Cardiac Team (R-L) The medical team that helped Fr. Mark McCormick get back on his feet — Christopher Murphy, Christian “Cody” Murray, Father McCormick, Mary Vigoren, Dr Samuel Durr, Samantha Emeline, Hank Houston, Justin Krebs, and Ryan Braun. (Courtesy photo)
By Fr. Mark McCormick
This fall semester started out a bit rough for me health-wise. This summer I felt fatigued and worn out. I was short of breath as I was out hiking in the hills. Even walking up a flight of stairs I experienced chest pain.
Toward the end of August, I was supposed to be hiking in Glacier National Park with a high school classmate of mine. I thought I better call him to see how far we were planning to hike each day. He told me 12 to 18 miles. I thought, “Holy —-!” I cannot even walk up a flight of stairs without being winded; there is no way I can hike that far each day.
I decided it was best to call my cardiologist before heading out to tramp around Glacier. I did not pass my stress test and my angiogram showed that I had three blocked arteries. My doctor declared, “Your trip to Glacier is out for this summer.” The first of September, I had triple bypass surgery.
While I was still in the hospital, I found myself filled with anxiety and unable to sleep. I decided to pull out my cell phone and to listen to praise and worship music, hoping that would help ease the restlessness I was experiencing.
The first song I hit on my playlist was Matt Maher’s “Run to the Father.” I have listened to this song before, however this time the lyrics pierced my heart in a new way.
“Running into Your arms
Is running to life from death
And I feel this rush deep in my chest
Your mercy is calling out
Just as I am You pull me in
And I know I need You now
I run to the Father
Fall into grace
I’m done with the hiding
No reason to wait
My heart needs a surgeon
My soul needs a friend
So I’ll run to the Father
Again and again”
As tears rolled down my face, the restlessness and anxiety washed away and was replaced by the peace of our Father’s love pouring into my heart.
This abundant outpouring of grace was amazing — one that I will continually run back to again and again. I sense that Jesus, the Divine Physician, has healed my heart in a deeper way, not only physically but spiritually as well.
I see the fruits of his healings in my daily life, from walking to the way I eat to what I read and even to how I preside and pray the Mass with greater joy in the Lord.
These days 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 has taken on new meaning for me as I try to be a better steward not only my physical self but of my spiritual self, too. “Do you not know your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who lives within you, whom you have received as a gift from God? You are not your own. You were bought with a price purchased by Jesus’s blood. Therefore, glorify God in your body and in the Spirit, which belongs to God.”
St. Paul teaches us that our body is the Spirit’s dwelling, that sacred place in which the Spirit not only lives but is worshiped, revered and honored. We are called to see our bodies as holy and living temples of God who dwells within us.
We are called to lift up our bodies and adore Christ in them as temples of the Holy Spirit. Of course, this is easier said than done. Nonetheless, it is our charge by the Holy Spirit.
In his desire to bring healing to my physical and spiritual heart, the Lord drew me to use my recovery time to read three books on the spiritual fatherhood of a priest. All three challenged me to live my priesthood in more intentional and sacrificial ways, helping me to grow in my own identity as a priest and spiritual father to those who have been entrusted to my ministries.
For over six weeks I celebrated daily Mass without a congregation, on a kitchen table or a dresser, with a heart of gratitude for my priesthood. I thanked God for the opportunity to live my priesthood, my spiritual fatherhood anew.
I was struck by this quote in Father Carter Griffin’s book, “Why celibacy? Reclaiming the Fatherhood of the Priest.” He quotes St. John Paul II: “For the priest it is Eucharistic love that daily renews his fatherhood and makes it fruitful,
transforming him evermore into Christ and, like Christ, makes him become the bread of souls, their priest, yes, but also their victim, because for them he is gladly consumed in imitation of him who gave his life for the salvation of the world.
“In other words, a priest is as good as his Eucharistic life, his Mass above all. A Mass without love, a sterile priest. A fervent Mass, a priest who wins souls.”