During the summer after my senior year in college in 1990, I experienced a return and deepening of my faith through the intercession of our Blessed Mother. The following January, as a 23-year-old seminarian, I began attending Mass every day. Today—32 years later—I have since gone to Mass and received Holy Communion over 10,000 times. Little by little, bit by bit, these 10,000 Communions have transformed me. Only in retrospect can I appreciate how much I needed to be transformed. Today, I am still a work in progress, but the Eucharist is the center of my life, the daily event around which I plan all things. It is probably not surprising, then, that most significant events in my life somehow seem to get intertwined with my relationship with Jesus in the Eucharist.
The fact that I had a heart attack in 2021 is nothing extraordinary. People have heart attacks all the time—over 800,000 in the US every year. What makes mine remarkable are the circumstances surrounding it.
On Ash Wednesday that year, I went away on a three-day silent retreat with a friend. I fast during Lent and find it helpful to get my Lent started at a place with perpetual Eucharistic adoration and no food temptations. While praying in front of the Blessed Sacrament, I often pray using symbolic images of my heart. Sometimes, I sit silently and ask our Lord to make my heart beat in sync with his. Sometimes, I ask him to heal it. Oftentimes, I imagine him reaching into my chest with both of his warm hands; together, they completely cover my heart. I then imagine him lifting it out of my body and bringing it toward his face, where he carefully blows on it with his warm breath, melting the ice and making it healthy again.
As I spent these days in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, I received an unexpected and confusing thought during my prayer. While I prayed, I kept hearing that something was wrong with my heart. At first, I took this to mean a reference to my spiritual heart, so, naturally, I prayed for him to heal and transform it. But instead of a comforting, satisfying prayer, I felt increasingly agitated and unfulfilled. This was very frustrating, and it led me to question what this message meant. As we drove home on Saturday I shared this experience with my friend, and we concluded that I should schedule an appointment to get my heart checked out. At the time, I had no conscious awareness that anything might be wrong with it. Both of us agreed, however, that given my medical background—three bouts of cancer, two stem cell transplants, thirty lifetime surgeries, eighteen years of constant hospitalizations, etc.—it was probably a prudent thing to do.