What would you do with your life if you got a second chance to live?
My brother, Declan, at age thirty-seven, faced this question in the spring of 1990. An incurable disease had rapidly deteriorated his body, his business, and his marriage, but then his symptoms suddenly disappeared, and his life was restored. Six months after his healing, Declan traveled overseas from our hometown in Dublin to visit me in St. Louis, Missouri.
My heart was racing as he entered the arrivals hall at Lambert International Airport. I could not believe my eyes at his transformation. As I hugged him, a shiver ran down my spine because I was touching a person who had been touched by God. I never imagined, though, how many lives besides mine Declan would go on to touch.
A Life Dismantled. Declan was a rebel at heart. He was nearly expelled from high school for drinking and other escapades. But like many rebels, underneath the rough exterior, he had a heart that loved to take care of people. At age twenty he married his soul mate, Philomena, and they started having children. He launched an independent media company and did well for his family. They took vacations in Spain, bought luxury cars, and seemed to be very happy. Then Declan got sick.
At age thirty-three, he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. It is an incurable disease, but one that many people have survived for decades. Declan was not so lucky. The disease grew aggressively, and within a couple of years, his whole life was dismantled. His business closed, and all the frustration made him turn to alcohol. His drinking made him get so angry with Philomena that it nearly drove her away.
Within four short years, Declan was bedridden. He was pronounced legally blind and couldn’t speak; his words came out like grunts. His arms and legs had shrunk, and he took more than forty medications daily. Things seemed hopeless for Declan and his family. He made a couple of trips to Lourdes but returned home as incapacitated as before.
On a visit to Dublin in January 1990, I said good-bye to him, thinking it would be my last visit with my kid brother. He was in the final stages of multiple sclerosis, with no hope for remission. He was even admitted to Ireland’s hospital for “incurables”—the one that doesn’t release patients except to the morgue. But he held on.
No Medical Explanation. Six weeks after my visit, I was sitting in my office in St. Louis. The phone rang, and it was my friend Barry in Ireland. “You won’t believe what just crossed my ears on the radio, Ray. It was your brother, Declan, talking about his healing. Congratulations!” I thought I was hearing things.
“What are you talking about?” I said. “He was being interviewed over at the Hospital of the Incurables,” Barry said. “The medical community is staggered. He’s the first and only person to be released from their hospice ward and pronounced healthy.” I thanked him for calling and then sat in shock.
What had happened shortly became clear. About a week beforehand, a friend of Declan’s from a charismatic prayer group had visited his hospital room and prayed for him to be healed. That night Declan started feeling acute pain and heat in his extremities. His left side had been completely atrophied and paralyzed, and he had lost all sensation in his arms and legs prior to that night. But after he was prayed with, his whole body changed. The atrophy disappeared, and Declan’s body became proportional again. His voice came back, and his eyesight returned to normal.
He called the nurse on duty to report his condition. She thought he was hallucinating, but then they brought him over to the physiotherapy department, where he was placed between parallel bars. He took his first steps in five years. They did exhaustive tests, but there was no known medical explanation for his cure. God had completely healed him and set his life on a new course.
More than a Healing. Declan was so grateful. He repented of mistreating his wife and was able to make amends with her. A couple of years later, they won a green card lottery for a permanent move to the United States, arriving in St. Louis in March of 1994 with their sons. Declan had a new lease on life, and he wanted to return it to God.
Rather than going back to the film industry, he found a job in social services. Then he worked at the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. His faith, which had come to life in college when he joined his first charismatic prayer group, was more alive than ever. He was intent on following the leadings of the Holy Spirit, like starting a weekly prayer group and organizing an Adoration chapel at work.
He talked about his faith and even went door-to-door to evangelize in the inner city. He felt inspired to teach at-risk teens video production skills to help them land jobs, so he started a free educational program.
God’s gift to Declan wasn’t just physical healing but an experience of his overflowing love and mercy. It worked like a circle. Declan received mercy, and his natural response was to bring that mercy to other people. This, in turn, made Declan love God all the more. As his brother, I was inspired too!
A Gift for the Giver. After Pope St. John Paul II visited St. Louis in 1999, Declan wanted to do something just for Jesus. Around Lent, an uncle of ours sent some reflections about the seven last words of Jesus on the cross. Declan began composing meditative music on that theme, and a group of us eventually recorded it. By New Year’s Eve, the vigil of Jesus’ two thousandth birthday, Declan had composed thirty-three songs as a gift to God. They were also a gift to our mother, who prayed with our music daily for sixteen years.
We played “Requiem for Jesus” at Lenten prayer services for ten years at parishes all over St. Louis. Each time, we darkened the church and placed a spotlight on the crucifix. The services helped many people enter into a personal relationship with Jesus. Our group called itself the “Eyes of the Heart” because Declan loved that Scripture passage:
May the eyes of [your] hearts be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call . . . , and what is the surpassing greatness of his power . . . , which he worked in Christ, raising him from the dead. (Ephesians 1:18, 19, 20)
My brother, Declan, died of cancer in 2011. God didn’t heal him a second time, but his first healing had already opened the eyes of his heart. He understood God’s immense love for him and was able to return it. That is Jesus’ hope for every person who looks at him hanging on the cross. At any moment, you or I can seize the second chance he is offering and start living for him.
Ray Duffy lives in St. Louis, Missouri. To learn more about the meditative works composed by Declan, visit http://eyesoftheheart.us.