What this chain of influences teaches us—and here I come to the point of this essay—is that God’s providence is a mysterious and wonderful thing. Were it not for John Henry Newman’s establishment, through much suffering, of the Birmingham Oratory, there would never have been a Fr. Francis Xavier Murphy, and if there had never been a Fr. Murphy, the young Tolkien boys might easily have drifted into unbelief or spiritual indifference, and if J.R.R. Tolkien had not taken in the lessons he learned from his mentor, he would never have shared the insight about God’s gift that brought such comfort to a young Stephen Colbert in his moment of doubt and pain.
One of the most potent insights of the spiritual masters is that our lives are not about us, that they are, in fact, ingredient in God’s providential purposes, part of a story that stretches infinitely beyond what we can immediately grasp. Why are we suffering now? Well, it might be so that, in St. Paul’s language, we might comfort someone else with the same consolation we have received in our suffering. And that someone might be a person who has not even been born. St. John Paul II commented that, for people of faith, there are no coincidences, only aspects of God’s providence that we have not yet fully understood. The line that runs from Newman to Murphy to Tolkien to Colbert was not dumb chance, a mere coincidence; rather, it was an instance of the slow but sure unfolding of the divine plan.
From the blog post Stephen Colbert, J.R.R. Tolkien, John Henry Newman, and the Providence of God by Bishop-Elect Robert Barron at The National Catholic Register