Monday, March 21, 2016

Behold the Wood of the Cross

This post conforms to the blog rules.It's now time to tell another story I was afraid to tell for a long time.

Although I was loud in college about ethics, I became a coward by the time my second year of medical school was half over. I never explained it on the blog. I let it seem spontaneous. But in reality, it had a clear beginning, during our Reproductive Sciences block.

I was trying to start a pro-life group. I was blogging about ethics. I was going into tidy journalistic fury over the shock (shock!) of being taught to abort. I was standing outside of clinics. I was glad that I had a good upbringing and a sound education. It made me strong in the culture war, and I was loving the fight!

A few months into my second year, I began to discover that the fight wasn't straightforward. One of the pro-life M1s I was hoping to groom for the new head of the pro-life group didn't want to lead because she'd had an abortion. She didn't think the group was going about things "the right way" (whatever that meant). The conversation was awkward--I remember that neither of us stood, and that there was another M1 there (moral support for the M1 I'd asked?) standing as well, silently watching us. I stammered an "all right, I'd love whatever help you can give me." I ended up not seeing her much after that, and I moved on in the semester.

Later that year, I saw on the schedule that we had a lecture on "Abortion: Spontaneous, Missed, Threatened, Therapeutic." I steeled myself that morning and tucked my little plastic fetal model into my pocket. I look back on that morning and see it as a little theatrical, but at the time it was genuine. I felt like I was headed into the mouth of the beast, where impressionable, vaguely liberal college grads were taught that abortion was part of medicine.

Credit: prieststuff
I sat in my usual spot. One of the other Catholic students sat next to me. The lecturer began to talk about elective abortion. I fingered my fetal model and felt powerless. All my classmates were hearing this as if it were just another way to manage just another condition.

On a whim, I pulled out the model and passed it to the Catholic sitting next to me. She looked at it for a long several seconds, then made as if to hand it back to me. "No, pass it that way," I said. She looked as if she didn't know what to do, then reached across the few empty seats between herself and the next person. I signaled to that person to keep passing it.

I didn't get it back at the end of the class. I'd watched it travel around the room for a few minutes, but then I'd gone back to listening about threatened AB.

It was several weeks later (I'd completely forgotten about the entire thing) when I received a concise email from one of the School of Medicine's administrators--the lawyer who gave us a lecture on how we could get kicked out for unprofessional behavior. She asked if I had time to meet with her and the dean that week.

My blood pressure spiked at first, but I reassured myself: I'm a good student, I haven't done anything wrong. Perhaps she wants to ask me about someone else? I gave her a time and showed up to the meeting. It was Holy Thursday.

The instant that I walked into the room and saw her face, I knew that I was the one in trouble. Her expression was stony, her voice was clipped. The dean sat in a chair by her desk, only marginally less terrifying.

I don't remember all the exact words. She asked me whether I passed around a model of a fetus during the lecture. I said yes, I had. She told me that not only was that disruptive in the classroom, but it had upset several of my peers and that one or two had come to her crying about it. I instantly regretted so thoughtlessly picking my pro-life trinket out of my pocket and passing it around during class! I already learned that there were post-abortive women around me! Why hadn't I thought of them? What a painful thing I had done! I'd been warned that I was going about things the wrong way and I hadn't done anything about it!

Credit: timmatkin
From the shame of being in a disciplinary position on top of the distress I felt at what I'd done to my peers, I started to cry. "It hurts me," I stuttered, "to think that I caused someone pain." I offered to apologize in some anonymous way to the girls I'd hurt. I was declined. I spent a miserable rest of the day.

The next day, I attended the Good Friday service. Christ on the cross looked as miserable as I felt. "And as miserable as I made those girls," I muttered. I felt like Pilate, more than I ever had in the dozens of times I've said "His blood be upon us and upon our children" and "Crucify Him" on Palm Sunday.

That day I had a small change of heart. I realized that everything I lacked (poise, foresight, compassion, circumspection, thoughtfulness, and a sense that I was on the right side of things) I truly lacked. I wasn't just feeling a temporary loss of those virtues: I never had them to begin with. So I asked Christ for all his virtues, to replace all my disasters. It was a beautiful Good Friday, one I will never forget. Even now at Mass, when I go to communion, I often think of that Good Friday and ask Christ to give me everything of His soul, including all his virtues.

But this episode had one very unfortunate effect: it made me afraid. It was not until the beginning of my fourth year that I began to uncase myself from that cold fear that I would once again hurt someone or bring on the shame of that terrible disciplinary meeting. I realize now why I was so afraid. I stopped short in accepting something of Christ's cross: His courage.

Now I behold the wood of the cross and recall my misery. I know that I have made lots of scandalous mistakes that have caused a great deal of pain. So I ask Christ to replace my viciousness with His perfections. And even though I'm a liability to His glory, He asks that I fight for him, and gives me His courage.

Now, as a resident that fearlessly but happily refuses to prescribe, I am a warrior. But the strength I fight by is not mine. So behold, the wood of the Cross, on which our Savior poured out all His virtues for us and provided an almost-irrational courage for us, even though we're such disasters.

P.S.: It was recently pointed out to me that if a person is so fragile as to cry at the sight of a fetal model, he or she is in need of some serious healing, and that confronting that person with the truth may have had a good effect. While I agree, it's still not the best way to show someone the truth. And even if the "disruptive" thing wasn't true (because the lecture was teleconferenced from forty miles away), I still think I acted carelessly and hurt someone. May God bring some good out of it! Please pray for the people that I hurt that day, because I'm sure their souls are deeply wounded from whatever in their past made them so upset at the sight of my little plastic fetus.

P.P.S.: By the way, one of the first things I stuck in my new resident coat was a new and improved fetal model. I showed it to probably sixty people in my first month of residency. I did it calmly and gently, after considering whether it was the right way to show the truth or not. And I haven't regretted it yet.

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