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Take risks! I did, and got a wife

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PHOTOCREO Michal Bednarek | Shutterstock

Tom Hoopes - published on 03/11/24

Saints dare to disturb the universe. Pope Francis is always encouraging young people to be risk-takers.

“Do you dream?” Pope Francis asked young people in Rome in January. “Do you have restlessness in your thoughts, in your hearts?” He became urgent: “Do not be afraid to risk,” he said, and even pleaded: “Please risk. … If you do not risk, who will?”  

I second his urgency: It’s vital that young people take risks. Big risks. Risks are how every good thing comes to you. In fact, it is how I got my wife. 

Words very much like Pope Francis’ are what convinced April to marry me. 

I wrote a long quote out on a piece of paper that ended with the words: “Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.” 

She was starting graduate school, a hard time to start a family, too. I would have to leave my job to join her, and I didn’t yet have another. And we would have to live on the opposite coast from our families and friends. April’s parents worried about the wisdom of it. 

But the quote did its work on April’s soul. The rest of it went like this: 

“There is one elementary truth that ignorance of which kills countless splendid plans: The moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way.” 

Every part of that quote came true. 

Providence moved along with us. I got a low-paying job as a reporter. We took the bus to the grocery store, and put our expensive items at the back of the check-out conveyor belt so we could take them off if the bill went too high. We sang, “Even though we aint got money / I’m so in love with you honey.” 

All sorts of things occurred that never would have. I got laid off and began receiving unemployment checks. To make ends meet, I began writing for the National Catholic Register, starting a chain of events that would lead to me being editor there years later. 

“Unforeseen incidents and meetings” rose in my favor. We pledged to delay children with Natural Family Planning for the first few years — but found we were expecting within the first few months. The day the baby was born was the day I started a new job, as press secretary for a congressman who was about to become one of the most powerful lawmakers in Washington — the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. That gave me invaluable experience, and a killer resume.  

We saw God do things for us that we never would have experienced if we had skipped the risks. 

Was I luckier in my risk than others? Probably. But the experience is still instructive.

I think Pope Francis urges risk-taking because our age doesn’t suffer from reckless action as much as it does from risk avoidance. I call it the J. Alfred Prufrock Syndrome. 

The title character of T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” is the kind of man who was first made possible, and then made prevalent, by the affluent West. He is like so many of us, locked in a stasis, saying:“And indeed there will be time … for a hundred indecisions … a hundred visions and revisions /Before the taking of a toast and tea. … There will be time / To wonder … Do I dare / Disturb the universe?” 

So many young people ask, “Dare I disturb the universe?” and then demur.  

But saints are those who dare to disturb the universe.

St. Ignatius founded the Society of Jesus to do great things for the Church, and he said, “Act as if everything depended on you; trust as if everything depended on God.” 

Mother Angelica, who started a global television network on a shoestring budget, had her version of that aphorism: “Unless you are willing to do the ridiculous, God will not do the miraculous. When you have God, you don’t have to know everything about it; you just do it.” 

St. Joan of Arc gave a pithy version of the same advice: “Aid yourself and God will aid you,” she said — and at the end of her life when her interrogators asked her why she needed an army if God would grant her victory, she said, “The soldiers will fight, and God will grant the victory.” 

That’s how it works. God assists the bold. 

That’s why Pope Francis wants young people to take risks. 

Young people today will surprise us with how much they do for the Church. 

Well, at least the ones who take risks will. 

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