by Kathryn Lieder
After walking out of his BC interview in Carney Hall during his senior year of high school, Tom Wesner crossed paths with a Jesuit walking through campus and asked, “Does prayer matter right now? Now that everything’s in?” While the Jesuit admitted that he could not answer the question, he did say, “What I believe is that God knew way back then, before you were created, the answer to your prayer, but I also believe he knew whether you’d pray or not.”
The Jesuit also went on to share that when you want something to happen, “you have to work as if the outcome is up to you and you have to pray and trust as if the outcome is up to God.”
Wesner, now a professor of Business Law in the Carroll School of Management, shared this story, along with many others of challenge, realization, fulfillment and spiritual questioning throughout his faith journey during his Agape Latte talk on Tuesday, November 3. He centered his talk around the idea of a “God of surprises,” a phrase that he first heard on a two-night silent retreat lead by Fr. Martin six or seven years ago while working at BC.
During the retreat, Martin recounted the many “surprises” in the Bible, including the surprises surrounding Christ’s life and the miracles. His words resonated deeply with Wesner. Never before had he thought to associate the word “surprise” with God.
Having attended Boston College High School and then BC for his undergraduate studies, Wesner felt familiar with the Jesuit teachings and ideals, but admitted that he had always viewed them more as a set of principles to abide by rather than as a guiding framework for navigating one’s life.
He began to see an active God who is “always agitating for us to see him in all things.” After the retreat, he mulled over the idea that “God loves to surprise us, because we are humans and we resist and maybe we need surprises to get our attention.”
Our fear of the instability that often accompanies surprise makes us resist it, but he pointed out that it is inevitable and essential, in a way, because it tests the fibers of our character. It is how we react to the surprises that don’t please us that shapes who we are.
Wesner recalls feeling “broken” and struck by feelings of betrayal and abandonment after he found out his parents were going to divorce. He looked at the troublesome surprises he’s had to face throughout his life as tests. He states, “until you have been broken you don’t really know who you are at the deepest levels.”
Wesner also attributes many of the moments of fulfillment, anguish and realization that have caused twists in his career path to “a God of surprises.”
Just when everything was set for his application to pursue a Master’s degree in education, he came across a book on the history of the law that his sister had picked out for him. As he opened the book and began to read it, he was overcome by the feeling that he could predict and intuit each word in a way that seemed incredibly natural and he felt called to go to law school. And so he did – he began studying to take the LSAT that evening.
But Wesner shared that after law school, while working in a well-established law firm, “It just hit me inside and I said I’ve gotta leave here if this is as good as it gets… to just make this hypothetical pretend argument for a trial that’s never gonna happen, and so I quit soon after and said this wasn’t for me.”
Wesner reiterated the importance of Father Himes’ words on vocational discernment and the privilege of Boston College students to ask themselves the questions “what do you love? And what brings you joy? Because a lot of people in the world can’t ask that.”
Wesner described looking in the rearview mirror while driving his minivan on a Friday night with his four kids in the backseat and feeling incredibly grateful. “Who can make human life, who can make another person’s heart beat, who can do that?” he recalls asking himself.
Wesner said he is perpetually seeking surprises: “I look in the rear view mirror and say, was that supposed to happen? And if in doubt, I say yeah… I think so.”
“I say to my students, fellow travelers, what are you after, why did you come tonight, why are you here at BC? Why are you here on earth?”
Wesner encouraged everyone in the audience to ask themselves, as Fr. Martin emphasized at the end of his retreat, “what are you going to do now when you leave here to surprise God, because God loves surprises, God’s playful, he wants to have fun, he gets our attention through these mysterious, serendipitous moments.”
“Go and surprise God,” he ends, “I commend you for being on the same journey that we’re on.”