It was seven years ago when Tom Wesner found himself at a Jesuit retreat. He knew he was there to reflect and open up about the role of faith in his life, but he did not know that it was a silent retreat, and he was surprised.
This was the weekend he first heard of the “God of surprises.”
On Nov. 3, Wesner, a professor in the Carroll School of Management, addressed students at the Agape Latte series about the surprises people encounter on their faith journeys. Wesner discussed how there are both good and bad surprises, but both types lead to spiritual growth.
“I didn’t read the brochure,” said Wesner, referring to the silent retreat.
Although at first he was uneasy about the idea of a silent retreat, Wesner soon found himself reflecting in a way he had not before. He spent two nights in silence, writing down the things for which he was most grateful.
After spending many years in Jesuit schools, he finally came to the realization that the Jesuit tradition is not merely a set of rules to follow. Rather, it is a guide.
“Why are you here? What will you do to surprise God?
Wesner learned that his God is a “God of surprises.” He described the many surprises contained in the Bible, such as the Annunciation and Jesus’ miracles. To Wesner, it is what people do with their surprises that form and shape them.
Wesner said when he was in high school, he felt pressure from his parents to perform well both academically and on his sports teams. Living up to their expectations was important, and he always strived to impress them. Then, when he discovered that his parents were going to divorce, Wesner was devastated. He said that it was not a happy surprise, but life is not fair.
“Adversity introduces us to who we are,” Wesner said. “Unless you’ve been tested or broken, you don’t know who you are.”
In his senior year of high school, Wesner fell in love with Boston College. He applied, and, to his delight, he said, was invited to campus to be interviewed.
After the interview ended, he introduced himself to a Jesuit priest walking along campus. At that moment, Wesner felt compelled to ask the man a question. He explained that he was a prospective student whose dream was to attend BC, and that his application was already submitted along with his SAT scores.
“Does prayer matter right now?” Wesner asked.
The Jesuit responded honestly, that he did not know. What he did know, however, was that God knew the answer to Wesner’s prayer, but he also knew if he was praying in the first place.
Wesner soon learned that under the Jesuit tradition, wanting something requires one to “work as if the outcome is up to you, and pray as if the outcome is up to God.” He would live by this principle for the rest of his life.
With hard work and prayer, he said, any surprise could lead to something valuable.
One of these surprises took place as he sat in Eagle’s Nest when he was an undergraduate at BC. As he was eating lunch with one of his friends, something distracted him from their conversation. He remembers seeing a beautiful girl with a blue jacket and telling his friend, “I am going to marry her.”
The fact that this girl was his friend’s cousin made his friend squirm in his seat. Surprisingly, Wesner married that woman 20 years later.
A Jesuit education has positively affected Wesner’s life and his journey of faith. He came to a realization that a Jesuit education is not about following strict dogma, but rather about the surprises one can encounter in life.
Both good and bad surprises will happen in his life, he realized, but he must embrace what comes his way because every surprise is a sign from God.
“Why are you here?” Wesner ended by asking. “What will you do to surprise God?
Featured Image by Julia Hopkins / Heights Staff