Being a Catholic Witness in Healthcare:
Practicing Truth and Love
By Mrs. Sydney Michelle Therese March, BLA-Th, BSN, RN, PHN, MSB
For the healthcare professional today, it would seem we live in very frightening times. Conscience rights are continuously being under attack. The emphasis on personal autonomy over natural law and moral truths. The increasing number of the vulnerable within this system we call health “care” are becoming silent martyrs. The emphasis on productivity and business within our field seems to take the place of the relationship between the patient and the caregiver. Goodness! I think if I go any further, I might talk my own self out of my own vocation!
But nothing could be further from the truth! The bold and fearless St. Catherine of Siena said, “Nothing great is ever achieved without enduring much!” This is why from hardships, come great saints – and what a time to become one! This, indeed, is really the radical calling of the healthcare professional, and what makes us different than any other service career (if one should even call it a service career). I would advocate, it is the highest calling within the vast field of secondary personal vocations, as truly it is Our Lord and His ministry en-fleshed in the daily life of being present 8-16+ hours a day with His suffering children. Often times the demands to fulfill this, come at the expense of our own personal desires and needs (emotional, physical, spiritual, etc.), family, friends, social life, and parish life. Alas, it is a demand that is not often understood by someone who is not working within the field (which brings even more psychological strain). After all, not showing up to work, not caring for others, or not saving one’s life is simply not an option – period. Although, wonderful services, restaurants and stores we can live without and do not require being open 24-7, but we cannot live without medical care. What a challenge, and what an undeserved privilege!
In a world such as today (and really like any other time period), how does this look on a daily basis? What does it mean to be a Catholic healthcare professional in the crazy business machine of medicine and health? What does it really mean to “practice medicine”? What are we really doing when we walk into a room of a patient who has real wounds: physical, mental, and often times spiritual? More fitting, what does it mean to be a healthcare minister to the suffering souls in the same business of Our Lord who thirsts for them? At the end of the day, that is what this privilege is all about – being present to save suffering souls by showing God’s infinite love, compassion, and mercy to a dark world full of psychological, physical pain, and emptiness.
So, let’s get back to the basics!
We, as nurses, doctors, surgeons, practioners, assistants, pharmacists, therapists, aides, etc., treat and minister to the whole human person when we encounter our patients. Likewise, Christ treats and ministers to us (the patient) in body, mind, and spirit. He does this many times through relationships with others, but primarily through His Word and the Sacraments. We encounter this in the most intimate way possible during the reception of Holy Communion. It is His Word and His Body that are key to practicing medicine: His Word is truth (literally the Truth) and His Body is love. Quite fittingly, this is also the way in which we are called to encounter our patients. Like Christ, willing to risk everything (and He did with His life), we must also be willing to risk everything for the patient in front of us.
One of my favorite books to read and reflect on as a healthcare professional, and I highly suggest that it is purchased and read, is “Caregivers: As Confessors & Healers,” (Muse, 2016) which is compilation of proceedings from the Annual National Conference of The Orthodox Christian Association of Medicine, Psychology and Religion. One the books contributors, Fr. Vasileios Thermos, who is a practicing psychiatrist and Professor of Pastoral Theology and Psychology at the University Ecclesiastical Academy in Athens, expounds upon this aspect of ‘truth and love’. The healthcare worker’s mission is to “help people learn the truth of the body…by studying what ‘nature’ is according to our faith…[and]…Help people love the societal body…they assist health care to reflect its depicting value, that is, to represent in human terms the soteriological mission of Christ who restores human nature (p. 261). In other words, the healthcare worker and mission, is a curative art and model revealed in the flesh and transformed in the soul – much like the way our soul is restore in the healing Sacrament of Confession.
These are the basics, my fellow healthcare friends! We need to boldly live this out! Do not let the temptations of conscience rights, attacks on the vulnerable, or documentation, computers, or talk of “customers” distract you from your calling proclaimed by St. Basil the Great as seeing healthcare as the icon of salvation: “The medical art has been vouchsafed us by God, who directs our whole life, as a model for the cure of the soul, to guide us in the removal of what is superfluous and in the addition of what is lacking” (St. Basil, 1962). May we all continue to embody the One, True Artist as we practice the and live out our noetic art of healing in truth and love!
St. Basil the Great, Ora pro nobis!
- Muse, S., Burg, J., & Woroncow, H., (2016). Caregivers as confessors & healers: Proceeding from the annual national conference of the orthodox christian association of medicine, psychology and religion nov. 5-7, 2015. Wichita, KS: Eighth Day Institute.
- St. Basil the Great, (1962). The long rules, question 55. In St. Basil: Ascetical works (M. Monica Wagner, Trans.). Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press.