Serving as a Catholic physician in contemporary society has its unique challenges and leverages. If you place the Catholic physician and the non-believing physician side-by-side, it might be difficult to discern any differences. However, the former is fully cognizant that the physician is only an instrument in God’s hands and that Christ is the central active character in the sacred work of healing.
Msgr. Dino Lorenzetti, who has worked with Catholic physicians in many capacities for most of his 70 years of ministry — including spiritual advisor for the Catholic Medical Association and Ecclesiastical Assistant for the International Federation of Catholic Medical Associations to Popes St. Paul VI and St. John Paul II — has summed up five areas that distinguish Catholic physicians from their secular counterparts. Here is what he wants Catholic physicians to know:
- YOU ARE CHRIST’S HANDS AND EYES AND YOUR WORK IS HOLY
The power of God’s grace enlightens and strengthens everything you do. Through baptism, the Catholic physician is given a special commission to bring the light of Christ’s healing to patients. You are united to Christ through the Eucharist as you walk and work with the Divine Physician. Your hands and your eyes are Christ’s and your work is holy while you live and serve the mystical body of Christ.
- DRAW UPON SACRED SCRIPTURE FOR EXAMPLE
Sacred scripture is a fertile source of inspiration and narrative for the Catholic physician. You are an innkeeper when you welcome or refuse the vulnerable, ill, and injured into your offices. Physicians are tenants in the vineyard as they are entrusted with the health of the people of God. There are no small actions or healings, exercised in love, as Veronica, Simon of Cyrene, or Dismas the crucified thief attested to through their walk with Christ during his passion. You are a good shepherd who guides patients through the dark valley of illness or disorder.
- EUCHARIST, FASTING, AND PRAYER ARE CRITICAL TO HEALING
Catholic physicians have tools in their arsenal of medical practice that are often ignored by our secularized society. The spiritual gifts of fasting, prayer, and reception of the Eucharist, exercised before undertaking serious action or treatment, are available to you. Your sacrifice is sacred – as the root of sacrifice comes from the Latin “sacer” and “facere,” meaning “to make sacred.” In this way, you unite yourself to Christ as you bring healing to a wounded world. The Catholic physician hears the words of wisdom from the book of Sirach as he advises: “Pray to God that [your] diagnosis may be correct and [your] treatment brings about a cure.”
- SUFFERING IS NOT FRUITLESS
The mystery of pain and suffering eludes explanation in this world. And yet, the Catholic physician knows there is an understanding of a redemptive suffering in which we unite ourselves to the suffering of Christ which has a value beyond comprehension. While bringing the patient every possible comfort and healing, the physician may also bring hope that pain may have some meaning that brings intimacy with Jesus. Suffering does not have to be in vain. This suffering may be more than physical; the Catholic physician encounters the lonely, unwanted, depressed, and homeless. Armed with more than medical knowledge, you may witness the Gospel and your words of encouragement, affirmation, and counsel become a healing ointment.
- THE CATHOLIC PHYSICIAN IS COURAGEOUS
Courage is needed to practice medicine today. If the Catholic physician speaks out against statutory regulation, powerful insurance lobbies or special interest groups, ridicule or even reprisal is inevitable. Yet, proclaiming the sanctity of all life and disagreeing with government or popular and powerful groups on doctrines of truth places you among the saints. The faithful physician sees each patient as a brother or sister in Christ and every human being made in the image and likeness of God. The mission of Jesus is continued in bringing forth life. The Catholic physician is always mindful that Jesus teaches: “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”
Barbara Stoyell-Mulholland is an author and educator who lives near Baltimore, MD. She recently edited a new book, The Catholic Physician: Messages from the Spiritual Advisor, which is based on Msgr. Dino Lorenzetti’s writings and is now available from Lulu.com. 100% of the proceeds from this book are donated to the Catholic Medical Association.