I was driving home from work in the dark. I fumbled through the AM dial and found the usual late night fare: Talk about rotating lights in the sky, astronomical calculations and mystery dimensions. “Thanks for tuning in tonight, folks. Jim is here and he claims to have conversations with clouds.”
I’ll admit, Jim was a tad hard to follow. But after Jim, another guest spoke about how he had been given meaningful coincidences throughout his life at exactly the right moment, as a sort of beacon system. Aside from the New Age fluff around the edges, it appeared he was talking about divine providence.
Us Catholics are firm believers in divine providence. St. Ignatius of Loyola writes, “God works and labors for us in all creatures upon the face of the earth.”
We know this applies to the communion of saints. We can pray for each other, and we can request the prayers of the saints, especially our patron saints. Fortunately, there are enough patron saints to go around. Bakers have one – brides do, too – sorry, grooms. Cities all around the world have one. Even astronauts have one: St. Joseph of Cupertino used to levitate during prayer.
When I first began dating Teresa in graduate school, I showed up at her apartment one snowy afternoon with a single yellow rose. I had mulled the options at the grocery store and decided on yellow, because red seemed a bit “over the top.” I hadn’t thought too much more about it; perhaps, I was more interested in the cookies I had in the bag. Regardless, I showed up at her door, and handed over both the rose and the cookies.
“Did you talk to my mom?”
“Are you sure?”
“Pretty sure, I don’t even call my own mom as much as I should.”
“My mom has been praying a novena to St. Therese for me.”
“OK. That’s nice.” (Must eat cookies, must eat cookies.)
“That God would show me the deepest desires of my heart, she asked St. Therese to send me a single yellow rose.”
Teresa shook her head in disbelief and we both stood there stunned for a few moments. I even forgot about the cookies – well, mostly. It’s been part of our marriage story ever since, and it’s proven to be a great testimony to providence in our lives.
Maybe divine providence is more active in our lives than we realize. Perhaps we’re not paying as close attention as we should. Maybe we don’t sufficiently allow providence to account for the details, large or small, in our lives.
On a recent trip to a family reunion, I again saw providence at work. That day, we played bocce ball and feasted on meatballs that were about the same size as my middle child. Later, two cousins shared a presentation about their recent trip to our small ancestral village, Terravecchia, in southern Italy. The mayor had even given them a video greeting to share with everyone. In the greeting, he discussed the history of the village and how they had never forgotten about the families that immigrated to our town in Iowa.
Then he began to share the importance of Terravecchia’s patron saint, Our Blessed Mother of Mount Carmel. I immediately thought about the grandmother I never met, who had grown up in Terravecchia. I thought about my deceased father. I was making connections I had never made. I recalled my grandmother’s middle name was Carmella, and my father’s middle name was Carmen. Both names are derived from the Hebrew word, Karmel; they both seemed to potentially reference the patron saint of the village, Our Blessed Mother of Mount Carmel. Then I recalled many years ago learning that my grandmother had a great devotion to St. Therese of Lisieux. It seemed to fit. I was fascinated.
Once home, life returned to normal. My mind resumed traveling along its customary roadways:
“Daddy, I want to read before I go to bed, but I don’t want to keep my eyes open.”
“How about reading with your eyes closed?”
“Sorry, that’s all I got.”
And to be honest, I began to doubt some of the connections I had made at the reunion. Maybe I was just under an intense meatball fog. After all, they really were big. Middle child big.
But then that next weekend, my family and I found ourselves at a Carmelite Monastery visiting one of our dear friends. In fact, prior to entering the cloister, Sr. Christine was one of the two people who formed the young adult Catholic group where Teresa and I had met. We had a delightful visit, bringing each other up to date on life. We laughed and swapped jokes. Sr. Christine even had a chance to share with the kids the story of St. Simon Stock and the real Mount Carmel. When our visit was over, it dawned on me: God, indeed, had been laboring for my family and me through all the creatures here on earth. How many other times had I failed to see the obvious workings of providence?
(Joe and Teresa have three active children and run a joyful home in Plymouth. Opportunities for heavenly inspired humor abound. Joe, a librarian and Teresa, a physical therapist, are parishioners at St. John the Baptist, Plymouth.)