As we enter the Lenten season in 2019, it may be timely for us all to reflect on the Church’s health care ministry.
All Catholics are involved in caring for the sick and the dying in one way or other – whether for our own family members, or as professionals, volunteers, an ordained minister of the Church, and whether we are working in a Catholic health care facility, a public or private facility, or in private practice. In other words, all of us care for the sick and the dying in one way or other!
This is even before we consider that all of us will become sick or will come to the end of our lives one day.
We begin this reflection by remembering that the health care ministry of the Church is more than just about not performing abortions and opposing Euthanasia. It is also about ministering Gospel compassion to the sick and dying – in following the way of the humility of Jesus, who in becoming human, shows us the compassionate face of the Father, who sent His Son into the world so that we may all come to the fullness of Life that is our calling.
This calling is to be the love and compassion of Jesus for our family member, our patients, a fellow parishioner, and our neighbour in need. For those of us who are health care professionals, this calling involves an evidence-based practice that is a means of valid and reliable care for our patients. However, for the professional of faith, these issues of validity and reliability are seen through the lens of the call to be ministers of Gospel compassion for our patients.
When we listen to the readings for Ash Wednesday, we hear the call to return to the Lord with all our hearts, to ‘let our hearts be broken, not our garments torn.’ (Joel 2:12-18). We are called to have listening hearts. In this respect, it may be helpful to reflect on the words of the prophet Ezekiel: “A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ez. 36:26).
A listening heart is a heart of flesh, while a heart that does not listen is a heart of stone.
A heart of flesh is alive, vulnerable to hurt and pain, yet is also able to be empathic and compassionate for the sick and the dying.
On the other hand, a heart of stone, while solid, is inflexible, unable to bleed or to feel the suffering of the sick and the dying. Yes, the price for caring with Gospel compassion is the Cross – which alone can ensure that our care is centred on the call of Jesus to be his ministers of compassion for the sick and dying.
In this context, it may be helpful to reflect on the story of Martha and Mary (Lk. 10:38-42). Martha is busy with many things, which distract her from sitting at the feet of Jesus, with a listening heart. Mary, on the other hand, is content to just be there with Jesus, listening to him who has come that we may have Life, to the full. Mary in this Gospel passage invites us to have a listening heart in the midst of our various commitments and busyness in our lives.
It also invites us to a renewal of heart and spirit, as we respond to the demands of our ministry in health care as Catholics called to be a community of healing for the sick and the dying.
Dr Michael Tan is a retired GP in formation for the Permanent Diaconate in the Diocese of Parramatta. He has just been appointed to the Executive of the Catholic Medical Association in NSW