A collection of postings I shared on my blog about open heart surgery and relating it to matters of the spiritual heart.
MATTERS OF THE HEART...
There can be occasions in a person’s life when one’s heart malfunctions and is not in good working order.
This week I discovered that one of the valves in my own heart wasn’t operating as it should. It explains why I have been feeling so rough and unable to walk any distance for some time now. When I attempt to put my foot down on the pedal and speed up a little, the flap of one of my heart valves doesn’t operate in the way it was designed to, and the blood flow is restricted. I so much want to get moving, but can’t. And then discomfort and exhaustion sets in.
Love can be something like this. I want to extend and share the love given to me and let it flow. But there are times it doesn’t happen. The love valves don’t open as I want them to. I come to a standstill while I try to rest to get over the hurt and pain. It can take a while before I am able to get moving again.
We all know there are ways of maintaining and keeping both the physical and the spiritual heart in good health. When we suffer with the heart in a physical sense, then we’re left with little option but to get it checked out and seen to. We exercise our will to want to do this, even to maybe pursuing quack remedies.
The temptation to go to seek healing in the wrong places and the wrong kind of ways is also there for for the spiritual heart as well. We should be able to recognise when this happens because the pain never really goes away, it keeps manifesting.
Consultation is called for, be it with a cardiologist on earth or the Cardiologist in Heaven. Only then can any diagnosis be considered as to what is required to restore the heart to normality – and to love, because it is a disfigurement, an abnormal condition that also affects the heart of humanity, not to be able love.
THE STATIONS OF THE CROSS
I was looking forward to Ash Wednesday, even though I had an out-patient appointment at my local hospital. It was scheduled for midday and would allow me more than enough time to attend Mass in the evening and receive ashes. That was until the heart consultant said I wasn’t going anywhere after my angiogram test had shown up problems.
A bed was immediately found for me on ward D25. But no Mass and no ashes. The start of my Lenten journey had taken the most unexpected twist.
Most days during Lent I pray the Stations of the Cross. Now, it seemed, this wouldn’t be possible, certainly for the time I would be spending in hospital. I tried to picture in my mind the Stations displayed at my parish church, even those at Medjugorje, but found them difficult to recall
Whenever I am in hospital I have a routine of praying for other patients around me. It somehow takes my mind off my own problems. So when the evening set in and I started to do this I became suddenly aware that every bed in the ward was indeed an actual Station of the Cross, that the suffering Christ could be found in each person on their sick bed.
These were not pictures or artwork hanging on a wall but real and live situations of people carrying their cross – Jesus in every person, whatever their background, religion or nationality.
Enlightened and encouraged by this truth I focused on each bed and each person every day to pray the Way of the Cross. I focused on individual scenes in the ward, looked for the Simon’s and Simone’s, the Mother’s and the Veronica’s, and in every bed I was able to witness Christ and his Cross.
I was also personally challenged along the Way. At times I found myself full of condemnation and judgement, and on other occasions wanting to show compassion and pity. It seemed as if I was taking the role of every person we associate with the Stations of the Cross.
And I even had my own cross to bear, both as the thief who repented and the other who showed no faith in Jesus.
For certain I understood that we are all made in the image of God and suffer with our cross, be we Muslim, Sikh, Christian or non-believer. Only today I was reminded again of this truth when Pope Francis said:
“We’re all brothers and sisters. Believers, non-believers or whether belonging to this or that religious confession, Jews, Moslems… we’re all brothers and sisters!
In hospital I met with my brothers and sisters suffering at every station, in each bed, in the image and way of Jesus.
Dear children, Today, with my motherly heart, I call you gathered around me to love your neighbour. My children, stop. Look in the eyes of your brother and see Jesus, my Son. If you see joy, rejoice with him. If there is pain in the eyes of your brother, with your tenderness and goodness, cast it away, because without love you are lost. Only love is effective; it works miracles. Love will give you unity in my Son and the victory of my heart. Therefore, my children, love. Medjugorje message, September 2, 2008
DO YOU BELIEVE THIS?
The sisters sent this message to Jesus. “Lord, the man you love is ill.” On receiving this message, Jesus said. “This sickness will not end in death but in God’s glory, and through it the Son of God will be glorified.” John 11 : 3-4
When told on Ash Wednesday I required heart surgery, I was consoled by the thought that this was the start of a Lenten journey, a pilgrimage of discovery and endurance that would culminate, as Lent always does, with an Easter Rising… a Resurrection. It was a necessary journey for me, although one I would not have chosen if I had a choice.
It reminded me of the time I made my first pilgrimage to Medjugorje in September 2000. That also wasn’t really a journey of choice and I regretted my decision to be ‘persuaded’ to travel as soon as I met up with the rest of the group of pilgrims.
