom, in all the world beyond, or in all other worlds that may happen to be.”  I said earlier that science fiction has been an aerobic workout for my imagination.  Actually, the workouts started when I was a child and read The 500 Hats.   Seuss was limbering me up for the occasion, many years later, when I would hear a good friend, the eminent Roman Catholic theologian George H. Tavard [who was alive when The Ironic Christian’s Companion was written, but died in 2007, at age 85], describe, in detail and with deep emotion, his encounter with other worlds that may happen to be.

[Here is George’s story.]  It was one evening in winter—December or January—in Columbus, Ohio, around 9:30 p.m.  I was quietly reading something, and I felt a sudden urge to look outside.  I went out the front door.  Right in front and above, beyond the house across the street, there was a shape in the air.  The shape must have looked like a rectangular box standing upright, with very bright lights or lamps on each side, with orange-like and green-blue lights of a shade I had never seen anywhere.  My first reaction was to say to myself, “I am not afraid!”  As I looked at the thing I had a very vivid feeling of being observed.  After some time (seconds or minutes? I do not know), the thing vanished, though I did not see it go away.  One moment it was there, the next moment it was not there.  I looked up the newspaper the next few days, and I read that there had been several reports of UFOs on that day in the region of Cincinnati.  Whether these were connected with mine I did not attempt to find out.

The question, “Do you believe in UFOs?” is for me an unreal, abstract question, slippery from too much handling by “experts.”  “Do you believe your friend who says he’s seen one?” is a question that I can handle.  It is much harder for me to disbelieve George Tavard than to believe in UFOs.  King Derwin’s Wise Men would understand what I mean.