“I’m not going to lie to you,” the nurse said. “This won’t be easy. But we do this all day, every day. You’re in good hands. And we’re going to be right there with you.”
Those were the words spoken to me last month, just minutes before they wheeled me into the operating room for a procedure to repair a longstanding problem with my heart.
I was awake for the first hour as the doctor inserted a tube into a large vein in my leg and threaded it through to the trouble spot — some bad circuitry that was causing increasingly severe episodes of arrhythmia. “This is the hard part,” the nurse said. “Just call my name if the pain is too much.”
That’s when I felt the prayers of family and friends buoy me. I was making my way through the Rosary when suddenly I sensed Our Lord Jesus standing right beside me. His was the name I called on, His the sure and steady hand that calmed me.
And that’s how my Lent began this year. It had me pondering the words of Ezekiel 16:9: “I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”
God’s people had turned to idolatry. They had desecrated His name and turned from serving Him. But God’s mercy was greater than their sin. He loved them and promised to renew them and restore them.
I was home recovering on Ash Wednesday when a gunman walked into a high school in Parkland, Florida, and murdered 17 students and staff. On a day when we’re called to turn from sin and rededicate ourselves to following Christ, our nation was once again mourning the loss of life, once again roiled in debate over gun control, mental health and the dissolution of the family and communities. I don’t pretend to understand all the complexities of the crisis or how we can solve it. But I do know one thing: America has changed and it’s not for the best.
Nearly one in four Americans belong to a growing segment Pew Research labels “nones,” those who proclaim no allegiance to any church. Membership in service organizations is down and only one in four Americans actively volunteers in the community. The average American, according to a 2016 report by Nielsen, spends 4.5 hours a day watching television.
Let the politicians argue and wring their hands. The truth is we’re facing a heart problem. Our heart is not beating in sync with God’s heart. A vocal minority has intimidated many Christians into silence.
Alexis de Tocqueville, a 19th century French statesman, famously observed: “Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. … America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.”
It’s time for America to receive a new heart from the Divine Physician. Idolatry has turned our hearts to stone, has blinded us to the suffering of others and our need to repent. We’ve become addicted to our devices and spend more time looking at them than into the eyes of our families, neighbors and co-workers (of course, they are mostly staring at their devices, too).
The debate over these horrific shootings will continue. There isn’t an easy fix. But I propose a revolution of sorts to chip away at the root cause: a hardening of hearts, a turning away from God and the crumbling of families and communities. Let us rededicate ourselves to love and serving others, to being good neighbors and parishioners, involved in our communities, seeking out the lost. Let’s put away the phones and devices and turn off the television for at least one hour a day so we can share a meal together. Let’s reconnect. We weren’t made to be loners, zombies staring at screens. We were made for love.
I’m not going to lie to you. This won’t be easy. But we’re in good hands and Our Lord Jesus will be with us every step of the way. His is the name we need to call on, His the steady hand that will calm us. His mercy is greater than our sins and He will restore us.