Learning to pray…

• County-Down-born Jim McMullan first travelled to Medjugorje in April 2008. Two months later he returned for a second visit, and in October the same year he made a third pilgrimage to Medjugorje. It was on his third visit that Jim gave this witness as to why he keeps on going back and to the gratitude in his heart to Jesus and Mary for his conversion late in life.


• What first brought me to Medjugorje? Well, it was my sister, actually, in Belfast. She’s a widow and I am very close to her. I take her cruising now and again. I rang her, it must have been about February, and I just said, “I’m fed up with this winter weather, love, would you fancy coming on another wee cruise?” “No,” she says, “I’m going away next week to Benidorm with the pensioners. But if you’re looking for a bit of sunshine, my daughter Christine is going to Medjugorje.”

Now I thought she had only said that because she would have known that Medjugorje wasn’t up my street at all. But when I heard that, my ears popped up and I said to my sister, “Can you ring and find if there are any tickets left?” She rang me back in ten minutes and that morning I put a cheque in the post and, to cut a long story short, I was here! No one can believe that Jimmy went.

I went with an open mind but not because of the religious aspect but because I had been into the paranormal for many years. I only went there to take a look. Well, when I went to take a look something extra-ordinary happened to me in my thinking.

I didn’t care anything about religion. God was not a part of my life for over 60 years since I was a kid. I went to confession a couple of times before receiving Communion, but I only did that when my mother and father died, and the only reason was because if I hadn’t, people would have said that Jim fella is a proper heathen. I never bothered again after that.

But when I arrived in Medjugorje I saw how friendly the people were, no pressure at all, and I felt this was great.

Now there’s a little fella that ran the trip to Medjugorje from Belfast – Reggie – and he had me down to the church for confession. I got myself a bit nervous and worried at the time, I really did, and I said, “You know, Reggie, maybe I should just write all my sins down on a toilet roll and give it to the priest!” Easy way out.

But this guy that I met down there, this priest, was a Franciscan from Dublin, a lovely, lovely person. And he said to me when I sat down with him, “Jimmy, you and I have something in common.” And I said, “What is that, Father?” He says, “I’m crippled with arthritis, the same as yourself.”

But we got on great and after the confession was over – which took a long time – I said to him, “Well now, Father, that’s grand. I feel happy and you’ve taken a load off my shoulders – but where do I go from here? I don’t even know how to pray. I could say a Hail Mary or an Our Father, but I don’t even know how to say the rosary or anything. I know there are Glorious and Sorrowful mysteries but I wouldn’t even know one from the other. I just don’t know how to pray.”

And he put his hand on my shoulder he said, “Son, before you leave Medjugorje, you’ll be able to pray.” And I thought, “Well, that’s grand now; thank you Father” and off I went.

The next day I took myself to the Blue Cross. I was on my own, and when I arrived a big group of people was already there saying the Rosary, the Chaplet of Mercy (which I had never heard before) and singing hymns. To see such a mixed group of people praying in this way really touched me – I can be emotional at times – and something in me made me reach for my pocket and take out the rosary beads that belonged to my father. I walked up to the statue of Our Lady and hung the beads over her outstretched hand and thought. “Well. maybe something will happen to me and come out of this lot.”

As the prayer group began to break up, a lady walked forward in front of the blue cross and started reading out loud a prayer from a piece of paper she had. After a few lines I burst into tears, because this prayer, this prayer was me… to a tee. This was like a kind of an answer in asking God. It was like a questionnaire, also like a sort of an apology for the sort of person I was. So this prayer, I thought, was made especially for me.

When she finished the prayer the woman walked out of the circle and left. I went to one of the tour guides and asked; “Where’s that lady gone? I would love a copy of that prayer.” And the guide just went to her pocket and said, “I’ve got it here for you.” Well, I never was as grateful in my life, and I took that back to the house where I was staying, read it and re-read it, and I cried each time I read it.

So that evening, I thought to myself, “Well, that’s just daft altogether, where the priest told me that I’d learn to pray and this was a prayer, boy. This was good!”

My niece came to my room later on and she said, “Jimmy, uncle Jimmy, we’re going down to the church for exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. Are you coming with us?” I said, “I don’t think so.” I was in bed and I could not stand up with the pain, excruciating pain, in my hips and legs. My niece said, “Don’t worry, Jimmy, we will see you later.”

I turned around on the bed and had stopped crying and I started talking to Our Lady. I wasn’t saying Hail Mary, Holy Mary, or anything like that. I just lay there and talked to her as I’m talking to you. I said, “Mother, help me, I haven’t come all this distance not to do these things, you know (Adoration). I need a bit of help, please.” Well, within three-quarters of an hour I was up, I was showered, and I was down at the Exposition. I still had pain, but very little. I couldn’t believe what was happening to me. When I got back to my room later that night I still had pain, but not intolerable, and I started talking to her again.

