Praying for Timothy McVeigh

(Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year C)

Last week, as Timothy McVeigh’s scheduled execution drew closer, I had occasion to re-read part of St. Therese’s autobiography. She first experienced her “mission” to pray for souls when she read about a notorious murderer named Henri Pranzini. Like McVeigh, he seemed unrepentant as the day of death neared. While most French people prepared to cheer Pranzini’s execution (he had brutally killed two women and a little girl) Therese saw something more. Altho only fourteen years old she recognized what was really at stake. She prayed ardently for his final repentance.

The day after his execution she read in the newspaper that Pranzini had relented at the last minute and kissed the crucifix held out to him. This confirmed Therese’s conviction of the power of intercessory prayer. Living only ten more years, she dedicated her life to praying for souls. When the Little Flower was dying, she said, “I will spend my heaven doing good on earth.”

Perhaps last week a contemporary Therese prayed for Timothy McVeigh. Maybe the saint herself. God can use any means, including FBI foul-ups, to give a man the chance to repent. I have no brief for McVeigh. It is terrible to imagine the last moments of the unsuspecting people he murdered – and to consider the suffering of their family members. God of course sees all of that – much more clearly than you or I – but he also sees a soul with a value that does not come from his own self, but from God.

This Sunday we see the source of human value and the reason we should pray for every person, including the most despicable. Our worth comes not from what we can do for God or anyone else. Rather it comes from what God wishes to do for us:

“My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.” (Jn 14:23)

A few verses later Jesus speaks about a Third One – the “Advocate” – whom the Father will likewise send. The Holy Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Ghost – wish to take up their home in your soul and mine.

Astronomers describe the immensity of the universe (“billions and billions” of galaxies) and we are duly impressed. That vastness confronts us with a great paradox: The universe cannot contain the Trinity, but something physically smaller can. Jesus says. “Whoever loves me, will keep my word” and the Three will come to live in him.

No wonder Jesus can tell us to not let our hearts be troubled or afraid. (v. 27) If we had faith like the Little Flower, perhaps we would experience some of that peace. And, like her, maybe we would be able to take our minds off our own hurts and dedicate ourselves to what ultimately counts – the eternal fate of each human soul.


Spanish Version

From Archives:

2013: Why He Came
2010 Homily: That the World May Believe (Seventh Sunday readings, but can be used on Sixth Sunday - if Ascension celebrated on Seventh Sunday of Easter)
2007: The Father Will Love Him
2004: An Intimate Conversation
2001: Praying for Timothy McVeigh
1998: I Am Going Away

Other Homilies

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C Bulletin (The Birth Control Issue)


Hitler's Pope: Comic Book Approach to Church History

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