Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Call to Holiness = The Foundation for Catholic Health Care

St. Basil, one of the founders of the
Catholic hospital (a.k.a. one of the
founders of modern hospitals)
This was the title of the talk given by Fr. Joseph Johnson at the CMA conference last week (except he used a real predicate instead of an equals sign).

I completely agreed with his thesis before Fr. Johnson ever stepped behind the podium. Ever since reading How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization and being floored repeatedly by the chapter on the Church and healthcare, I've agreed with this thesis.

Thomas E. Woods, author of the above, chronicles saints' work to build hospitals and fill them with the sick, especially the poor, the family-less, and the homeless. Importantly, Woods emphasizes that this work stemmed directly from the saints' understanding that their faith demanded it. Becoming holy required God-like deeds which (for a religion proclaiming a God who was Mercy itself and had exhibited that Mercy in countless healings and acts of supreme self-sacrifice) meant works of mercy.

(This makes me want to spiral off into a discussion of love, and how true Love is only had by mirroring Christ and anyone who agrees should readily understand the doctrine that there is not salvation outside the Church...but we'll stay on-topic.)

Medicine, Fr. Johnson said, is elevated from a career to a vocation because healthcare workers earn their daily bread by touching Christ in their patients and being Christ to their patients. Asked what the solution was to the healthcare crisis, Fr. Johnson simply said, "we need saints." We need people who will restore compassion to healthcare and repair the patient-doctor relationship to the Love with which it was inflamed in the first hospitals.

A Catholic doctor wishing to become such a saint seeks more than good bedside manner; he seeks a sincerity that stretches him and makes him more Christ-like.

Isn't it naive, an objector might ask, to approach the culture of death (so many problems!) with only these scant recommendations?

Hardly, Fr. Johnson retorts. The above is a full-bodied prescription for sainthood. Here are its ingredients:
  1. Formation. Nemo dat qui non habet, and action follows contemplation just as it did for the saints Woods discussed. Prayer and study of Scripture and theology fill us and motivate us to love others and teach others. Without prayer and study, all our frenetic activity lacks meaning!
  2. The Sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Confession.
  3. Sacrifice, which allows us to learn to love as He loves.
  4. Adherence. Never excuse yourself from this! This represents a change in the spiritual diet, but be a compliant patient of the Divine Physician. Remember that your patients need a doctor who is Christ-like.
A crucifix in Vilnius. (The triumph of love.)
Simple, but not easy. We need to learn to love better, or we need to learn to allow Christ to love for us. Luckily, medicine presents constant opportunities for the physician to increase in love, Fr. Johnson said. The need of others becomes an opportunity to serve Christ. In fact, some of those early hospitaller saints would call patients "my Lords, the sick and the poor." This reminds me of the additional Divine Praise that Missionaries of Charity say at Benediction: "Blessed be God in his most distressing disguise," meaning that each poor person they serve is God.

To become a saintly doctor, Fr. Johnson concludes, is exciting. It is to realize St. Teresa's poem; it is to become a lover, not a fixer (because Jesus is a lover, not a fixer); and it is to triumph, because we already know that Love has triumphed.

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