By Dr. Donald DeMarco
“Destiny” is a word that has both profound and mysterious significance. And like kindred words such as love, beauty, goodness, wisdom and truth, it is often trivialized to fit some mundane purpose.
A football team, for example, is said to “be in control of its own destiny” simply because its trip to the playoffs is not dependent on a rival team losing. Yet, that same team is not in control of winning. Nor does it make any sense to say that at the start of the season every team is in control of its destiny. Equally fallacious is the notion that contraception and abortion afford a woman “control over her destiny.”
We have no control of how words are cheapened or used in a contradictory fashion, but we can do something about restoring important words to their more exalted meaning.
The truth is that “destiny,” in its proper sense, is something that no one can ever be in control of. The central paradox of destiny is that it comes to me from the outside, although, in some way, it is present within myself. Destiny, therefore, must be from God. “There is a divinity that shapes our ends,” says Hamlet, “Rough-hew them how we will.” “That is most certain,” replies Horatio (act V, scene 2).
For Chaucer, “The destiny, minister general, that executeth in the world over-all, the purveyance, that God hath seen before. . . . All is thus ruled by the sight above” (The Knightes Tale). Destiny involves a mysterious interaction between our freedom and God’s superintendence. It is a matter of coordination, not control. It cannot be determined simply by a “Destiny Number,” which is calculated by adding the numbers associated with each letter of a person’s name.
Destiny involves the God who created us and did not abandon us to chance. It is interesting to note that the word “density” is an anagram for “destiny.” This is most fitting since there is an anthropological basis in us for our destiny. Our destiny is rooted, in part, in our particular makeup. Caruso’s destiny was to sing, Rubinstein’s to play the piano, Michelangelo’s to be a sculptor, Bernadette Soubirous’ to see the Immaculate Conception, Karol Wojtyla’s to become Pope John Paul II.
A horse cannot sing like a nightingale, nor can a nightingale whinny like a horse. Destiny is neither a matter of chance nor of fate. It is the fulfillment of our faithful relationship with God’s will.
The fact that we have a destiny is a source of great hope and jubilation. It means that we are not abandoned to “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” It means four things in particular that add challenge and excitement to our lives:
My destiny is unique. Because of the particular way in which I was made, given whatever talents and abilities God has given me, my destiny is unlike anyone else’s destiny. Therefore, I can pursue something which is mine in a most specific way.
My destiny awaits me. Because God has shaped my destiny, it is something that has pre-existed in God’s mind. Thus, my destiny is something real.
My destiny is achievable. By living in accordance with God’s Will, it is possible to achieve my destiny. Therefore, I can live with hope and have faith that my destiny can be realized.
My destiny is worthwhile. Because God has a hand in my destiny, it must be something that is good and worth whatever sacrifices I must make, and hardship I must endure along the way. I will not succumb to the grim notion that “the paths of glory lead but to the grave.”
Our destiny, though it draws us like iron filings to a magnetic pole, remains elusive.
We understand full well what “destination” means. I drive to the airport and complete one destination. This is followed by a series of additional destinations: my flight to New York, my ride to the hotel, taking the elevator to my room, and so on. As I complete one destination another destination immediately takes its place. But, as I go through this process of completing one destination after another, am I any closer to my destiny?
Destinations do not deliver one’s destiny. Destiny transcends destination. When I am asked, “Where are you going?” it is always in terms of reaching another destination. I do not know how to speak of my destiny though I know, deep in my heart, that I have one.
In his book, “The Destiny of Man,” Nikolai Berdyaev discusses destiny as the process of advancing from mere individuality to spiritual personhood.
“Individuality is a naturalistic and biological category,” he writes, “while personality is a religious and spiritual one.” An individual is part of the species, is born and dies. But personality is created by God. “It is God’s idea, God’s conception, which springs up in eternity.” Thus, man’s destiny is to achieve spiritual personality: “personality,” for Berdyaev, “is a task to be achieved.”
A communist government may have a “Plan” for its people. But this plan is not unique to each person and has nothing to do with the dignity of the human person. Destiny, though shrouded in mystery, belongs to each of us as a reality conceived by God that draws us out from the finitude and preoccupation with the self to a richer realization in spiritual personhood.
And as this transformation takes place, we begin to understand both the reality and the rewards of our specific destiny.
Dr. Donald DeMarco is a senior fellow of Human Life International. He is professor emeritus at St. Jerome’s University in Waterloo, Ontario, and an adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College in Cromwell, Conn. This column is reprinted from the Feb. 23 edition of The Wanderer.