Friday, March 13, 2020 - Updated: 5:07 pm
If you and I have seen each other over the course of the last seven weeks, you will have met my new “friend,” which I affectionately call my guardian angel. It’s my walker.
Ever since Christmas afternoon, I have had to develop a friendship with my walker. After celebrating Christmas Masses, upon returning to my apartment at the seminary, I experienced a sudden weakness in my right leg. I consulted with my back surgeon, who did a number of tests. The results showed no connection with my successful surgery of last August. The tests also ruled out any serious condition (Myasthenia Gravis; Multiple Sclerosis; Muscular Dystrophy; ALS), much to my relief. In consultation with a neurologist, I have been getting a serious regimen of physical therapy three days a week. I love the team—Julie, together with David, Wes, Dawn and Quentin—who are working me hard.
The advice I have been given is that I best not travel without the walker until the atrophy in my leg clears up. It is my hope that it won’t be my companion for long. For now, the walker has become my guardian angel, my friend, my constant companion to help me avoid any falls. But neither my walker nor my tiring leg has caused me to slow down in my service to all of you.
Shortly after my guardian angel and I became partners, I attached to its handle a plain cloth bag, into which I place the things I need on any given day—my folder for that day; materials for meetings and appointments; my cell phone; perhaps a book or two to enlighten me in preparation for a homily. Father Tom Sparacino, rector of the seminary where I live, and my wonderful staff — Lori, Nathan, Betty and Carmie — affectionately named it my “dzadza bag.” (Dzadza is the Polish word for grandfather.)
The walker and the dzadza bag have become a blessing in my life. Using a walker has made me much more aware of the challenges that persons with disabilities face each day. I’ve learned not to take much for granted in getting from one point to another. I’ve learned how very kind and helpful so many people are when they see the walker coming. And I’ve learned the important lesson of having to depend on others when I would prefer to be totally independent.
My dzadza bag has also taught me a lesson or two as it became the repository in which I place the things I will need that day. It has led me to think about how important our hearts are. By heart, I mean not only the organ that pumps blood to keep us alive, but our inner space of faith, emotion, desires and virtues.
On Ash Wednesday, God Himself called to us from the book of the prophet Joel, “Come back to me with all your heart.” Since then, this Lent I have been thinking about the kinds of “stuff” that I need to put into my heart, as well as what I need to remove. I invite you to reflect on that with me.
In doing an examination of conscience, we can identify indicators of spiritual heart disease, such as anger, revenge, prejudice, lust, jealousy, envy, gossip, greed…
Lent calls us to renounce such things. Remember that longing invitation from God: “Come back to me with all your heart.”
God wants us to get rid of all the stuff that constitutes a disease in our hearts. He wants us to allow Him to replace them with virtues that keep our hearts pumping better—charity, chastity, thoughtfulness, inclusiveness, forgiveness, mercy, generosity, prayerfulness, trust, openness, docility…
My prayer is that the story of my dzadza bag may be for you what it is for me—an opportunity to look beyond the here and now, to cultivate the virtues necessary for us to get into heaven.
One of the things that I have learned these past weeks is that I can’t make my dzadza bag too heavy with things that shouldn’t be there. Perhaps we can all take a look at our hearts, with the hope of getting rid of what shouldn’t be there either. We, you and I, don’t need to do that alone. God will strengthen us, especially through the sacraments of Confession and the Eucharist.
God is giving us His grace. God is giving us His open invitation. “Come back to me with all your heart.”
The time is now. Let’s give it all to Him from the bottom of our hearts!