As a child, I was devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Fascinated by the red heart crowned with thorns and beaming like the sun, I treasured His holy card, prayed His litany, and even attended Mass on the first Fridays of the months.
Between eighth grade and adulthood, I deemed this devotion old-fashioned and ignored it … until 1996, when my twelve-year-old daughter Kate became anorexic. Depression and the loss of forty pounds sent her to the hospital that winter. She gained weight and was released but then dropped another ten pounds after she came home. Her weakening heart, ashen complexion, and relentless fear of eating warranted our scheduling her return to the hospital.
Friends and family stormed the heavens for her, sent Mass cards, and offered compassionate presence. My friend Denise gave me a tape entitled, “Our Lady’s Role in Healing,” a product of the Sacred Heart Institute, a healing ministry headed by Father Gerald Ruane. Father and his teams traveled to parishes all over the northeastern United States celebrating Mass and laying hands on the sick.
“I thought you could use this,” Denise said, handing me the tape. At her suggestion, I called the Institute and put my name on its mailing list. Every few weeks, I received the schedule, but usually the Masses were too far away or the date had already passed.
On June 1st, the first day of the month devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Kate was deep in despair, sobbing and praying to die. As I wept and massaged her bony shoulders, I prayed silently, “Oh, Jesus, save us. I do not want to lose my daughter.” I cradled Kate in my arms until she slept, then I checked the mail where, among the bills and magazines, lay the latest schedule of Father Ruane’s visits to parishes in our area. I snapped the seal of the pamphlet to learn that there would be a healing Mass that week in a nearby parish.
Amazed, I looked skyward and gasped, “Jesus, You really are listening!” Later I told Kate, “We’re going to that Mass. It’s the night before you return to the hospital.”
So on a hot, muggy evening, she and I rode with the air conditioner off and the windows rolled up. Summer was near, but Kate remained cold and bundled up in layers of fleece pants, shirts, and jackets, trying to withstand her own personal winter caused by severe weight loss.
Father Ruane celebrated the Mass and addressed the deep love and healing of Jesus’ Sacred Heart in his sermon and prayers. Kate and I listened, prayed fervently, and received the Eucharist. When Mass ended, we joined a line of people in the center aisle, where we awaited the laying-on of hands. At one point, a breeze swept into the church when someone exited through the oak doors. Concerned that Kate would be chilled, I immediately turned to check on her.
“It’s really warm in here,” she said in an upbeat voice I had not heard in months. Unbelievably, she removed her outer jacket and set it on a pew across the center aisle.
My eyes widened. Her fragile body had shivered constantly and felt no warmth since the previous September. I thought, “Jesus, is this Your healing hand I’m seeing in action?” I breathed in, waiting and watching.
We reached the front of the line where Father Ruane asked how we needed healing. I whispered to him, “My daughter has anorexia.”
Without hesitation, he passed me, cloaked her shoulders with his arms, and began to pray over her. Ten minutes later, he made the sign of the cross over her and bid us good night.
Kate rested as I drove away. I, like Mary heeding Simeon’s prophecies in the temple, pondered all these events in my heart.
The next morning, my husband and I took Kate back to the hospital to begin her second stay. As we said our goodbyes, she looked into my eyes and assured me, “Mom, it’s going to be all right.”
Indeed Kate worked hard on the issues tormenting her. Even the staff noticed her new determination and grew optimistic about her recovery. I too was able to face this struggle with renewed hope, as I held fast to the promise that I sensed the night of the Mass.
A month later, Kate earned her discharge after gaining an acceptable amount of weight. Still, it was a long stony path to complete recovery, but she stopped starving herself and never required another hospital stay, ending that brutal winter. My daughter was back.
This article is adapted from a chapter in Chicken Soup for the Soul, Everyday Catholicism: Hearing God’s Answers in Our Lives by LeAnn Thieman which is available from Sophia Institute Press.
Art for this post on the Sacred Heart: Cover and featured image used with permission.