There may be no word other than “love” in the English language that is more subject to romantic distortion than the word “destiny.”

A quick search of the internet reveals 6,472 lyrics and 100 albums containing this magical word. Among the more popular songs are This Is My Destiny (Johnny Cash), Destiny Rules (Fleetwood Mac), You Are My Destiny (Paul Anka), Date With Destiny (Pennywise) and Destiny Calling (James).

In general, there is little or no distinction among these songs between “destiny” and “fate.”

The Christian understanding of destiny is both profound and complex. Father Romano Guardini, in his insightful treatise Freedom, Grace and Destiny, distinguishes destiny from grace by examining how destiny involves our personal freedom and God’s grace. He begins his treatment on “destiny” as follows:

“As soon as I pronounce the word ‘destiny’ I have the feeling that what it denotes affects me intimately but that it comes from a remote distance.”

Here is destiny’s paradox. It touches me at my deepest level of my being and yet its roots are in a distant realm. My destiny is at the same time both intimate and strange.

We do not choose our destiny nor does our destiny choose us. It comes from God but requires our cooperation.

We may have an inkling as to what our destiny is, and when we embark on destiny’s path, we find obstacles and setbacks that we surely would not have chosen for ourselves. We are free to accept or reject our destiny. But if we accept it, dimly as we may sense it, we need God’s grace in order to continue.

Moses’ destiny was to lead the Jewish people out of bondage. His destiny as “deliverer” was clearly not something he chose and not something that was free of trials. His destiny was real but was slow to dawn on him.

We all have a God-given destiny, though it is not always clear to us. But there are hints along the way; and if we are sufficiently perceptive, with the help of careful discernment, we can relate those hints to where God wants us to go. When we have a glimpse of our destiny, we may ask “Why?” or “Why is this happening to me?” It is something that draws me out of myself and yet is an intimate part of my being. Our destiny is essentially a religious phenomenon and affects us at our deepest level. Animals do not have a destiny. “Density” is an anagram for “destiny,” a fortuitous linguistic occurrence. Only a being with the makeup or “density” of a human being can have a destiny.

One of the great dangers in sensing one’s destiny is to tone it down so that it conforms to the secular world in which one lives. When this happens, one’s true destiny is distorted. Reason reminds us that our destiny comes from God and he, through his grace, will assist us in being faithful to it. Pope Benedict XVI has stated that “if reason is to be exercised properly, it must undergo constant purification, since it can never be completely free of the dangers of a certain ethical blindness caused by the dazzling effect of power and special interest.”

Destiny, rightly understood, is not romantic love, nor is it fate. Least of all is it something that we choose. It has become commonplace for secular feminists to claim that access to abortion gives them “control of their destiny.” Ilyse Hogue, president of the abortion-advocacy group NARAL Pro-Choice America, has accused the pro-life movement of being “against [a] world where women can contribute equally and chart our own destiny in ways our grandmothers never thought possible.”

It should not be forgotten that, had our grandmothers been given free access to abortion, we would have to consider how many of today’s women would not be here, let alone charting their own destinies. For Hogue and her like-minded feminists, the right to chart one’s destiny belongs only to a select group. Moreover, many women who chose abortion came to regret their decisions and certainly did not see abortion as gaining them freedom to chart their destinies. And some paid the ultimate price for their abortions.

Is it not possible that a person’s authentic destiny can be to defend life? Secular feminists want a particular kind of destiny for themselves and deny others what may very well be their rightful destinies.

Our destiny precedes our choice. The very first thing that happens to us is that we are chosen. We are chosen by a God who has a plan for us. His plan is our destiny, which gives meaning to our existence. We are never in control of our lives. We get sick, lose jobs, fail interviews, are frustrated, injured, age, worry and die. The idea of control is a pipe dream, a fairy tale, a myth, the desperate wish for a life that cannot be. It is a refusal to accept the human condition and humbly ask God for his help.

The pro-life movement is against the fiction that abortion allows a woman to do what no human being has ever been able to do, namely to seize control of her life. Its stubborn realism may annoy people who prefer illusion to reality, but this is an old story. Our primal parents chose the illusion that they could be God. The result was the Fall. When we try to be what we cannot be, we fail to be what we can be, that is, truly ourselves. As Father Guardini warns, “Man’s claim to take over Providence is both insolent and fraught with disaster since it does violence to the royal dominion of God, to whom alone belongs dominion.”

We cannot control our destiny, but we can accept it as a blessing and regard it as a guiding star that leads to our personal fulfillment.

Donald DeMarco, Ph.D., is professor emeritus of St. Jerome’s University, in Waterloo, Canada,

and an adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, Connecticut.