The Word Among Us

June 2018 Issue

A Heart of Flesh

Jesus’ compassionate heart transformed my numbed heart in a hospital chapel.

By: Alexander Lee

A Heart of Flesh: Jesus’ compassionate heart transformed my numbed heart in a hospital chapel. by Alexander Lee

A simple sign labeled “Eucharistic Chapel” was taped to a wooden door in the hallway of the hospital where I worked as a physician assistant. Although I was a practicing Catholic, I had passed by that door for months.

I was in the habit of showing up early for my shifts in the Emergency Department so that I could get my coffee. I wasn’t intentionally avoiding the chapel, but deep inside I did fear being seen praying in a secular workplace. I feared having to explain and maybe defend my religion. I had no interest in being a witness to Christ, and it was easier to pass by the chapel door and head toward the coffee instead.

Over a period of months, though, I became uneasy about a growing numbness that I felt. My patients were undergoing tragedies like cancer, miscarriage, or physical abuse, but I couldn’t bring myself to feel sorrow for them. One day I went to Confession and told the priest about this. Gently but firmly, he told me that perhaps I was called to be Christ to my patients in some small way. I thought to myself: Surely, Christ would feel each person’s pain and try to alleviate it—physically and emotionally.

Jesus with the Sick. Over the next few weeks, I prayed about how Jesus responded to sickness, sadness, and violence. In my mind’s eye, I saw him walking the streets with crowds pressing in around him. He knew what was in each person’s heart, good and bad. He knew their sins and he knew that he himself would one day overcome them.

The way I pictured it, there was an endless sea of sickness and injury all around Jesus. Large numbers of sick people called out to him. Jesus knew there was no better way to enter someone’s heart than through physical healing. So he laid hands on them, prayed for them, healed their bodies, and forgave their sins. He gave them a foretaste of their resurrected bodies and showed them that he wanted them to be whole and healed in every dimension of their lives.

As Pope Francis has said, “I see the Church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol. . . . You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else.”

Even as I made these connections in prayer, I still didn’t feel much change at work. The chaos of the daily “battle” at the hospital made it hard for me to focus on the wounds of any one individual. All I could see was the fighting around me.

Behind the Wooden Door. Then one day, I arrived to my shift early and had nothing to do. As I passed the wooden door in the hallway, the chapel sign caught my attention. Perhaps pushed by the Holy Spirit, I decided to go inside. I opened the door and saw a gold tabernacle on a small table. Beside it was the Divine Mercy picture with the words “Jesus, I trust in you” and a picture of the Blessed Mother. A battery-operated electric candle indicated the presence of our Lord since open flames are prohibited in the hospital.

As I sat and began to pray the Rosary, I thought about this small room that had been converted into a chapel. Tucked away in a hospital hallway, it housed the True Presence of Jesus Christ, the King of Kings, the Lord of heaven and earth. And I was the only one in the room with him!

Before I got there, he was in the room alone—a king ruling on a throne with no one in his court. Outside the door I heard people discussing weekend plans and troubles with coworkers. I heard ambulance sirens and the whirr of an electric wheelchair. The hallway was busy, and the people in it were busy with their own lives.

The “Forgotten King.” I began to stop into the chapel to pray before and after every shift. Once, a man opened the door, saw he was in the wrong room, and quickly left. I saw no one else purposefully come in. I started to wonder why. In a hospital filled with physical and mental illness, addiction, the lasting effects of war and violence, homelessness and abandonment, why hadn’t I—or anybody else—been visiting our Lord? It was as if he were a forgotten king, ruling on a throne that was overlooked.

Today, as it was when he walked around Galilee, Jesus is desperately needed. Two thousand years ago, people pressed in on him in the streets hoping for miracles. I often think of the woman afflicted with hemorrhages who just wanted to touch him. She knew somehow that he would heal her. She had lost faith in the modern medicine of her day, but she still believed in divine healing. Here in this hospital, it’s not much different. There are many afflictions that the best modern medicine cannot heal. But Christ is still here, ready to dispense healing mercy for free. He’s just waiting for us to approach him.

Becoming Like Jesus. When I came to him in the chapel, Jesus began to heal my heart of the numbness that had encased it. My time there began to change how I view my role as a medical provider. Instead of just alleviating physical ailments, I want to give patients a sense of Christ’s presence.

This happens in simple ways: posing for a photo with a little boy whose cut I sutured and hearing the words, “I’m glad you’re here”; rejoicing with a woman who learned she was pregnant—not just sick—after ten years of trying to conceive; telling an older man that his cough is really a malignant lung tumor, but doing so with gentle kindness.

I’ve come to realize that the best way to become a Christlike presence is to spend time with Christ in prayer and at Adoration. Once I truly got to know Jesus, I found it easier to let his love shine through me.

Alexander Lee lives in the greater Washington, DC area.