Heart Transplants – Physical… and Spiritual

by | Apr 8, 2022 | Formation, Reflections

I remember well the stir caused when Christian Barnard in 1967 announced the first successful human heart transplant. Newly ordained, I joined with people around the world rejoicing in this miracle. Since then there have been some 3,500 heart transplants. However, the risk of ultimate “rejection” of the new heart is still high.

In the fifty-plus years since I have occasionally given thought to what some might call a spiritual heart transplant.

Spiritual heart transplants are not new

  • The more than 2,500 year old promise of a spiritual heart transplant is one of the better known promises hoped for in Israel.

“And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:26)

“Paul’s transformation involved an “identity transplant”—his old identity was replaced by a new identity “in Christ.” . . . We have in mind an analogy to modern medicine’s heart transplant, in which an old heart is replaced by a new heart. In Paul’s case, his spirit—the old Paul—had been replaced by the Spirit of Christ.”

  • Today I was caught up in Eucharistic celebration the feast of St. Oscar Romero.

Many remember how the movie “Romero” dramatized his conversion. His inaction had early on been viewed as supporting an oppressive regime. The assassination of his close friend Rutilio Grande seems to have been the catalyst for a “change of heart” that cost him his life.

“We Christians have not thoroughly assimilated ourselves to Jesus Christ. We divorce faith from life (we content ourselves with preaching the faith or celebrating it liturgically, but we do not put love and justice into practice). An Easter church … ought to be a church of conversion, of a fundamental turning back to Christ – whose mirror we should be.”

SSVDP Canada

I realized that “spiritual heart transplant” is another way of describing a radical change of heart, conversion, whether that conversion is almost instantaneous or spread out over years.

Spiritual heart transplants are examples of the repentance Jesus calls us to – “metanoia” or ”change your way of thinking”… and live according to that changed way of thinking.

Vincentian transplants

In recent years the followers of Vincent have more become aware of Vincent’s radical change of heart. This is sometimes characterized as a shift from thinking with concern to him and his family to the life=changing concern for the poor.

His was a slower transplant than Paul’s. He gradually started to identify with the poor.

He openly recognized his own poverty, weaknesses, and his own sinfulness. From that perspective, and from that moment on, he went out to meet others. Vincent de Paul discovered “Jesus’s face” in the poor and the poor in Jesus. Thus became his constant focus.

Frederic Ozanam underwent a similar conversion as a result of a challenge from an atheist fellow student about the Church’s concern for the poor. A Daughter of Charity, Sr. Rosalie, the Mother Theresa of her day guided his spiritual heart transplant. His heart became inflamed less with theory and more with effectively bringing and being ‘Good News” for those on the margins.

It strikes me that in past Lents I have often been caught up in “practices” rather than “the heart of flesh” promised by Ezekiel.

Lent as a time for our own spiritual heart transplants

  • Do I have the hope for a spiritual heart transplant?
  • Am I preparing myself for that new heart… or rejection?

Originally posted on Vincentian Mindwalk


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