Mathematics and religious life have both brought with them one fringe benefit that I had not really considered when entering into either vocation: international travel. In fact, this June will mark the fourth summer in a row that I'll be making a trip to Europe, and each of the last three has brought me in touch with a mysterious sign of Divine Providence.
In 2010, I traveled to Portugal for an annual meeting in mathematical logic. Now Portugal is not an obvious hotbed for mathematical research, but this particular meeting rotates through various nations of Europe, and Portugal was simply next in turn. It was a country I had never seen, so I was very excited to go. I was, however, a little disappointed when I realized I'd still be overseas on July 4. It's only natural for an American to want to be home on Independence Day, and most years I enjoy going to fireworks with family or friends.
So I wasn't thrilled that I'd be in a place where nobody cared about the day. But then I realized I was wrong: July 4 is the feast day of St. Elizabeth of Portugal. The only place other than America (that I know of) where this day is special, and there I was. Lord willing, I will be in the States to celebrate many Independence Days. But how many times would I get the opportunity to celebrate St. Elizabeth of Portugal in Portugal?
Last year, the local University of Portland community blessed me by sending me to LeMans for the program in Holy Cross history and spirituality. I'm pretty sure it takes place about the same time each summer (except when the Marianite Sisters, who run the program, convene their general chapter). Last year, because Easter was so late, the program ended on the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart.
This devotion to our Lord obviously had great significance to Blessed Basil Moreau, since he chose the Sacred Heart as the patron of the priests. Moreover, this devotion began in France with the visions of St. Margaret Mary, and fittingly, the most important shrine to the Sacred Heart, Sacre Coeur, stands in Paris. Since the conference ended on that Friday, I celebrated the Solemnity's morning Mass in LeMans, the cradle of our Congregation, and traveled that afternoon to the airport in Paris, the Sacred Heart's "own city" (but, of course, the whole world belongs to Him).
This year, that same mathematical logic conference takes place June 18-23 in Cambridge (England), the alma mater of Alan Turing, one of the most important logicians of the 20th century, who was born June 23, 1912. The dates and the place of the conference were chosen for obvious reasons, and I am very fortunate and glad that I will be there to remember a tremendous figure in my chosen field of study. But, for me as a priest, the significance of time and place has a whole added dimension. For June 22 is the feast day of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More, who, 477 years ago, gave their lives in loyalty to Christ's Church during the reign of Henry VIII. What a joy and honor to think that, Lord willing, I will be at their earthly home to remember the day they entered our true homeland.
These seemingly small, symbolic gifts from God mean a great deal to me. I chose to make these trips for reasons that were my own, but He made them occasions for me to celebrate with Him and His saints. We make many choices in our lives for very practical, sensible, and even somewhat selfish reasons. We do not always know how God uses those choices for His own designs, to bless us and those around us in ways we never imagined.
Fr. Charlie McCoy, C.S.C., is an Assistant Professor of Mathematics at the University of Portland. He is a monthly contributor to theSpes Unica blog, reflecting primarily on the work of Holy Cross in education. Learn more about the work of Holy Cross priests and brothers in the field of education to bring hope to the Church and world.