A dilated heart

You know those little winks from God? Those hidden moments of sheer grace that only you can fully appreciate and rejoice in? I was the happy recipient of one just the other day. As I feel my way through a new routine, scheduling and prioritizing and learning by failing, I've found a perfect window of time for prayer in the morning, before I do anything else. And it was in that sleepy, peaceful window this week that I was meditating on the current state of my heart. It's been stirring and growing, surprised and delighted. I was turning over these marvels in my mind, scribbling notes to Jesus in my journal from time to time. Anytime my heart is expanded, I wrote, for whatever reason, I can give and receive more and more divine love. I soon left the chapel with a smile on my face and returned home to continue my day.

That evening, I sat in another pew, in another chapel, feeling the weight of the day as I sit and stood and knelt at Mass. I listened attentively to Fr. Mahoney’s homily, his wise and thoughtful words captivating me as always. And as I listened, I was struck: There is an expansiveness of heart that is characteristic of Jesus, he said to us. This is what changes the way we look at things, the way we see the needs around us. This is what leads us to act in a way that is not self-seeking, but self-giving.

Bigtime God wink. Again I scribbled in my journal, recording these remarkable words just lines below my last entry, which read so similarly. We must allow Christ to dilate our hearts, Father concluded as I wrote. Here’s the thing: my heart does feel as if it’s been broken open, in the most surprising and glorious way, and now I’m left in the perplexing aftermath. The overwhelming sense I have in these days and weeks after my Camino is one of gratitude and joy, yes, but also a certain sadness and pain. My heart aches for those timeless days, for the precious friends I made in mere instants, for the seemingly endless walking with tired and happy legs. And I have two choices: I can turn in on myself, walling up my heart with its longing and nostalgia, closing it off to those who couldn’t possibly understand, or I can throw open my newly widened heart, welcoming more people into it, filling it to the brim with those right under my nose.

Think of the feeling you have when your eyes have been dilated at the optometrist. Like, really imagine it. You step outside and you find yourself blinded, even on a cloudy day. Your eyes sting and water behind insufficient sunglasses. You long for the comfort and safety of a dark, enclosed room. (Or is that just me?) And then I think of my heart in the same way. My heart has just been expanded and stretched, perhaps sensing some stinging alongside some joy, and as I walk away, that just-widened heart is freshly vulnerable. And while we can’t see all that well with dilated eyes (and no, I’m not advocating for throwing those sunglasses to the side and staring right into the sun), we can see more clearly, as Fr. Mahoney said, with a dilated heart.

I love returning to the words that prompted the homily that arrested me so: At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd. Jesus gives us the model of a magnificently expansive heart. Infinite, in fact. And while I may not reach those heights of love as a mere sinner and pilgrim on earth, I can certainly aim for such love. To be moved not just by the needs of my intimate friends, but by the vast crowds. To open my life wide not just to those I expect will understand me, but to those who may have nothing to offer. To step out, into the deep, with a dilated heart.





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