Madonna House

Saved from the Tomb

by Fr. David May

All humanity is in a tomb. Some know they’re dead; others seem not to. Some dream of another life, others don’t seem to dream that way.

Some meet Jesus in the tomb; others do not. But all who come out of that tomb do so only by the mercy of God.

Fr. Pat McNulty knew that tomb; he knew its death, its darkness, its terrible dead silence, its emptiness, its tears, and its stench.

He encountered forces there, both within himself and from without, seeking to keep him there or, once he was out, to draw him back into it.

But somewhere, somehow, either a Mary or a Martha, or many Marys and Marthas, were praying for him, beseeching the Lord on his behalf, and their prayers were heard.

So the glory of God was revealed in Fr. Pat. “The glory of God,” said Irenaeus, “is a man or woman fully alive.”

But first of all, there is Christ, fully alive, risen from the tomb. Then all those who follow him through Baptism, and all who follow his way, are offered that same gift of life out of death.

Fr. Pat never lost the memory of that tomb, because the Lord saved him from its clutches time and time again.

Life can be seen as a journey out of the tomb of our sins and offences, as the Byzantine Liturgy says, and into the light of Christ, whether we’re talking about Lazarus or Patrick or John or Julie or Renée or whoever.

Lazarus, come out! is a word that we all need to hear if we are to live. Come out! So out comes Fr. Pat. Out comes Lazarus, the Gospel says, bound and wrapped. But he gets there.

Bishop Raya used to tell us that if Lazarus was bound and wrapped, if it was from head to foot, like corpses are bound and wrapped today, he came hopping out of that tomb! Precariously.

He couldn’t see where he was going; so he could only follow the voice of Jesus. But the thing is that he came out. That’s how we often are in our journey.

Fr. Pat taught us not to be too afraid and especially, not to be embarrassed, by that hopping and hobbling and tripping and stumbling into the Kingdom. Because that’s our way, and Christ is with us.

Somewhere in the struggle between life and death, tomb and resurrection, the stench and the sweet aroma of Christ, the Christian is born and lives. That’s our story.

Whatever happens after that is marked by this experience. The name of Jesus Christ, Christian, is sealed into you. It’s he who raises you up, so you are not interested in any other god.

All the other allurements, they have no appeal any more after this. You might be baffled by God, you might be angry, bewildered, delighted, joyful, saddened, confused—but he’s your God. That was Fr. Pat all the way.

Dark as it is sometimes, bright as it is other times, you ain’t going nowhere else, because He raised you up. No one else happens to be able to do that.

A few of those disciples are called to be priests, but what I’ve just described is for all Christians.

If you are called to be a priest, and you follow this path, then you understand the anguish and struggles of many others as well as your own. You’re not put off by, as our present Pope puts it, “the smell of the sheep,” the stench of the sheep, their struggles, their weakness, because it’s all yours, Father, and it always will be.

But Christ is risen, and he is victorious. Such priests go to the tomb, your tomb that is, and they claim the Resurrection. They say, “Come out, come forth,” and they say it out of love and compassion, as if they were in the tomb with you. Which they are.

These are apostles of hope. That’s why I chose that 2nd reading from Romans (Rom 5:5-11)—the reading about mercy.

Hope does not disappoint because the Holy Spirit pours the love of God, the Father’s love, into our hearts (Rom 5:5). That means not my love for God, but his love for me, for each one of us. The Holy Spirit is the one who pours into our hearts, the words, “I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you.”

Slowly, eventually, somehow, somewhere, it sinks in: This could be true! This could be me! I am loved by God, forever, no matter what!

That’s the great work of mercy. The good God gave up his life for us, for me, sinner though I am!

No one but God was qualified to die the death of God. That’s why he did it. We were so unqualified that he gave his life for us.

Once this message penetrates your heart, you are never the same. It goes so deep. Christ comes to live in you through faith.

Faith isn’t just simply, “OK Lord, I believe in you—whoever you are,” though it does feel that way sometimes.

But really what it is, is: “I believe in you living here, in me. You can have me, Lord, because you saved me.

Fr. Pat used to tell the story about the street corner minister asking him, “Brother, have you been saved?”

He asked the right man! Fr. Pat gave him a big hug and said, “Yes, I have been saved, brother, and I also love you!”

We can never overestimate the reach of a love like this. Life is transformed. After that, your whole longing is to preach the Gospel with your life. You have to share it.

You may not be a speaker; if not, don’t speak, just do. If you are a speaker, speak anddo. Don’t just speak, please! I’m talking to myself.

You can never overestimate the reach of this love. With Our Lady, you want to sing the mercies of God forever.

You can also be a fool for Christ. If you believe in this mercy, you no longer have anything to lose, especially your reputation for being a serious disciple.

Fr. Pat died at the beginning of the Jubilee Year of Mercy; the first one from Madonna House across the finish line in the Jubilee Year of Mercy. He would! Good for him! For he was a fool for Christ.

We had a number of suggestions about the coffin. One was from me. I wanted to put popcorn in because, when he could eat it, Fr. Pat lived on gargantuan amounts of it. Someone else wanted to put on the Santa cap which he always wore at Christmastime.

However, we restrained ourselves—unlike him!

What are the fruits of mercy known and received? Joy for sure, peace, hope and compassion for others And a sense of humour, similar to that of a jester or a clown.

It leads to an explosion. There are two kinds of explosions. Fr. Pat had both.

The first is described in Isaiah 61:1-3d, the Jubilee reading, the reading that proclaims a year of favour from the Lord: to comfort all who are afflicted and to get them out of that prison. It’s an explosion; it’s in you, and you have to share it. You want to see the whole world raised up. It’s a big task.

There are two ways it happens. Either you go out and you proclaim the Good News wherever God tells you to go—not where you decide to go, but where God tells you. That’s an important point.

Either you go out or you stay home and let your heart be broken open so it becomes a living prayer. Either way you are going out because God is going out through you.

Fr. Pat was a poustinik, and he also, judging by the presence of so many at his funeral, went out as he was led to do so.

When I was elected director general of priests for the first time some eleven and a half years ago, I thought, “Fr. Pat… mmmm… let’s see…” and what came to me about him was, “He lives the Spirit; let him go”—with a couple of minor corrections along the way.

One was about something he did in the chapel. He took it into his head that as a sign of his humility, he would take off his sandals after he processed in and place them in front of the altar.

This was an immense distraction to the whole community! Why are his sandals there? No explanation would do—I could see that—and you can’t find a rubric about it anywhere either.

So I said, “You just have to keep them on, Father.” He said later in a talk, “Fr. David corrects me quite often.” Twice in eleven and a half years!

Fr. Pat had an explosion of love for others: relationships galore—deep, caring, unbelievable depths of love.

He would stop in on people at the most unexpected moments, times when their guard was down. Those encounters could happen in the poustinia, too, or while he was lying in his bed at the end of his life.

So that’s what we are celebrating in this newspaper, Christ’s work in Fr. Pat. I’m glad Father said “yes” to the extent that we could see it, and I’m sure he had a big “yes.”

So may the memory of Fr. Patrick McNulty who is worthy of praise be preserved forever and ever. Amen.

—Excerpted and adapted from the homily at Fr. Pat’s funeral. The readings were: Isaiah 61: 1 – 3d, Romans 5:5-11; John 11:32-45).