Posted August 14, 2014 in Word Made Flesh:
Thoughts After My Heart Surgery

by Fr. Pat McNulty.

This time, it’s true. Fr. Pat, who is well on the road to recovery, is back to writing his column! This one is a reflection on the line, "It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs" (Mt 15:26) from the Gospel for August 17th, the 20th Sunday of Ordinary Time. Welcome back, Fr. Pat!

Well, did you learn anything new?

About what?

I don’t know; you’re the one that had the heart attack and almost died. P.S., I like you better with your beard.

Oh, but my real friends tell me I look so much younger and more handsome without it.

Which of your two friends told you that?

Well, you’re nasty today! What’s with you?

Oh, I’m just trying to find a way to say, "Welcome back and I missed you," without gettin’ all teary-eyed and emotional about it. You know me: I can’t stand weepers!

Well, thank you. I’m glad you missed me and I’m glad to be back. Do you need a handkerchief? (Smile.)

Did I learn anything? I guess I’ll have to wait and see what comes out because I feel like I’m starting all over from scratch: you know, when you get that close to death and come back, you find out it messed with your mind while it was "attacking" your heart.

Well, let’s see what you got, Reverend: what are you gonna write about?

You know I never start out that way. I just take the Scriptures my editor gives me, and I go from there. This time they are all the Sunday readings for July and August.

What caught my attention right away after scanning them the first time was the lady in Matthew’s Gospel for the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time: a foreigner, but bold enough to push her way right up front yelling, "Son of David, have pity on me."

When he stops, she throws herself right down on the ground and boldly asks him to heal her daughter from the torments of the devil. Clunk!

But Jesus, having told her that he only came for the people of the house of Israel and she’s not one of them, says, not very politely it might seem to us, "it’s not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs."

Ouch! Thank God it wasn’t me He was talkin’ to.

Yes, and given what you or I might have said in answer, listen to what our friendly foreigner says: "Yes. Yes. But even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from their master’s table!"

Whoooa! Whatta you do with an answer like that?

The same thing Jesus did: you give her more than she asked for. You heal her daughter and then call her to salvation with the house of Israel. "O woman, great is your faith!"

That’s what you call, "tough love," Reverend. She’s one lucky lady ‘cause not many people I know could handle that kind-a altar call.

I don’t know, but what I found so attractive in all of this was not only my surprise at the depth of her response, but also the divine sensitivity of Jesus reading her heart out loud to her right there in public to see where she’d go with such a profound call to raw faith: it’s not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.

Her magnificent response gives us a new sense that when these kinds of things happen to us in our own lives, Jesus is not checking out our theology or stretching our sense of the Golden Rule: He is reading our hearts and waiting to see if we want to proceed with him in a new vein, heart-to-Heart.

These terrible life situations are not about smarts (did you get it?) but about hearts (do you want more?). "Yes. Yes, Lord. Even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from their master’s table!"

That’s kinda scary, Reverend: I’m not sure I want anybody readin’ my heart ‘specially out loud in public like that.

Actually, it’s not scary at all. I don’t know if you’ve ever been around anyone who can read hearts. I’m not talking about palm readers and psychics who make the claim, but about people whose own hearts are so utterly and completely open to God’s "heart" that God allows them to read and open other hearts as well.

Catherine Doherty was like that. When your eyes really connected with hers, there were times when you knew she was "reading" right down to the secret places in your heart.

And guess what? Even though it was a little unsettling at first, it wasn’t scary at all: you somehow knew she was not going to ab-use what she saw there.

You had the sense that it was life-giving, healing, hopeful, and that she didn’t run around telling everybody what she saw.

She just silently prayed and fasted for you. But you definitely knew that something profound had just happened, and you went away touched in a fashion you never knew before, even if you were a bit bewildered by it all.

And P.S., most of us came back for more, heart-to-heart. So I can only imagine what happened when people met Jesus, heart-to-Heart.

It’s not always so obvious in the Scriptures, but if we read between the lines it’s there, there in the incredible clarity or ambiguity of their response which is directly related to Jesus having read their hearts on the spot in a way that no one else can. And they knew it.

I don’t think I’ve ever experienced anything like that myself, Reverend.

You have but you might just need a refresher. This heart-to-heart thing is at the center of our whole Catholic tradition of relationship with Christ.

We have a special gift which allows us to be very heart-to-Heart with our God: all our wonderful sacraments and their sacramentals. And even when we’re sick, or otherwise unable, all we have to do is hold these precious things to our hearts.

While I was "coming back to life" in the hospital, I couldn’t say a single prayer, sometimes not even my favourite prayer, the name of Jesus. And I couldn’t hold anything in my hands by myself.

But I could have the nurse wrap my rosary around my fingers and so I could sense Jesus heart-to-Heart! For weeks after I left the hospital, I still could not pray or read the Bible. But I could hold the book close to my heart. Or I could take my favorite image of Christ, hold it close to my heart, and tell him the deepest thoughts in my heart.

And P.S., at that time in my life, most of those thoughts were not holy. There were weeks on end when, in my head, I didn’t even know if there was a God.

So when I read again about this incredible woman in Matthew’s Gospel, it just reminds me that there are times in our life (death) when we just gotta throw ourselves down before a mystery, get out of our head and back into our heart because it’s the heart-to-Heart thing that Jesus is so good at!

Hmmmmm. Now that I think of it, I wonder if that’s not what this heart attack stuff is really all about after all.

Well, sounds like you did learn sumthin’ while you were in the hospital, Reverend, but P.S. I still like you better with a beard.


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