I'm rooting around today in some of my older, book-publishing-related material, and stumbled across this talk I gave for the launch of my book Going Home. It seemed to me to be a pretty good talk, actually, two years later, and since I'll never launch that book or give this talk again (and we still have a few copies of it to sell, just in case you haven't bought yours yet!), I thought I would share it on the blog, just 'cuz:
“There was a child named Bernadette. I heard this story long ago. She saw the Queen of Heaven once, and kept this vision in her soul. No one believed what she had seen. No one believed what she heard. That there were sorrows to be healed, and mercy, mercy in this world.”
Now, I have not written a book about St. Bernadette, or about Our Lady of Lourdes, for that matter. But these lyrics from Leonard Cohen’s hauntingly beautiful Song of Bernadette have always remained with me, and capture something of why I have written this book and what I hope it communicates to people.
No one believes that there is mercy in this world. We all certainly know that there are sorrows to be healed, but we seem to struggle with this notion of mercy. I have been a Catholic priest for eight years, and a member of the Madonna House community, founded by Catherine de Hueck Doherty, for 21 years. I have come to see in my years of apostolic life that truly, many people struggle to really believe in the mercy of God, and to really take hold of it.
The heresy of Jansenism, which in its popular form says that God only loves, and will only help, good people, is still very much alive, in subtle hidden forms, in the hearts of many people. And I think that this difficulty in believing that there is mercy in this world is a major hidden factor in much of the modern confusion and darkness.
For example, if there is no mercy, we cannot talk about sin easily. If there is no mercy, we cannot talk about an absolute moral law, easily. If there is no mercy, it is hard, even, to talk about an all-knowing, all-seeing God. All these realities become very scary and hard, terrifying really, if the central truth is not that our God is a merciful Father.
Meanwhile, if we who are in fact Christians do not really believe in this merciful love of God, our own experience and expression of the faith is profoundly compromised. The sad gloomy Christian, or the harsh puritanical Christian, or the mushy sentimental Christian, have all lost this central core truth of who our God is. And we know that this is not uncommon.
And meanwhile again, as we lose this central truth of God’s mercy, our world becomes more and more a harsh place, a place of cruelty and bullying, of polarized invective, a place where there is little place for the weak and the fallen.
Contemplating all this as a member of MH, I was also aware of this woman Catherine Doherty who knew very well indeed that God was merciful. She had no doubts whatsoever on that score. God as a merciful Father was the whole substance and core of her knowledge of Him, and so her own strong, passionate heart could preach the Gospel without compromise and with unrelenting vigor, but always with great joy and tender love.
And so I have written a book presenting Catherine’s vision of God’s mercy alongside our common human struggle to really believe in this mercy. Now, I did not plan in the slightest to have the book be about the Prodigal Son, and I was well into the research and planning of the book when he sort of ambled into my room one day and took up a more or less permanent residence there, and took over the book, to boot!
So the book is something of a three-way conversation between myself, Catherine, and this Prodigal Son guy with all his pigs and rags and general decrepitude. And the whole substance of the book is that there is indeed mercy in this world, that from the heart of God flows an endless and abundant outpouring of mercy and tender love.
There are indeed sorrows to be healed and mercy, mercy in this world. My hope is that some of that mercy has found its way into this book, Going Home, and that as you read this book you will touch that mercy and experience the healing of sorrows that it brings, and the consolation of knowing the love of God the Father of us all.