I love this thought from the Passionists. This sign reminds me of a couple things: first, I recall something a former pastor of mine, Father Bruce Cinquegrani spoke about at a day of reflection at our diocesan retreat house, Our Lady Queen of Peace. He said we all have a story to our lives. At first that didn’t make sense to me, but then he told us about his story.
From an early age Father Bruce heard God’s call to the priesthood. His plan was to become a Passionist order priest and live out his vocation in the Northeast, or in mission work in various parts of the world with the Passionists. However, through a series of twists and turns, he became a beloved diocesan, parish priest, where he has lived his out his vocation for 30+ years, in Memphis, TN –quite a ways in distance, culture, and weather, from New England. None of this was in Father Bruce’s original plan, but it was obviously God’s plan, and it ended up being Father Bruce’s story. And, by the way, those of us who have been blessed to know him over these years, are quite happy about these turns of events, I can assure you.
It also reminds me of the saying, “God writes straight, with crooked lines.” The story of Moses leading his people through the desert in Exodus illustrates this for me; a people in exile, yet a rather loose confederation of clans and tribes. They somewhat reluctantly and spontaneously leave their homes in Egypt in the dead of night, being led by a Hebrew, turned Egyptian, turned Hebrew stuttering, reluctant prophet of sorts. They slowly plod ahead of a fast ensuing army, with their few meager possessions, and a vague objective of a Promised Land. Oy vey, the complaining and infidelity begin almost immediately!
Just think if they had known on that first Passover Night, that it would take 40 years to get to the new land; that those 40 years would be spent wandering around a brutal desert, exposed to starvation, rain, wind and heat; and that none of the original adults, would actually make it to the new land? But, looking back over the story, we see a nation being formed. We see a people making a firm identity with bonds that last until this very day. We see them being formed into God’s Chosen People. And we see them cherish their God, and their promised land like they couldn’t possibly have done if they had stayed in Egypt.
My own planning has been nearly as laughable as Moses and the Chosen People. I was going to be a professional golfer, a priest, a novelist, a lawyer, business executive …millionaire by age 30. I wasn’t going to do all those things at the same time, obviously; a novelist millionaire by age 30? Come on, what was I thinking? But somehow, from dreaming those things in my youth, in sunny Florida, I ended up a small business sales rep; a father of two wonderful sons and one extraordinary daughter-in-law; blessed beyond measure with a best friend-wife of 32 years –who I did not meet in Florida, and a grandson who lights up our world. I have an amazing life with family and friends in the southwest corner of the state of Tennessee; and, far, far from being a millionaire! That’s my story, and I wouldn’t trade it for all the plans of my youth, for any amount of money, fame, or …Masters green jackets. I wouldn’t trade the pain, the frustrations, the illnesses, the failures, and the disappointments of these years, because then I wouldn’t have the joys, the surprises, the accomplishments, the astonishingly abundant blessings I’ve encountered in my life …in my story.
So do we not plan? Is it all set out before us regardless of what we do? Is the story set in stone? No, I don’t think so. We must plan in a practical sense; after all we do live in a real world of needs and obligations. I believe to move forward, to further our story, we must, with our story in hand, trust in God. Thomas Merton writes:
“My Lord God I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that my desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope that I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”
In Father Bruce’s story, and Moses’ story, and my story, how we got from point A to point B, was a crazy, circuitous, and confounding journey, with lots of unexpected surprises, both disappointing and heartening. Through human eyes, it looks extremely inefficient, if not at times downright comical. But through God’s eyes, it makes perfect sense. “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans,” the saying goes. How about your story? Can you look back over the years, and see God working in your life, yet outside your plans, alongside writing your story? Plan all you want, plan because we must, and by all means, live forward, but don’t be surprised if the story turns out completely different. I’m planning my next moves, but at the same time, looking forward to seeing how my story continues; how about you?