Fr. Pat McNulty (Madonna House) on Mercy Sunday:
I Can’t Find The Words
by Fr. Pat McNulty.
A reflection for Mercy Sunday or Holy Week or any time you are having difficulty believing in the mercy of God.
You’re acting a bit strange, Father Pat.
Yeah, I know, Father. I’ve got a problem.
Oh! What was your first clue?
Well, it’s like I can’t find words with which to talk about mercy any more, and here we are looking at this great feast of Divine Mercy again.
You without words? Now that is a problem! But why not just try and see what happens?
I already have: I’ve written about it twice formally and both times I got this look like—I don’t know—like there’s going to be a “burning at the stake” or something, and I’m the prime rib.
Oh, come on, Pat. You’re doing that melodramatic thing again. If you’ve got copies of your articles, why don’t you just read one for me and let me be the judge?
Well, as a matter of fact, I just happen to have a copy of one of the articles right here in the prologue of the little book I wrote. (Ahem.) Are you sure you want me to do this?
Yes, I’d like to hear it.
Once upon a time, an old man died and went to Hell or Thereabouts. He was deeply grieved and sorry though it seemed a just desert, for he had never really loved God as fully as he was able or his neighbour as he ought. Now Death had “thieved” him, and he had come to naught.
As soon as he arrived There, he began saying the name of Jesus over and over.
The howling creatures who inhabited That Place set about to mock and scorn him with loathing and disgust: “Your religious mumbo-jumbo will cease soon enough when you discover that saying That Name becomes as useless in Eternity as it was in Time.”
Eternity did indeed wear on but so too the old man’s endless cry. It so upset everyone There that they pushed him down, ever deeper down, until he reached a depth where few had ever been—so deep it seemed outside That Place.
And then one night—there are no days There—his cry ceased, and he was never seen or heard from again.
They say that the same angel who accompanied Christ from That Place for His Resurrection still waits There for those simple souls who pass by with the Name of Jesus ever on their lips and carries them away.
Or so they say.
So! What do you think?
No, tell me what you’re really thinking?
Ah-h-h-h-h, I don’t think it’s a good idea to be too public with that kind of writing, Pat, especially at this time of the year when the wood is nice and dry. You know what I mean?
Why, do you think it’s heretical to push the edges of Divine Mercy like that so we can get closer to it or for it to get closer to us?
Maybe it’s not, but it’s certainly a delicate process about a very holy thing, don’t you think? In any case you said you’ve written about it twice formally. Maybe the second article isn’t so…precarious.
You don’t “just happen to have a copy” of that one with you, too, do you?
No. But I don’t need a copy of that one because I’ll never forget it. It was during that time when I was in the Sinai Desert. One night I had this dream? Nightmare?
Everyone was in line for the Final Judgment. I was watching this very intense, painful, messy encounter between Christ and someone at the front of the line, someone I vaguely recognized but couldn’t quite see what with all the dust and mess going on.
As I stretched for a better view I heard, “McNulty,” and I knew the time for my Finals had arrived!
I slowly made my way into the open area with my head bowed. I stopped there before Jesus Christ. He lifted my face to look into my eyes and as he did, I could see the person who had just finished his Finals and was now standing at the Pearly Gates looking back at Christ.
The man’s body language spoke loud and clear: “Are you sure I’m supposed to go in Here?” Christ motioned him on and then I recognized who it was.
I couldn’t believe it! I went into a tirade about truth and justice, right and wrong, fair and unfair, until Christ interrupted me, and said, very gently, “Patrick, my mercy is mine to do with as I see fit. And, it’s yours, too, if you want it.”
At that I woke up in a panic crying out there in the desert, “No-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o!”
The man I had seen in my dream who was about to go in through the Pearly Gates was none other than Adolph Hitler!
What? That’s crazy!
And why would you want to imagine someone dying, as if they went to Hell, and then got out. That’s borderline heresy in my book.
No! No! That’s the whole point: we dare not try to fit Divine Mercy into any category which we already have. We have to look at it in such a way that it is truly divine and in no way mine!
But we’re not saying, “No need to worry, Jesus will forgive everyone in the end anyway!” No. It’s like…. Oh, forget it. It’s too much for words.
Yes, indeed, I think it is too much for words, Pat. And I think maybe it’s time for you to write about lesser things like maybe vigil lights or charcoal for the censor, that sort of thing.
After all, it’s a sign of a good writer to know when he is out of his element. And it’s obvious (to me) that when it comes to Divine Mercy, you’re definitely out of your element, Pat.
That’s it! You just found the perfect words, my friend! That’s it! “When it comes to Divine Mercy we are definitely out of our element.” Of course! There are no words! That’s why the Spirit so generously allows us to imagine these extreme things about it, because “we’re out of our element.” It is Divine Mercy!
Thank you, my friend. Thank you. Thank you. Now I can go back to just resting in the name of Jesus all day long as I always do and let all these wonderful, extreme images come and go as God sees fit. It’s all part of Divine Mercy. Amen!
Ah-h-h-h-h-h. I’ve got a friend, Pat, who does professional counselling, if you’d like to talk to someone further about all of this…..
Strange, because you know what I was thinking when you said, “friend?”
I was thinking, “What a friend we have in Jesus!” and it suddenly dawned on me, what other Word is there to explain Divine Mercy than the One Who is Mercy. Jesus. Just think, I could have done this whole article in one Word! Maybe next time. Thanks, Father.