Jim “Butch” Murphy leads an extraordinary life, and picking one outstanding event out of many is difficult. But, perhaps his most arduous undertaking was a 4,200 mile walk from Florida to California - while carrying a 6-foot, 12-pound wooden cross. The
1992-93 odyssey was not a fund-raising event, as so many are. Murphy explains it was a prayer journey. “I spent hours a day in prayer,” he said. “People felt free to come up and start a conversation. It wasn’t unusual for them to ask for prayer for anything: ‘My dog just died’ or ‘I was just diagnosed with cancer.’ We often prayed in the open on a street corner.”
The 20-month journey was a study in extreme roughing it. Murphy had no support group traveling with him. “Sometimes a group from one parish or another walked with me, and they might have a support system. They would have food and water, and that was fine,” he said. But he often walked alone and slept where he found himself. “I slept in culverts, especially out west because it was warm inside them. I slept under bushes,” Murphy said. “Sometimes, people driving past would pull over and say, ‘I live 5 miles from here. Here’s my address. If you make it that far, stay with us.’ It was amazing. I would never let me in if I looked the way I did!” He said he also stayed at rectories and, if he had enough money, “at a Motel 6 and lived it up.”
The journey was one topic he covered during his local mission, partially funded through a Legacy of Faith grant. Murphy gave seven talks during his visit: two at St. Charles Borromeo in Rapid River, four at St. Joseph in Perkins and one at St. Rita in Trenary. While the presentations all covered the same themes, Murphy was able to go into more detail at some locations. “At Trenary, I compressed a few things down, because I was only there once. I could go into greater detail at Perkins, because I was there more,” he explained.
He led attendees in a meditation on the death of Jesus on the cross. “Familiarity breeds nonchalance,” he said. “It takes away from the moment of what Jesus went through for us. ... When I was younger, I thought of Jesus as John Wayne - ‘Let’s get this done!’ As I get older, I begin to understand the anguish Jesus went through.”
Then they explored ways we participate in Jesus’ death by taking up our own crosses through fasting, uniting our suffering with Jesus’ and being witnesses to faith. “There are 6.7 billion people living today. As I live my life, I can’t forget that they’re living their lives and carrying their crosses. The fasting or arthritis or heartbreak from your children all become part of Jesus’ passion. All over the world, people suffer. The difference for us is our suffering has purpose. We don’t have to suffer alone. The suffering we endure can be joined to the passion of Christ. I still don’t understand it fully,” he said. “Being witnesses means talking about our faith even when we get those little digs, eye rolling and people saying, ‘Come on, let’s not get carried away here,’” he said. “We join into the mystery of carrying the cross by expanding our witness to faith, choosing to say no to ourselves and developing the spirituality of the cross and suffering.”
Murphy said no two of his talks are exactly alike. “A lot of speakers have canned talks. I’m uncomfortable with that. Every group is unique and deserves God’s word now. By always starting over again, I can give that. It’s a little nerve-wracking for me because I make mistakes. But that’s alright because it’s one human talking to another,” he said. “I have my own doubts. Sometimes something doesn’t come out right, and I think, ‘I could have said that better.’”
Although he has addressed audiences that numbered in the tens of thousands, Murphy says he prefers small groups like those he addressed here. “It’s people sharing their hearts with each other,” he said. When choosing topics, Murphy said he relies heavily on each event’s organizers. “I try to be extra obedient to what people ask me to do,” he said. “For example, priests have a pastoral feel for a community. God will speak to them (about a message that
the community needs) before he speaks to me. But sometimes, I feel a kind of inspiration from God.”
Murphy’s evangelization takes him to many venues including missions like the one here, youth conferences, leadership training, spiritual direction and a regular mission trip to a garbage dump in Mexico where a mission team brings food, clothing and medicine. “I can be in a coat and tie one day, and the next in hip boots,” he said.
Murphy’s wife, Susan, and 14-year-old son, John, sometimes accompany him on his travels, but often remain in their downstate Michigan home. “We’re taking a long trip to Australia this summer, and the sponsors there are buying tickets for my wife and son, too. We spend every other September in Rome. But right now, my schedule is full and I don’t have a day off until Easter Sunday,” he said. “I never intended to do this,” Murphy said of his vocation. “I decided in 1970 that I wanted to serve Jesus. This has grown little by little. At first, I couldn’t imagine why anyone would want me to speak to their group. At first, it was just gatherings of five teens at my own parish. It’s just developed from there.” It’s not an easy job. “It can be a frustrating line of work because there’s no way to
measure what impact you’re having,” he explained.
Murphy has worked in many capacities both inside and outside the Catholic Church. He is founder and president of Vera Cruz Communications. He attended 12 years of Catholic school at St. Frances Cabrini School in Allen Park, Mich., and graduated from high school in 1970. He completed his education at Wayne State University School of Social Work in Detroit and received his bachelor’s degree in social work in 1976. The social work program specialized in studies and practicums for casework, group work and community organization.
Murphy's interest in the world has found him prospecting in Alaska, doing archaeological research in Central and South America, and trekking around the
world. His jobs have included those in grocery stores, restaurants, playing guitar in a band, auto repair, salvage diver, charter boat operator, delivery truck driver, and construction. On one occasion, he served as a body guard for Mother Teresa.
He has been a guest on the 700 Club, the EWTN network and has helped create videos for national broadcast. He has authored several articles for various
publications and has been a guest on several radio and television programs. In addition to his work with Vera Cruz Communications (www.veracruzcm.com), he is the former chairman of, and currently a consultant to The National Service Committee for the Catholic Charismatic Renewal. He is a former producer of “The Choices We Face,” a weekly television program of Renewal Ministries. He is past chairman of the Youth Executive Committee for the North American Renewal Service Committee, an ecumenical organization. Murphy also is a member of the International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Service, whose offices are located at the Vatican in Rome.