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Nov 18, 2018 108 0 Patricia Keane
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A Pure Heart Create For Me, O God

A frail, sick, elderly woman lay on her bed. Deep lines of pain and sorrow were etched on her thin face. Her dark wavy hair glistened in the evening sunlight, highlighting the odd strands of grey weaved through her tangled and tossed strands. She moaned and spoke in hushed tones, barely able to annunciate her words. Her left arm was discolored, swollen and bore an open ulcer that rested on urine-soaked sheets and her shoulder was dislocated. A stale smell of urine permeated the heavy and oppressive air. Her specialneeds son lay on the living room couch asleep and intoxicated, unable to care for his mother.

Shocked to see the condition this unfortunate woman was in, my helper, Mario, and I set out to alleviate her distress as we gasped for fresh air. We slowly moved her to a chair, changed and washed her and discarded the soggy, stained bedclothes and mattress. Mila and her son Kruno had been living in the new house a mere three months when she suffered a stroke. “Dearest Mother, what are we going to do with this poor soul?” I implored. Her pitiably and miserable state had permeated the deepest part of my heart and I was filled with sorrow for her. With several years of humanitarian work behind me at this point, I had adjusted to the harsh reality of suffering. I had struggled to find the presence of God in the mass ethnic cleansing, sickness, pain and poverty of those living on the margins of society, those who had once lived in comfortable homes dotted across scenic and idyllic parts of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

I was spoon feeding Mila, encouraging her to eat some scrambled egg. Disinterested in eating she turned the food around in her mouth several times and swallowed hard. The scene reminded me of the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. I had everything in life, a beautiful home, youth and health to my advantage, a monthly salary; I began to thank the Lord for all that I was blessed to have. I caressed Mila’s wrinkled face and lifted her hand to my lips to kiss it. She raised her head, made eye contact with me and gave a little smile. My heart melted and tears flowed down my face as a burning feeling rose up in my heart. I had never experienced this feeling before. My heart filled with tender love for this poor soul. I wanted her to know that she was loved and cared for, albeit by two strangers, one who spoke in a foreign language and the other, a tall Croatian man who sang love songs to her in her native language. Her sunken eyes grew a little brighter as we placed her back in a clean, dry bed and propped her up with pillows, assuring her we would be back the next day.

We kept our promise and arrived properly equipped this time with food, medicines, extra bedclothes and disposables. We found Mila in the same position and in a similar condition as the previous evening. Repeating the process, we tried to convince her to let us take her to the hospital, but she refused point blank. It was an unnegotiable position. Her hands and feet had not been cared for or cleaned in a long time. Her nails were long, with dirt gouged under them, and her skin was dry and hard. Mario agreed to clean her hands and I began cleaning her feet and nails as we waited for the doctor to arrive.

I had grown up on a farm and had fed and looked after the small animals for many years. My siblings and I had chased each other with long worms that we pulled from the soil as my father cultivated the vegetable garden. I had prepared the cow barns, cleaned out the hen house and was well accustomed to farmyard odors. I had since discovered that my ability to deal with dirt, foul smells and impoverished circumstances was no longer there. My stomach wrenched and I tended to pull away. This time, though, I could not as I held Mila’s wrinkled foot in my hand. “Oh Holy Mother, give me the strength to do this work,” I invoked as I prayed silent Hail Marys. I cleaned underneath her toenails and pulled out dead bed bugs. I took deep breaths and continued to pray and then the burning sensation of fire filled my heart, purifying it. “Bless the Lord,” I prayed “Bless His Holy Name.” The flame continued until I finished my work. I kissed my “Lady Lazarus” on her forehead and cheeks and we left Mila to sleep in comfort.

I never saw Mila again. She died in her sleep after I returned to Ireland, having left her in better, reliable care. One morning while going back after the Holy mass, I received the news from Mario that Mila had passed away. The Gospel of the day was the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man. I smiled knowing that God, through his tender love and mercy, had allowed me the gift of knowing Mila, and through it had freed me from my irrational fears. He had opened my heart to love and care for His poor the way He would want me to do. From that day forward I was given the grace to embrace the most profound physically and mentally disabled people with a love that could only have come from God.

Praise be to Jesus and Mary.

Patricia Keane

© is the author of the critically acclaimed book “Journey of Ten Thousand Smiles” and is an inspirational speaker and witness to her inner healing in Medjugorje. She hosts a weekly programme, Health and Faith Matters on Radio Maria and blogs at www.journeyoftenthousandsmiles.org. Patricia received two International Awards for her humanitarian work with the ethnically displaced families of Bosnia-Herzegovina through her tireless work with the charity Rebuild for Bosnia.

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