by Fr. David May.
"You did it, Jesus! You did it!"
About so many situations, so many struggles, so many difficulties solved, so many accomplishments, good works, and favors received, Fr. Paul would say, "You did it, Jesus," and right after that, "Thank you, Mary". Always those two were together.
Fr Paul loved to talk about the goodness and mercy and the love of God. And the thing about this mercy of God as St Paul describes it in Romans 5:5-11, and as Fr. Paul talked about it, is this: it’s the mercy God gives to sinners and outcasts, to people on the outside, on the fringes.
Fr. Paul had a very deep sense of that, a sense of the love of God for the people who are on the outside.
For in Madonna House, Fr. Paul felt in some ways that he was on the outside. He was one our first priests, but he wasn’t in that inner circle, that first little inner circle where the decisions were made about the future of the community.
He was the carpenter. He was doing the work, but he wasn’t in on some of those conversations about why we were doing that work. Or where will that work take us. He experienced the pain of this profoundly.
But the great thing about the man, about the grace of God in his life, is that when he found himself on the outside, he came to accept it.
And when he did, he discovered a secret: Jesus was there. The outside is where Jesus lives. That’s His favorite place.
On the outs. On the outside. Outside the camp, outside the city walls, with the sinners. That’s where he specially gives his grace.
There are a few people whom you meet in life, and you kind of wish you’d meet more of them, and even more than that, you kind of wish you were one of them yourself, people who accept the fact that they feel like outsiders, one way or another as God arranges.
There are many ways of experiencing this feeling: I didn’t receive what other people received. I’m not as smart as other people. I’m not a privileged person. I’m a sinner.
It takes all kinds of forms, this feeling of being different, of being on the outside.
Most of us, when we feel that way, don’t want to be there. We resent being there; we hate it. But there are a few people who learn to accept to be where Jesus wants them to be. And there Jesus pours out his mercy.
When Fr. Paul accepted to be where Jesus wanted him to be, he found Jesus. And the paradox is that, when you accept being where Jesus wants you to be, you no longer need to be "on the inside." Because when you’re with Jesus, you are "inside" in the deepest way possible.
Think about that. Just when you think you’re on the outside, you’re on the inside!
O-o-o-o-oh, it’s a rare person who really embraces that mystery. And Fr. Paul was that rare person.
One result of that was that, as he used to put it: he was often "in the right place for the wrong reason."
That’s why he showed up in so many of our lives just when we needed him to be there. Whatever he was up to—whether it was fixing a door or a chair—it often turned out that the real reason he was there was that you were there, and you needed him.
He may have just been looking for a plank, but you were there where the planks are kept, and you needed support or a blessing. And he didn’t know that until it happened.
We talk about the strange gift of living in a mystery. We say that Christ is the mystery of our faith, but it’s a strange experience living in it. And Fr. Paul never did understand the mystery. He understood that mercy was at work, but understand the mystery? Well, that was another story. He didn’t know he was living it.
What is it that "the wise and the clever" never know? Those poor wise and clever people, those learned folks, whoever they are—what is it that they just can’t accept? They just can’t accept being on the outs.
People want to know what’s going on. They want to have some understanding; they want to be in some kind of control. They want to be in, not out.
They want to understand the mystery, and if they can’t, they are going to say, "These words are too hard for us (Jn 6:60). We’re out of here." In one way or another.
How often have you or I been in that category—the category of the wise and the clever, the learned, the just-can’t-bear-living-in-the-unknown category?
The mystery of living in the kingdom is revealed to the childlike, and that’s what I and so many of us found to be such a consolation in Fr. Paul. Fr. Paul was a witness to the possibility of living in the mystery of faith.
Did he understand what was going on? No. He testified to that himself. "I don’t get it. I don’t know why. But that’s okay, Jesus. I love you anyway. It’s okay."
That’s the great leap into the land of faith. That last phrase: "That’s okay."
"I don’t get it. I don’t know what’s happening to me. I don’t know why it’s happening to me. I don’t know where it’s taking me. But that’s okay. Because it’s from you, Lord."
"That’s okay." How many of us did Fr. Paul say that to or bear witness to that?
It’s okay. You’re with Jesus. You want something else? And our answer, often said quietly to ourselves is often, "yes."
I want Hector, whoever he is, or Marge or whoever. Yes, though we don’t like to admit it, we often want someone or something else. But Fr. Paul wanted Jesus.
What a tremendous spiritual accomplishment: to want only Jesus, and to want Jesus on his terms. While not even understanding his terms. But to have Jesus is to have everything. That’s what Fr. Paul had.
But let’s add something else to this—something else that Fr. Paul experienced: not to know that you have Jesus, not always sure that you’re with Jesus. Let’s add that to the mystery. Nothing is fully guaranteed. But knowing that, and still continuing to assure everybody else that Jesus is with them. How about that?
We’re talking big stuff here. And Fr. Paul did it in such a way that it was totally hidden. Unless God gave you a little glimpse from behind "the veil," you’d never know.
And today, at Fr. Paul’s funeral, the Lord is saying to each one of us what Fr. Paul would say: Come to me all you who labor and are burdened. I will give you rest (Mt 11:28). "Come to me. Come to me." That’s what Fr Paul encouraged us to do. Go to Jesus. Find your rest in his heart. Go to Him.
I bless you Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to mere children. Yes, Father, for that is what it pleased you to do (Mt 11:25-26).
Any commentary I’ve ever read on that passage says that the heavily burdened are those who labored and those under the law in the time of Jesus. And Jesus came to help them live under grace, where the burden is easy.
That never satisfies me, because I never had to live under that law. But I think we can also be weary and overburdened trying to follow Jesus. I think it can be quite a burden to follow Jesus.
And the Lord says, "Yes, I know. So come to me. Let me show you my heart. Let me show you where you can rest."
I think that’s why so many of us could rest with Fr Paul: because he was resting in the heart of Jesus.
How did he get there? He couldn’t tell you. He just got there.
How many times did I hear him say about himself, "I can’t do it. So, Jesus, you do it. I can’t stay with you, Jesus. So you stay with me." Deep theology! Only the really wise understand it because they are like little children.
So let us thank God for the witness of such a life. And let us thank God for the grace of Jesus Christ, who teaches us to trust in his mercy and to live by it and in the mystery of it.
—Adapted from the homily at Fr. Paul’s funeral Mass.
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