Posted March 26, 2012 in Word Made Flesh:
Christ in the Horse Barn

by Fr. Pat McNulty.

"When I am lifted up I will draw everyone to myself." (Jn.12:32 from the Gospel of the 5th Sunday in Lent)

I really thought that by this time in my life, on the other side of 80, I would be a saint.

You mean like able to be in two places at once or walk on water?

I know someone who thinks there’s enough of me to be in two places at once, and, now that you mention it, I can walk on water—in January when the river freezes here in Combermere. So there!

But that’s not what I mean. I mean that as kids we Catholics had this wonderful thing about "becoming a saint." It was as natural for us to think that way as it was for someone else to think of becoming the best in sports or the performing arts.

For us it was about becoming a saint. Not the "bi-location" kind or the "miracle-worker" kind but the kind that takes the Faith so seriously that, before they die, God is so much at the center of their ordinary, everyday lives that you knew they were saints even though they’d probably never be canonized.

Well, I’ve never seen you play any sports, so I can’t measure that, but on a scale of 1 to 10, I know you well enough to say you’re about a minus 2 when it comes to being a saint. No offence.

Actually, that’s probably a bit high on the saint-scale for me, but I can tell you and a lot of other people I know who are in the same boat as I am, why we’re probably not saints.

And I think the reason would shock them more than the fact. It certainly shocked me more.

Most Catholics I know (I can’t speak for other Christians) think that becoming a saint is all about ridding ourselves of our sins by embracing an intense biblical, sacramental discipline so that eventually we can focus on God and God alone no matter what our vocation in life is. (Albeit we often acted as if some vocations were better than others.)

Of course we know, as St. Paul warns us so dramatically in his Epistle to the Corinthians, that without love all that other heavy discipline is noise for no reason—sounding brass and tingling cymbals.

But, if you’ve got the discipline and you know about the love, what’s missing?

Well, I didn’t know that anything was missing until one fine day during Lent when I was sitting in the dining room in Madonna House in Combermere, Ontario, next to Catherine Doherty.

I had met her and had been corresponding with her for a few years already, and by then she knew exactly what was missing even if I didn’t. And she only needed five seconds and sixteen words with which to point it out very dramatically, even though it took me about twenty more years to get the full message.

Oh boy. I know that, if it has anything to do with being Catholic during Lent, this is gonna be a terrible tale of suffering. Would that you could say it in 5 seconds and 16 words!

I could, but then I wouldn’t have the pleasure of writing this column with you, would I?

In 1968, I was ready to give up on life and faith, at which time I returned to Combermere.

Catherine sent me to poustinia to pray three days a week, and I was working on the farm the other days.

I became so frustrated that one Sunday at table I said to her, "This is crazy. My parish is goin’ to hell in a hand basket, and I am up here in the Canadian bush shovelling horse $#*@."

She gently placed her hand over mine, looked me straight in the eye, and in a most profound fashion, almost as if she was personally revealing a secret just to me, she said, "Fr. Dolly, (an affectionate nickname she had given me) if you don’t find Christ in the horse $#*@, you won’t find Christ anywhere!" Then she continued to eat in silence.

Huh, I thought you told me once that this lady was holy. Holy people don’t use that kind of language!

No, I think holiness is about someone who knows your heart well enough to say exactly what you need to hear, in whatever language.

And I desperately needed to be told in no uncertain words that life and faith must come back together for me and that I was using faith to run from life instead of living life by faith.

Catherine realized, with a mystical passion, that when God became Man everything was changed: the cosmos, planet earth, well-fed horses, and especially ordinary, everyday life wherever people live.

For her, faith was about finding Christ in life through love. Born of that faith, Catherine’s vision of life was like a fire that ignited anyone who came in touch with her.

In five seconds with sixteen words, she lit that fire in my life by pointing me straight to the heart of the Christian mystery, the only one which could free me to live fully again on this earth, namely, God in the flesh right there in everyday, ordinary life, even with horses on a farm.

You’re not saying you had one-a them bush-burnin’ mystical experiences and saw God on a farm, are you?

It was even more mystical than that. Catherine wrote:

"The key is the acceptance of the ordinary, of the commonplace, of the obvious, which since the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus, is radiant with the glory of God… Land, animals, tools, machinery—they become holy things….

"[You restore] the world to Christ, by restoring the earth and all it contains … and you touch him in everything …. It is [in] all the little things that we do….

"Look at the windows. After a long winter, everyone knows they should be washed because they keep the light out. Whoever washes those windows contributes to the beauty of the house … because that clean window now brings in the sun … [and it all] becomes a prayer."

(The People of the Towel and Water, MH Publications, 2010, pps. 20, 86, 165).

I think that’s what Christ was hinting at when he said, "When I am lifted up I will draw everyone to myself" (Jn.12:32. 5th Sunday in Lent).

As if to say that, after I, Christ, have personally taken on the full mystery of life and death and risen through its cosmic, earthy messiness then I can show you how to live fully again, on this earth in your everyday, ordinary life—like my Mother taught me in Nazareth.

Catherine took Christ at his word and reached beyond mere science and physics.

All she had to do was become a little child, by heroic faith, and find Christ in ordinary, everyday life by heroic love. So much so that by the time she died, beyond 80, everyone knew she was holy, though she’s not canonized yet.

How old did you say you were?

On your saint-scale of 1 to 10 I’d say about 2 years old! But I’m workin’ on it! How about you? Seen any horses lately?


If you enjoy our articles, we ask you to please consider subscribing to the print edition of Restoration; it's only $10 a year, and will help us stay in print. Thanks, and God bless you!


Restoration Contents

Next article:
Blessed Are the Merciful

Previous article:
Milestones (March 2012)



RSS 2.0RSS feed

Madonna House - A Training Centre for the Lay Apostolate