Week 1 of Lent: Refection No. 2 – Our vocation to walk the way of humility in caring for the sick and the dying
Our last reflection focused on the importance of having listening hearts in our care of the sick and the dying, In this reflection, I will focus on the call (vocation) to care for the sick and the dying with humility.
Jesus, the humility of God, calls us, and we follow him along the way of humility in caring for the sick and dying. This call to humility comes through our baptism, where Jesus, invites us to die to our own interests, in order to respond to the interests of the sick and the dying. We find this call in the famous Philippian hymn (Phil. 2:3-11), where we are invited to “let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus (v.5). This ‘mind’ then leads us to consider the Humility of Jesus, who did not view his ‘equality with God’ as something to be ‘exploited.” (v.6). For those of us who are professionals, our professional knowledge and expertise is not to be similarly ‘exploited,’ but rather, to be put at the service of the lives from conception to natural deaths of our patients.
The hymn goes on to describe the self-emptying of Jesus, in taking the form of a ‘slave.’ In becoming human, Jesus did not just take the ‘form of a slave,’ but in his humility, became obedient to “the point of death, even death on a cross” (v.8). Our care of the sick and the dying is thus a vocation not just to humility, but also of obedience to Jesus. We follow Jesus in his death and resurrection, as he shows us the full meaning of our own sickness and death, as well as the sickness and deaths of those we care for – where life is changed, not ended.
Another point of the Philippian hymn is that humility is not merely a concept, an idea, a philosophy, or a ‘lens’ to view the world. Rather, humility is a person – the person of Jesus, who in his humility let go of any self-seeking, and invites us to do the same in caring for the sick and the dying.
A final aspect of humility to be considered in this reflection is that of understanding and appreciating that our use of medical expertise and technology is a means to an end, rather than an end in itself. In this regard, it may be helpful to spend some time meditating on Mt. 11:4-5, where Jesus in his ministry fulfils the words of the Prophet Isaiah (Is. 29:18) through signs such as the deaf hear, the blind see, the lame walk, and the dead are raised to life. Similarly, today, we may have the medical knowledge, expertise and technology to insert cochlear implants for the deaf, removal of cataracts for the blind, and hip and knee replacements for the lame in addition to modern resuscitation and hospital Intensive Care facilities. Yet, our technological armament are means to an end – and without humility, we risk dislocating our technology, skills and expertise from our call to humble service of the sick and the dying.
In conclusion, to follow Jesus in his way of humility is to let go of our ‘self-interest’ in caring for the ‘interests’ of the sick and the dying. What does this mean for us as carers? For professional carers, in particular, what does this call mean in terms of our call to professional care for our patients? What does this call (vocation) say about the boundary between the neighbour in need who come to us as the sick and the dying, on the one hand, and a patient who seeks our professional care, on the other?
I will reflect on these questions in my next three reflections on our mission to care with Gospel compassion, the nature of professionalism, and the relationship between professionalism and Gospel compassion.
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