Thank God, after four days I was blessed with an amazing conversion experience and ever since I have have done what I can to encourage others to avail of the special graces to be found at Medjugorje.
I look on my recent month’s stay in hospital as a pilgrimage, sharing the journey with other patients and staff. Hearts were opened in both a physical and spiritual sense and I feel the time has been a real blessing in my life, even though there is still a recovery period ahead.
Of course there was always the question: Would I make it through the operation? There were risks, as in any journey made in life. But I was consoled by the knowledge, perhaps even faith, that I was in a win-win situation. If I made it through the surgery then there was a ‘resurrection’ to look forward to. If I didn’t, then there was also new life awaiting as promised by Jesus in today’s gospel.
I take this opportunity to thank all my “sisters and brothers” for sending messages to the Lord and praying for me. Your voices and hearts were heard.
I am the resurrection and the life. If anyone believes in me, even though he dies he will live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this? John 11-26
Dear children! Today I call you to love. Little children, love each other with God’s love. At every moment, in joy and in sorrow, may love prevail and, in this way, love will begin to reign in your hearts. The risen Jesus will be with you and you will be His witnesses. I will rejoice with you and protect you with my motherly mantle. Especially, little children, I will watch your daily conversion with love. Thank you for having responded to my call. Medjugorje message, March 25, 2005
DO YOU WANT TO BE WELL AGAIN?
Four weeks after entering hospital on Ash Wednesday for open-heart surgery, I was discharged into the care of my family and returned home on Tuesday, April 1.
The Gospel reading of the day (John 5: 1-3) was particularly relevant to my situation and recovery:
There was a Jewish festival, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now at the Sheep Pool in Jerusalem there is a building, called Bethzatha in Hebrew, consisting of five porticos; and under these were crowds of sick people – blind, lame, paralysed. One man there had an illness which had lasted thirty-eight years, and when Jesus saw him lying there and knew he had been in this condition for a long time, he said, “Do you want to be well again?” “Sir,” replied the sick man “I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is disturbed; and while I am still on the way, someone else gets there before me.” Jesus said “Get up, pick up your sleeping-mat and walk.” The man was cured at once, and he picked up his mat and walked away.
On four occasions I was prepared for theatre. Three times the surgery was cancelled at the last moment because someone else was prioritised before me. And yes, I wanted to be healed, but I never realised how I had restricted myself to the merciful love God in so many ways before I entered hospital.
It has been both a life and soul-changing experience, and since leaving hospital the words of Jesus from the same passage of John’s Gospel constantly echo in my reconstructed heart: “Now that you are well again, be sure not to sin any more, or something worse may happen to you.”
Dear children! Today also I give thanks to the Lord for all that he is doing for me, especially for this gift that I am able to be with you also today. Dear children, these are the days in which the Father grants special graces to all who open their hearts. I bless you and I desire that you too, dear children, become alive to the graces and place everything at God’s disposal so that he may be glorified through you. My heart carefully follows your progress. Thank you for having responded to my call. Medjugorje message, December 25, 1986
Sometimes it requires a severe setback in life to make us want to leave our stubborn ways and accept the reality and seriousness of Our Lady’s call to reconcile with God and each other.
I hope to share other experiences of my spell in the “field hospital” which Pope Francis described recently as “a symbol of the Church which houses a lot of hurting people.”
DO THIS IN MEMORY OF ME
Three weeks ago today I lay helpless in a hospital bed after open-heart surgery. A specialist nurse in the high dependency unit approached me with a basin of warm water and proceeded to wash my body wherever I wasn’t covered in surgical dressings and monitor cables. I can’t remember much about it as my body was still filled with anaesthetic and other pain relief medication. But I do recall the tender and gentle way the nurse washed my face and the bliss I experienced during my helplessness. She was a total stranger and I didn’t catch her name. But I shall never forget the experience and will always remember her as Veronica, the woman who wiped the face of Jesus as he carried his cross.
Veronica’s pity was rewarded with a permanent impression of the Lord’s face on her veil. The nurse’s compassion has graced me with an everlasting memory in my heart of the tenderness and goodness of Jesus in the hearts of others.
Jesus said: “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Master and Lord, and rightly; so I am. If I, then, the Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you should wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example so that you may copy what I have done to you. John 13 : 12-15
• Visibly fatigued and requiring assistance to kneel and stand up again as he came close to the end of the rite, Pope Francis conveyed tenderness and concern for each person, pouring water on each person’s foot, then drying it and kissing it, before offering a loving gaze, sometimes reciprocated, depending on each person’s state of health. The patients ranged in age from 16 to 86, and all suffer from a variety disabilities. All of them are Italian (though three were of a different ethnic origin), including one Muslim man.
