Do Catholics believe in fate?

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The key word for Catholics is providence, not fate.

Benedictius Fate's an interesting word. It derives from the Latin fatum, "that which has been spoken." It's been described as the handwriting on the wall or the inevitability of life's course. When we meet the love of our lives, we may feel this encounter was meant to be. Or we may sense that our vocation, discovered early, was the only career track or direction we were destined to walk.

Truly we're not in control of many factors governing our lives. In some ways we can describe ourselves as pre-determined: our place of origin, race, genetic code, moment of history, an so on. Elements that profoundly affect our course aren't ours to choose, including the unavoidability of death.

So, on the one hand, our faith tells us we're free choosers and co-creators of our destiny. Yet in other ways, we recognize volition isn't the whole story. We plan, but plans may be undone by outside forces. It's no wonder some folks surrender to a suspicion that scientific randomness is the true force that governs history; or, that most or all of what happens to us is already "in the cards" or predestined. Even people of faith may shrug and speak of "God's will" as if God is the divine face of fate, fixing our state of life just as it is.

What does the church teach about all this? The key word for Catholics is providence, not fate. The biblical word is often translated as God's plan, design, or order, but providence is not to be confused with a prewritten history. God's plan, as the sacred stories make abundantly clear, is that creation flourishes and the human community enters into its fullness. This fullness is described as shaloma word meaning peace, justice, happiness, and goodness. If there's a divine design, it's not that we should tread on an immutable path, but that we follow the path that leads to ultimate joy: union with God. God's goal for all creation is the road to salvation, a "new creation."

Providence is the authority governing and illuminating this path. Teachers instruct and prophets may warn, but we won't always attend to their direction. Providence doesn't force us down a chute of decision, but is rather a divine intention we can always trust. Perhaps Julian of Norwich expressed it best: "All will be well, and all manner of things will be well." The happy ending awaits.

Scriptures: Deuteronomy 7:9-11; 11:26-28; Job 10:12; Psalm 33:11; 36:6-13; Isaiah 44:6-8; Jeremiah 7:4-7; Ezekiel 18:1-32; Daniel 12:1-3; Wisdom 6:6-8; 8:1; 11:2; 14:3-7; 17:2; Sirach 32:14-24; Matthew 6:25-34; Acts 2:37-39; Romans 1:1-7; 11:22-24; Hebrews 4:13

Books: Predestination, Grace, and Free Will - M. John Farrelly, OSB (Westminster, MD: Newman Press, 1964)

Making All Things New: Catholicity, Cosmology, Consciousness - Ilia Delio (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2015)

Reprinted with permission from ©TrueQuest Communications.

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