Posted October 07, 2011 in Word Made Flesh:
The Mercy of God

by Fr. Pat McNulty.

I saw it in her eyes, and I knew that she knew that I knew.

You what?

Ooops, sorry about that: I was just thinking out loud about something very special that happened to me in a parish where I was once stationed.

It always comes powerfully to my mind when I read this gospel account from Matthew (22:1-14), the one for Sunday, October 9, about the man who came to the wedding banquet and got himself thrown out because he wasn’t "properly dressed for the occasion"—in body, mind, or heart.

Yeah, I’ve often wondered about that one, too: if I sent some muscle men out to beat the bushes and bring everybody they could find to my wedding reception, given the possibilities I’d be more concerned about how some of them smelled than how they were dressed.

Either way, the longer I live the more I begin to see that everyday life is the best means we have to unravel some of the things hidden from us in the Gospels.

So what about the eyes?

Back in 2004, long before you even knew what a handsome, wonderful, talented, loving, special, person I am….

Gimme a break!

Yeah? Well, in 2004, in my column in Restoration, I wrote about a special woman who always sat in the front pew of the cathedral where I was then stationed and how a real life event involving her, like a parable within this parable, eventually opened this story up for me.

I don’t want to repeat the whole story but suffice it to say that she was a prostitute, well-known in the area, and she had no official ties with any church. But she showed up for Mass every Sunday at the cathedral, and we called her "Cathedral Mary" for want of another name.

She sat in the front row and was quite conspicuous—too much make-up and not enough cover-up, if you know what I mean. We had already been instructed by the pastor not to give her Communion.

Nevertheless, she came to the railing every Sunday, opened her mouth to receive Communion just like everyone else, and even though we passed her by, she made the Sign of the Cross, returned to her pew, and bowed her head as if to give thanks just like everybody else.

If you didn’t know the situation or if you hadn’t seen the priest pass her by, you would think she had actually received Holy Communion.

Why didn’t you just give her Communion, for heaven’s sake? No pun intended.

Be patient; I’m coming to that. One Sunday, because of a disturbance with a little dog next to where she was kneeling at the railing, I got distracted and inadvertently put the Sacred Host on her tongue. She looked up at me and I knew at once.

And she knew that you knew that she knew? Arghhh! Knew what?

I could tell by her eyes that she knew it was not me but the Lord of the Banquet Himself who made that decision to give her Holy Communion in spite of me. And her eyes told me she knew it was not because she deserved it or because she had a right to it—like so many of us "other" sinners often think we do.

I believe in that flash, that powerful moment of grace, that she knew the meaning of all those years of silent, painful truth, and she was finally "properly dressed for the occasion."

That was the last time we ever saw her at the cathedral. After a few Sundays of wondering where she was, I began to inquire around and learned that within the very week of the day she had received Communion, she was struck down by a bus. She had lingered a few days and then died—"all dressed up and ready to go" I’d say.

Good for her. That’s the kind of Jesus I can believe in. But that’s not how the parable in this Gospel goes.

No, but with Cathedral Mary I think we have a parable within a parable: the Lord of the Banquet in the Gospel parable is also trying to teach us something about what is going on at the Eucharist, what it means to be "properly dressed" for that occasion in our own day, and he often uses parable-people like Mary to teach us.

In our banquet, our Eucharist, the Lord also wanders through the crowd telling each and every person, "Behold. I am the Lamb of God who takes away your sins…"

At that moment he is not looking at how I am dressed—though that might be a sign of what he is going to find—but he is looking right into my eyes, into my heart, when I answer, "Lord, I am not worthy to receive You…"

He doesn’t say, "Friend, how did you get in here?" No, at this Banquet he says, "Friend, do you really believe that you are not worthy? Do you really believe you are here because I invited you here personally to heal you? Do you really believe that this is my Body and my Blood?"

And, He doesn’t even have to wait for an answer. You know why?


Because the answer lies naked in our eyes, no matter what we are wearing, and the Lord of this Banquet can see it in our eyes. And—that’s right—he knows that we know that he knows.

So perhaps the great mystery in this parable within a parable is that he never throws any of us out even though that Sacred Host/Wine might never get past our mouth or mind and into our heart because our heart is not "dressed for the occasion."

P.S. And sometimes what we wear outwardly to Mass makes that quite obvious, in case you’re interested! But the Lord of this Banquet just keeps coming back again and again and again, regardless, waiting patiently for that glorious moment when he finally finds us "properly dressed for the occasion."

And once again, in Holy Communion, he can utterly surprise our poor, wounded, sinful hearts just like he surprised a poor, wounded, public sinner at another one of his Banquets at a cathedral filled with sinners in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Now you’re stretchin’ it bit for drama, Reverend.

Oh? Can you look me in the eyes and say that?


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