The next morning we were supposed to go up onto the mountain where the white cross is on top, and the people from Derry and Belfast were all giving me good advice and were saying, “Jimmy, don’t even try it. Don’t feel bad about it. Instead you can go around the Stations of the Cross beside the church. But I thought, “No, I’ve got to get up on to that mountain!” So I turned again to the Blessed Mother (I had started calling her Mum by now) and I said to her, “It’s time. You’ve got to help me again. I’ve got to get to the top of that mountain.” And then this little fella from Belfast, Emmanuel, says to me, “Jimmy, don’t go, but if you want to go and you have made your mind, I’ll look after you, I’ll help you. And if you can’t get to the top of the mountain, just sit down somewhere and we’ll collect you coming back.” I said, “I’m going to try it. I’ve got to do this!”

In the morning something told me: “Don’t take your pain-killer too early.” Now I’m supposed to take one painkiller but I waited until later and I took two. To be honest, I think I overdosed myself a little bit because I felt dizzy and a bit drunk, but I went up to the top of that mountain! I couldn’t believe I had got up there. It was great.

Back home, I’ve had a routine for many years. I would get out of bed, normally take a shower first, then put the kettle on for a coffee and a cigarette, and switch the television on to watch the news, That was my routine. Well, it’s still something similar to that, but when it’s all finished, that’s it. I lift my rosary beads, and my little prayer books and all, and I say my prayers. I don’t say the rosary in the morning, I say the chaplet of Mercy, and at night I say the rosary and the chaplet again. Many people have given prayer cards and I use these most days as well. And I think of what that priest said to me in Medjugorje about learning to pray before I left there!

I have lots of time to myself as I lost my wife in difficult circumstances 12 years ago and since then I must admit to being lonely at times. But all this has changed since my first pilgrimage to Medjugorje. Now I know that Our Lady is here for me. I always say to her, “Please keep your hand on my shoulder and just keep me company.” And I talk to Jesus the same way, and I can tell you now, I am not lonely anymore and my house if full of people now.

Jimmy walks with the aid of two sticks and is in constant pain from his hip joints. He due to have one of his hips replaced this month on June 17, and hopes to return to Medjugorje again this Autumn.

This is the prayer Jimmy was given at the Blue Cross, the prayer that opened his heart to Jesus and Mary.

Lord, teach me to love. Lord I am in need. How you know it. But why am I so often the last person willing to admit this? Help me to realise my need. How I need, how I need you.

You are near, Lord, but where am I? What am I searching for? What’s holding me back? I know my fear, my shame, my guilt. If only I hadn’t.

I have suffered and caused suffering. Give me the grace and strength to turn to you and to accept your forgiveness. What is life without your mercy, O Lord? Heal my soul.

Help me to understand that every saint has a past, and that every sinner has a future.

My Saviour, this is who I am.

I lack nothing from you, but it is because you are so Holy that I want to offer you not only my best but also my worst. I humbly lift up to you everything about myself, the gifts and blessings you have given me, the weaknesses and regrets that are mine, Lord. I’m yours, love me.

But why am I so pleased, Lord Jesus, when others notice me, praise me and choose me? Do I want to feel loved more than to love? Is what I do more important than who I am? It’s as if I’m hoping that they will convince me that I am worthy in your sight, O Lord.

Let not what has happened to me crush me or make me bitter. Turn my wounds into fountains of compassion. May the pain purify and sanctify me.

Almighty God, draw an abundance of good out of evil that has touched my life. Remind me that I have not just yet reached my final home.

I ask why, Lord, not in doubt but with desire to understand. Increase my faith so that I may see things as you see them.

Jesus I trust in you.

My God, here was a time when I did not exist, and you in your overflowing goodness brought me into being. You hold me in existence. You could have created countless other people, but you created me. It amazes me; because of your love, Lord, I am irreplaceable.

Put deep into my heart, Lord, the knowledge that I can never lose the goodness and dignity that you have placed in the depths of my being. Not even the evil of sin can destroy this.

However, you have called me not merely to be your creature but your child, to share in your intimate life of grace. For this wonderful destiny, dear God, I praise you. Help me to be worthy of the words: “This is my beloved child in who I am pleased.” In your mercy, Lord Jesus, keep me faithful.

And Lord, you want to love others through me. In wonder of your providence you choose to need me, for nobody else can love with my heart. You have shared your goodness with me that I may find myself in giving myself. I can do this because the Son of God loved me and gave himself for me.

Grant me the grace to see beyond myself and to rejoice in the happiness of others, for they are worthy, Lord. Open my eyes to see you in those who are dear to me. Grant me a special love for those who appear unloved, and for those who do not return love for love.

Mother Mary, whose heart is all pure, teach me to love. Free my heart to welcome all with joy.

I want to love you my Lord, not because of what you have given me or do for me, but because of who you are. And when my heart feels empty and dry, this will be my gift. How worthy you are of my love, poor though it may be.

Show me how to love you. Lord, you are worth living for and worth dying for. I want to know you more so that my love for you may continue to deepen.

My God, in loving you I continue to be amazed at how much you love me. You know no other way except love. I praise you, for you have loved goodness into me.

For all that is in my past, Lord, thank you.

For all that is yet to come… yes!

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