G.K. Chesterton once wrote that coincidences are spiritual puns, and in my own experience I have come to see that they do indeed make up a major part of God’s vocabulary. My life has been punctuated by numerous coincidences (some small and others astounding), and I have learned that many of them are heavenly whispers – invitations to slow down from the frantic pace of daily life and turn one’s ear heavenward. If you pay them attention, you will hear God’s voice quietly guiding you.
One such coincidence happened a few years back when I was trying to decide on a thesis topic for a master’s degree in philosophy – I was on the fence between writing on artistic beauty or on another theme. While deliberating in front of a computer one evening in my seminary’s look-out basement, I happened to glance up at the tiny window just in time to see it perfectly framing a beautiful full moon. The chances of everything aligning correctly for such a perfect picture right at the moment I looked up were extremely small, so it occurred to me that perhaps it was a sign to nudge me in the direction of beauty. I decided accordingly and launched on an analysis of Aristotle’s Poetics that proved to be a crucial intellectual adventure and one of the most worthwhile and enriching projects I have ever done.
Having learned to pay attention to coincidences like this one, I have been thinking and praying about a small coincidence that took place this past New Year’s Eve while visiting a friend in Utah. That evening, I watched Interstellar for the first time. One of the most powerful scenes of the movie is when the astronaut Joe Cooper leaves his family farm to embark on a mission from which he may never return. As he drives away in his truck, a male voice counts down the seconds as if he were about to takeoff in a shuttle, highlighting the fact that his journey into the unknown was already beginning as he drove his pickup between cornfields.
The coincidence came when the movie ended and my friend and I realized that it was exactly 11:59 – the last minute of 2015. As we counted down the seconds to 2016, it struck me that our countdown was not all that different from Joe Cooper’s. Every new year is a great unknown, and taking it on is always an adventure in itself.
After the countdown, we walked out into the frigid winter night to see the fireworks going off in the neighborhood. I recalled where I was a year ago that moment: on a seminary roof in Rome watching fireworks shoot up from piazzas all over the city. Little did I know that the unknowns of 2015 would bring me out of my religious order in the Eternal City back to the States and into the seminary program of Archdiocese of New York. God works in mysterious ways.
Living life fully is not forcing things to happen by ourselves; it is riding the wave of opportunities that God sends our way, and learning the recognize the coincidences and other signs that indicate them.
So what will 2016 bring for me? If all goes well, I will finish my pastoral year at St. Benedict’s Parish in the Bronx and move into the seminary in August where I will live full-time to complete the last three years of theology that stand between me and the priesthood. Besides that, only the Holy Spirit knows! Stay tuned to see.