Tell me if this sounds familiar:

You’re steeped in the sacraments. You pray more or less unceasingly. You devote yourself body, mind, spirit and soul to your vocation.

And right then, you begin to see the ways you are not good, your seeming inability to be useful in anyway you want to be, your seemingly utter failure to abandon yourself.

Or as St. Paul said, “The thing I want to do, I don’t do, and the thing I don’t want to do, I do.”

A book I’ve turned to again and again at such times is called I Live Now, Not I. The author is Fr. Patrick McNulty (1931-2015) who after serving for decades as a parish priest, hit a wall, endured a long dark night of the soul, and lived out the rest of his years at Madonna House in Combermere, Ontario, the lay community formed by Russian emigré and mystic Catherine de Hueck Doherty. (I got to meet Fr. McNulty once and he was delightful).

Again and again, says Fr. McNulty, we forget that faith is not always an upward journey. We forget that there is no way to life except through death and re-birth. “And the death that leads to resurrection is not just a death, but a sacrificial death, a death turned into an act of love and self-giving.”

“If we were wise we could learn this for ourselves. But we are stupid; and sometimes God has to force it on our attention.” 

It was forced on Fr. McNulty in middle age. He’d lived through the “revolution” of the sixties and seventies, he’d discovered the limits of political correctness and

social justice (as an ideology), he’d become disillusioned with what seemed to him the silence of the Church on important issues, and he was frustrated with his own continuing sin.

His repaired for a time to a cave in the Sinai Desert but that didn’t work. “I suddenly realized that it was not only my soul I could lose out here but I could also lose my mind as well. Then what?”

By now he’d figured out he was dealing with three levels of pain: one, the pain of the world over which he had no immediate control; two, the pain others had caused or were causing him, knowingly or not, past and present; and three, the pain he caused others because of his own wounds or sins.

With respect to the pain others had caused him, Fr. McNulty came face-to-face with the abuse (we gather sexual among other forms) had had suffered as a child. Deep down was still the voice of the wounded child, crying “How could you have let this happen to me?”

He developed, to his surprise, a devotion to the Sacred Heart, and realized that his suffering could help others. From thereon in, “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!’”

“Having seen to the very depths of your own ineffectiveness, you will cease to be ineffective. You will begin to live, now not you, but Christ living in you.”

In one especially helpful passage, he proposes a new way of thinking about interpersonal conflict. “Well, if Christ is the focus, then everything is about Him and me and not about me and them!”

So we get to let go of all those normal questions like, “Why did they do that to me?” or “How should I deal with them?” or “How can I create my own boundaries when I am around them?”

No! That comes later. “The only question which will bring us life is: ‘Lord Jesus what are You trying to show me about Your relationship to the Father through this event, in my flesh, now?’ Period.”

This is an important distinction. In a way, Fr. McNulty is saying, Don’t talk to yourself; talk to Christ. So often we’re trying to figure out how to “handle” a troublesome situation or person either by trying to “discipline” ourselves or to manage and control the other. . 

Whereas if we talk to Christ, we can simply say–Oh Lord, this doesn’t feel good. Under my own steam, I don’t know how to forgive, I don’t know how to let go, I don’t know how to love.  And I don’t know what to do. Please help me.

And with that, says Fr. McNulty, we can join the human race.

After a long period of agonizing searching and prayer, one night in solitude he, he “heard” these “awesome words”: “It was not you who was being abused…It was Me.”

“We approach the fullness of our union in Christ on earth when we begin to realize that in Christ we too are those who are like us in our pain right now. And in Christ we can cry out as them before the Father, right now, as we are! Not for them–that’s caring. Not with them–that’s compassion. But as them. That’s love.”

8 Replies to “I LIVE NOW, NOT I”

  1. Betsy Acciani says: Reply

    Wow, Heather. I don’t know what to write. I was going to say AMEN, but I am so far from Fr. McNulty’s acceptance of the way it is that I can’t say that. How about THANK YOU for writing about him.

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Ha, I hear you, Betsy! It’s really a great little book, with a light touch so you don’t at all feel compare and despair–or at least I didn’t. The whole notion of Christ suffering AS us is profound…Blessed Pentecost to you and thank you!

  2. Following Christ to the cross..I spend so much effort trying to avoid it, but if you love anyone, even yourself,,it is unavoidable….trying to learn to trust Christ and let him join me instead of pushing him away. Thank you for the article…

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Right, Ingrid, or try to join him as he’s no doubt there all along and as usual, I’m trying to handle things myself…this is our human struggle, and it’s always reassuring to know others struggle with the same thing(s)!

  3. Scott Eagan says: Reply

    Fr. Pat lives on in my heart and mind. A man who struggled and triumphed. A priest who loved people and the Lord. Who always wanted GOD to be everything while not usurping his individuality.
    Who would have a word of life for you, AND was never afraid of the nitty-gritty!
    An icon of the ‘struggle with God’ and who knew SO deeply His Mercy!

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Scott! I hope it’s okay to share with people that Scott is a poet and part of the Madonna House community, where Fr. McNulty lived in the latter part of his life…we, Scott and I, bonded over the sheep and cows, noon Mass, and a meal with the other farm workers that day that I still remember…All my best greetings and prayers to you up there in Combermere…and long live Father Pat McNulty…

  4. hi heather!
    that was a good piece about suffering in relationship and finding out that Christ suffers instead of you. but this is so holy and so far from me. when i suffer in relationship i mostly do not see Christ. i am praying a lot, i read the bible and i go to church, but i am still inadequate. how can i ever attain that Christ comes to me and says to me, that He suffers instead of me?there is no help in my suffering of relationship. why did Christ come to him? that usually does not happen. otherwise it would be easy! but it is not.
    anyway. relationship and behavior are our crux. for all of us. there is no easy solution. just because one ” made it” we others suffer still.
    seems like i am envious.
    well,thats all i want to say. he probably evened it out when he said that he is everyone who suffers from relationship.so we are all his community and he is my friend who can draw me out with him.
    your friend tina

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Oh right, Tina, that pilgrimage and struggle is life-long, for all of us. Fr. McNulty wrote the book when he was pushing 80 I believe! But our desire is so strong–that’s what keeps us going and the desire is itself, to me, a sign of God’s love…unbelievable to think that He longs for us, just as we long for Him…Blessings to you, thank you for your beautiful thoughts–


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