Have you ever had that experience where you stumble upon a quote or a scripture verse or a song or a homily that is just so appropriate for your circumstances, and is just what you needed to hear at a particular time? Often we put these things down to mere coincidence but sometimes we can’t help but wonder if there’s something more going on.
One of the first times I remember this happening was back when I was in high school. I had recently seen a three-part tv series that aired in Australia called The Abbey in which 5 Australian women spent a month living with the Sisters of a monastic Benedictine community. A lot of people watched the series and a lot of people were talking about it, but something strange happened to me that, as far as I knew, no-one else was experiencing. I was suddenly getting these weird ideas. Ideas that weren’t normal. Ideas that involved the possibility of me becoming a nun…
What was wrong with me? Normal teenage girls my age wanted to be actresses or models or singers, not nuns! Was this just a phase I was going through because of watching the tv show? Had I perhaps watched Sister Act, The Sound of Music or The Singing Nun a few too many times when I was growing up? Was this my way of asserting my individuality and not following the crowd? Or maybe…just maybe…did God have some kind of special plan for my life? After all, I wasn’t your ordinary teenager. I had never really fit in with my peers at school so maybe there was something special about me. Maybe I was destined to be a Saint!… But no, surely that was kind of arrogant and presumptuous, to think that somehow I, of all people, was special in God’s eyes!
It just didn’t add up. My family aren’t religious at all. Sure, my grandfather used to tell my brother as a child that he should become a priest because according to him, traditionally every respectable family had a priest somewhere in their family tree, but no-one thought he was serious because he would also tell my brother that as the only grandson he had to have lots of children to carry on the family name. My immediate family had only been practicing Catholics for short space in my life, from when I was 8 until I was about 14, and then we had stopped attending Mass because my parents were angered by the disrespect shown by many parishioners during the Mass. I had attended Catholic schools from second grade onwards but the concept of “vocations” was never anything more than a topic covered over one or two Religious Education lessons over the course of many years.
The year The Abbey aired was one of significant change in my life. It was the year I joined the local Catholic youth group and the first time I remember becoming aware of and open to a relationship with God in my life. I was this super shy kid who’d always been bullied and put down as the class nerd, and then suddenly I had these friends who seemed to like and accept me for me! So there I was, learning to accept myself and overcome my self-loathing and suddenly I’m thinking about being a nun! Yeah, never saw that one coming… But the thing was I had all these friends who seemed super holy compared to myself yet none of them seemed to be considering the distant possibility of entering a convent.
In hindsight I don’t know how long I actually struggled with this strange new idea – it could have been weeks or months for all I know. I had no-one I could talk to about this new possibility I was presented with – I mean becoming a religious just isn’t something that’s done these days (at least that’s what I thought at the time). People would just think I was nuts or trying to make myself look super holy or something. I remember feeling really frustrated every time there was something in the school newsletter about discernment weekends for young men considering the priesthood because there was never any mention of similar events for young women contemplating religious life.
Keep in mind that at this point in my life I still wasn’t attending Mass regularly, but it just so happened that one week when I did attend Mass with my youth group our parish priest gave a homily about vocations. That may seem pretty standard to some, but not in my parish – in fact I don’t recall ever hearing a homily specifically on vocations at my home parish before or since, not even during Vocations Awareness Week or when the Gospel passage is directly relevant. Yet at this particular time in my life when it was something I would say I was really struggling with the priest just happened to give a homily on that topic on one of the rare occassions I was actually at Mass. I remember our parish priest saying we should be open to and not afraid of a call to vocations but also telling us not to worry if we were unsure about being called. He said that if it was genuine we would know when the time was right. And with that I was able to stop worrying and be at peace. Maybe my vocation is religious life and maybe it isn’t, but there’s no need for me to stress about it as long as I remain open to the possibility and try to live in a way that is pleasing to God. He will take care of the rest.
In the years that have passed since these events I’ve come to realise that God will always show us what we need to see or hear when the time is right. Even when we’re not looking for or expecting to see Him working in our lives He is right there beside us guiding us closer to Him. I once heard someone say “there are no such things as coincidences, only Christ-incidences.” Maybe next time we observe an apparent coincidence in our lives we should stop and think about it. Who knows – maybe, just maybe, there’s a bigger picture playing out.