Madonna House

A Healing We Didn’t Know We Needed

by Fr. Pat McNulty

Fr. Pat once told me that this was his favourite of his Restoration articles. — editor

“Kissy-face with Jesus, Daddy.”

I must have been dozing in a corner of the church late that Sunday afternoon when those words brought me to my senses.

It was a bit disconcerting to imagine that this was the Lord’s answer to my painful cry that afternoon, “Please do something, Lord. You can cure me if you want to!”

The answer I was expecting was something a bit closer to the Lord’s response to the leper in Mark’s gospel when the leper cried, “If you want to you can cure me … .” and the Lord said, “Of course I want to. Be cured” (Mk1:41-42).And he was cured! Clunk!

But there in the church, I saw a man lifting up a little girl so she could kiss the statue of the Sacred Heart. And before the kiss was even dry she was making her next petition:

“Kissy-face with Mary, Daddy.”

(Kiss. Kiss.)

“Kissy-face with Joseph, Daddy.”

(Kiss. Kiss.)

“Kissy-face with Jesus, Daddy.”

“No, we’ve already kissed Jesus, Sweetheart. Now it’s ‘kiss-y face’ for Sara and Daddy!”

I could hear her elfin “tee hee hee” as he cuddled and kissed her all the way out of the church.

Then I was alone again with my petition, but there was no answer. Or, if there was, I had missed it in all of the commotion between the little girl, her daddy, and the “kissy-face.”

Shortly thereafter, I met a new family in the parish, and one of their many children, little Sara.

As soon as I saw her with her father, I realized they were the two “kissy-face” folk in the church that Sunday afternoon. And now, up close, it was obvious that Sara had Downs Syndrome.

Little did I dream how many of us in that parish would be singularly blessed through this special child.

It is certainly part of our tradition to kiss images of Christ and the saints. Most of us, even those who don’t feel at ease with it, especially in public, are at ease with coming to the images, doing whatever we do silently, and then lighting a vigil light there.

We also do some public kissing whether we allude to it or not: the priest kisses the altar as the Body of Christ, his first act of the Mass, and many of us kiss the cross when we begin to pray the rosary, alone or together.

And those in the Eastern traditions in the Church have been kissing holy icons “now and always and forever and ever”—to quote one of their prayers.

So, “sacramental kissing” is not as foreign to us as we might imagine, although we grownups would not use Sara’s childish vocabulary to identify it. All of which to say, what Sara was doing was not unacceptable, but it was a bit unusual in that particular parish church where our pastoral focus was about how to make the sacred practical and relevant—fun for everyone in the family.

Sara had been well prepared for her First Holy Communion in a previous parish, but her parents told me they were still waiting for something which they couldn’t quite put their finger on before they would let her make her First Communion.

So every Sunday, Sara would walk up with one of them when they came for Communion. After her mom or dad received, Sara, in a quiet, churchy voice, would make her “kissy-face with Jesus” request, and off they would go together to the Sacred Heart statue for her own little “communion.”

Then one Sunday, without any hesitation, Sara put out her hand at the Communion site, and in a firm, almost adult voice said, “kissy-face-with-Jesus-time for Sara!”

I looked at her mother, we both looked at Sara, and with tears in my eyes I gave this special little child of Jesus her First Holy Communion.

After she reverently consumed the Sacred Host, she began to make her way to the statue of the Sacred Heart. When her mother tried to take her hand to stop her, she brushed it aside and proceeded all by herself.

At the statue, she was silent for a moment and then very prayerfully, in an audible singsong voice, began to repeat over and over, “Kissy-face with Jesus, kissy-face with Jesus.”

Everything in the church came to a dead stand-still. For a few moments it was almost as if she was being cured right before our eyes. But in fact, the only people who needed a cure in that church that day was us!

Little did we know that because of this wonderful child, it would begin. And we didn’t even notice it until it was well under way.

I cannot tell you how often after that you saw people, young and old, stop for a moment at the Sacred Heart statue after receiving Holy Communion. Some even kissed the statue. (In our parish?) Or how many people began to make the rounds of the other beautiful and holy statues in the church—in front of God and everyone else!

Yes, many of us were cured a-plenty after Sara’s First Communion.

Even now, these thirty-five years hence, one of my greatest joys which grew out of that parish experience of faith, comes when I pray late at night: I take my favorite crucifix and kiss the body of Jesus over and over.

It’s my way of praying for everyone who is too “growed up,” too classy, too proud, to accept a cure for a disease which deprives them of a wonderful intimacy with Christ, his Mother, and all the saints.

Disease? Yes, that dreaded affliction of being afraid of being caught acting or looking or speaking like a little child with God—alone or in public—especially in public. Heaven forbid!

That stuff’s for little kids who haven’t “growed up” yet! Well, every once in a while the Physician of our souls breaks through that spiritual smugness and gives us yet another chance to be cured.

While we are busy preparing our adult petitions (“If you want to you can do this and this and that, Lord”) and awaiting an adult answer (“Of course I want to. Be cured!”), he is busy preparing an answer which often seems as unfitting as the words of a little child.

To which many often respond, as I did that first time in church, “Thank you very much Lord, but that’s not quite what I had in mind. I was thinking of something a bit more real.”

Real? What could possibly be more real than a lovely little girl kissing a statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus right there before God and everybody? What could possibly be more real? Perhaps you kissing a statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus right there before God and every body!

It’s actually great medicine for spiritual diseases of every kind which many of us don’t even know we have—until Jesus gives us someone like Sara.

“Kissy-face-with-Jesus time,

Daddy!”

Amen, Sweetheart! Amen!

—A reflection on the curing of the leper, Mark 1:40-45, from Restoration, Feb. 2009