“Everyone here must think of others… and how we can serve others better,” said Pope Francis. Thursday, April 17, 2014, Mass of the Lord’s Supper
FROM THE HEART OF TOMMASO
I received these two drawings in the post today from one of my grandsons. He was three years old when his mother told him that I was in hospital waiting to have heart surgery. That was a couple of months ago. The postal service from Italy is not the fastest!
Apparently the red splash of colour in the centre of the heart above represents a hole in my ‘broken’ heart. Thankfully, it’s repaired in the depiction below!
Yesterday, in his homily from his St Martha residence, another voice from Rome spoke about prayer from the heart and opening doors to Jesus.
Jesus tells us that unless we change and become like little children we will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Sometimes it takes the loving heart and trust of a child to remind us of this truth.
WHO DO YOU SAY I AM?
Yesterday was rehab day – for body and for soul. It was the first opportunity I had had of receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the first time I had driven my car since my heart surgery ten weeks ago.
It was also the day I was tested and accepted for the hospital’s cardiac rehab programme. I completed all the exercises without a problem. So it was a healing process on two fronts, for the soul and the body – and I felt renewed.
Just lately I have been trying hard to focus on seeing Jesus in others. Confession was an opportunity to remind myself it is Jesus we confess our sins to and the priest is the sign and instrument of God’s merciful love for the sinner. So my confession yesterday was an encounter with Christ. Christ in his priest.
Last night I got to bed earlier than usual but around two-thirty this morning I awoke and started to recall the previous day’s events. It was then I became aware of another connection between rehab for my soul and rehab for my body.
Having met with Christ in confession, I suddenly realised that the person who took me through my exercise programme at the hospital was blessed with the Greek name Christos. Christ present in my helper.
I reflected on this coincidence for a while and was then reminded that the priest who had heard my confession was named Fr Chris! I viewed this added connection as a kind of confirmation of my focus in trying to see Jesus in others.
But it didn’t end there. As soon as the word confirmation came to mind, I recalled my own Confirmation as a child and the name I had taken – Christopher!
Christ… Christos… Christopher… the Annointed One… the Healer of body and soul… the Healer in each of us. We are all given the power to heal others in such a very simple way; the power to forgive others of any sins against us and not to hold anything against anyone on our account. In this way we not only open ourselves to the healing of Jesus but we also engage in healing the Body of Christ.
One of my favourite prayers is to say in front of a crucifix: “I kiss the wounds that heal, and heal the wounds I kiss.”
Recognising the wounds of Christ in others is such a wonderful blessing – his wounds are many and varied. So also is his goodness in others.
It is not always easy to recognise Christ in others, even more difficult in oneself, and accept that he lives in us and we in him. But today I was blessed in a very special way and reminded that Christ is in me as he is in others and to truly accept Christ I have to accept others, especially their brokenness, and fully accept that Christ lives in me and his love for me is greater than any of my sins. Then the healing can begin...
TAKING MY LEAD FROM THE TRINITY
Yesterday was the feast of St Hilary of Poitiers, a bishop and doctor of the Church who dedicated his life to opposing the heresy of Arianism and defending the truth of the Trinity.
It was also a day when I was blessed with a personal experience of the Trinity working in my life and seeing how the Maker is three Persons in One. In my case it was a lesson in understanding how God sets the pace in my life and kick-starts my heart when it begins to fail and become weak.
I spent most of Wednesday in hospital, undergoing what is known as Cardiac Resynchcronisation Therapy with a Defibrillator (CRT-D).
The pacemaker (about the size of a matchbox) is fitted under the collarbone. Three wires (leads) are threaded into the chambers of the heart and then connected to the pacemaker for appropriate stimulation. Should any life-threatening heart rhythm occur then the built-in defibrillator can deliver an electrical shock to restore the heart to normal rhythm.
And in a spiritual sense of the heart I’ve identified the three leads as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, stemming from the pacemaker, One God.
I was informed afterwards that inserting the leads was a ‘tortuous’ experience – the procedure took over three hours. I should have warned the surgeon that penetrating my heart can be sometimes like that!
Such is technology these days that the hospital can monitor my CRT-D device via a phone or the internet and call me in to make any necessary adjustments. In a spiritual sense, it’s somewhat like going to Confession, discussing any necessary changes to life and receiving absolution (resetting the tracer).
And the penance? I’m not allowed to drive for six months! But like any penance, it is given for the recipient’s benefit, so with the extra walking my fitness levels should improve and hopefully the rhythm of my heart!
Mary, Daughter of the Father, pray for us.
Mary, Mother of the Son, pray for us.
Mary, Spouse of the Holy Spirit, pray for us.