Madonna House

God Is in the Messiness (Part 2)

by Patricia Lawton

Last month in part 1, Patricia told us about some of her spiritual struggles as a staff worker of Madonna House.

Part 2 has its basis in a retreat given by Fr. Pat McNulty in February 2008, a retreat based on his then newly-published book, I Live Now, Not I. Interspersing her explanations with quotes from this book, Patricia shares with us the message of that retreat, a message that transformed her life.

Now when I am in pain of any kind caused by my own sins or some personal situation flowing from them, I go to the Sacred Heart and I say to Him, with all my flesh, “I am now everyone in the world who is in this same sin/pain/wound that I am in right now. I am them! We are one!” I no longer focus on the shame or guilt or sadness brought on by my own sin. (p. 75).

I was stunned by these words. But then, Fr. Pat was a priest and had those special graces through his ordination. This probably wasn’t possible for regular people like me. But as he continued, hope began to fill my heart.

And when that sense of union with all of them became my focus, then I began to see that Christ was already there in my pain too, even though the pain began perhaps because of my own fault or failure;

He is there in mine because He is there in theirs. In His tremendous love for us, He has turned our pain into His! And being one in Him we can speak to His Sacred Heart as we are right now for those who will not go there. (p. 75)

The idea that Christ was with me in the pain and suffering of my faults and failures was almost too much. I had a vague understanding that the saints offered their sufferings to save souls. I loved to read about the experiences of Therese of Lisieux, (and still do).

I was so taken by her fasting from water for a whole day in order to save the soul of an atheistic condemned murderer (he kissed the cross held by the priest as he was led to the hanging platform), and then by her final agonizing death from tuberculosis. But it never occurred to me that I could do something similar.

I thought that in order for pain and suffering to be acceptable to God, one had to have a smile on one’s face. I thought that the saints somehow didn’t feel the pain of their suffering—that they all received divine assistance to suffer without any pain or discomfort. (How wrong I was!) I was never going to be able to do that.

But Fr. Pat was saying that emotional distress is a suffering that God accepts and uses and wonder of wonders, he somehow is in there with us.

The mystery that being one in Him we can speak to His Sacred Heart as we are right now for those who will not go there, is that we do so humbly, through the pain and shame of our own sin, our own weakness, and in Christ we can do for them what they cannot or will not do for themselves!

This is the gift we have been given through our Baptism:[we are] sacrificial souls, one with the Son of God, with all humanity. (p. 75)

I was completely riveted by these words. Somehow my shame, my self-hatred, and even hurtful experiences, can be used by God to bring others to him? To bless them with consolation, hope or love? Because of my Baptism?

Accepting that Jesus lives in me through my Baptism took ages to grasp. How can Christ possibly live inside a wounded sinner like myself? Impossible.

Perhaps St. Paul (Col.2:20) is not talking about a union in Christ that happens when I get holy enough so that Christ can live in me, but He already does live in me but I am not empty and humble enough to realize it! (p. 77)


It took the comment of a good friend to help me get past my arrogant belief that God couldn’t possibly live in me.

This friend told me, “Patricia, your Baptism is a fact. It isn’t dependent on good behavior, sin, or lack of it. You were given the Sacrament of Baptism and received the Holy Spirit. So Jesus lives in you. No argument possible. It’s happened. He lives in you. There’s nothing you can do about it.” By God’s grace I was able to hear this.

I began to go around saying to myself with a kind of wonder, “Jesus lives in me; he lives in me.” The lines from the Gospel of John rang in my being: we will come to you and make our home in you (John 14:23). I started to confess my self-hatred. Over many months the effects of the retreat bore fruit.

Little by little, I began to practice connecting my everyday difficulties with the Lord and with others.

One day I had to phone an organization to ask for help with some repairs on the house. It was always nerve-wracking to have to beg for funds or labor for repairs.

The person who took my call that day was very abrupt and demeaning. It hit every button in my over-sensitive psyche: rejection, anxiety, anger, shame. I felt humiliated and paralyzed.

Somehow the words came to me: “I am everyone in the world who is in this same pain right now.”


Ok, I thought, this is the pain of rejection. I reminded myself that somehow Jesus lives in this pain in me. Then I took a minute to bring to mind someone very specific that I could pray for through this. I decided to “be one with” a friend with special needs, a friend of ours who regularly experiences ridicule and rejection.

I took a deep breath and for a minute I just “sat” in the awful feeling of rejection and shame while bringing to mind our friend. “Console him, Lord,” I prayed. “Have mercy on us.”

Then I continued with the duty of the moment, going through the mail which had just been delivered.

…Our suffering and pain is no longer just about us. It is also about Christ and thus about everyone else because we are one in Christ. (p. 28)

A little later I realized that the shame and paralysis were almost completely gone. Usually a humiliation like that would be running through my thoughts for hours or even a day or two. I would be full of self-pity and be desperate to share with whoever would listen how badly I had been treated. But now, something very different seemed to be happening.

“In fact the over-sensitivity and other emotions have opened a way in which I am able to serve the Church.

This way of prayer has lifted from me a burden that I thought I could never be free of. I still am wounded and sinful, I continue to feel the shame, the rejection, and all the hurts and bumps of life. But now my pain and suffering have a value, a purpose.

It is where my Beloved embraces me and everyone else who suffers the same way. It is a way to be a prayer. It is a way to grow in joy.

Fr. Pat has left us a huge gift through this little book. I know that many hearts will be given new hope and joy by reading it. Truly mine has.

The End