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Friday, September 28, 2007

Thursday, September 13, 2007

re: 40Days For Life

Click here to read my essay on 40 Days for Life and abortion.

Column on the importance of being a Dad

First things come first

By: Patrick Beeman

Posted: 8/30/07

As a second-year medical student, I feel obliged to reflect on my last-ever summer break.

While most of my friends spent the summer researching cures for cancer or shadowing doctors, as soon as first year ended, I spent five glorious weeks at Officer Training School with the United States Air Force. Think of it as bootcamp for doctors, lawyers and clergy. Not that it was easy because it wasn't. I finished with the pride of being a military officer, even though while I was there, I only got three hours of sleep per night.

After boot camp, I came back to good old Toledo and began some intensive writing. My efforts paid off with forthcoming publications in "Our Sunday Visitor," "Touchstone," "This Rock," and the journal of the "Catholic Medical Students Association."

Despite the writing efforts, my family and I managed a vacation to Nashville, Tenn., where I am proud to say I listened to not one note of country music. During our stay, I was selected for a prestigious fellowship with Edmund Pellegrino, Chairman of the president's council on bioethics. I was floored! I mean, this guy is the president's adviser on medical ethics. I met Pellegrino a few weeks ago in Georgetown where we decided to plan my research project for the year. Believe it or not, you who cringe at the word because you think it doesn't extend far beyond having a nice haircut, properly fitted clothes and being punctual, but I am actually going to write on "professionalism."

So this, my last summer, was all in all rather productive. But the most important thing I did had nothing to do with medicine, little to do with the intellect and hardly anything to do with pedantry (which will be surprising to those who know me). And no, it was not convincing my sister-in-law to come to UT so she could baby-sit while my wife and I go out (hey, she'd be able to do her laundry for free). Lauren, call me.

My most worthwhile endeavor was spending time with my kids. Of course, now every night, my daughter insists on going to the "parking lot" (or "playground" for those of you who do not speak Evvy).

Fatherhood is not a very intellectual affair, but it is certainly a learning experience, especially when approached consciously and with due awareness of the gravity of the responsibility. A whole curriculum of philosophy, theology, art, literature and science could be had from interaction with a child under two.

Take, for example, philosophy and the meaning of life. "Evvy, honey, right now Daddy's got to go study the anti-microbial properties of mucous membranes." With a quizzical stare, she asks, "Why?" Hmm, I never thought of it that way. What seems so urgent and pressing may not be as important as making the love of your life know that she is. Of course this is a principle which applies especially to the parent-child relationship, but is applicable to the whole gamut of familial and other properly human relationships.

We spend so much time pouring ourselves into achieving one more percentage point on a test or doing better than our peers. Yes, good grades in medical school or anywhere are important. But will you still be proud of that Honors in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology when your spouse, parent or child asks you in 10 years why you never had half an hour to prove that, as John Paul the Great said, the family is the only institution on earth in which a person can be loved for who he is, not for what he does?

Those words fall on deaf ears and bear no weight when those around you see your relentless action in pursuit of being loved simply in relation to whatever it is you're trying to achieve. School loves those who "get good grades." Jobs love those who "get things done." Those who do not perform are excised like a malignant tumor.

But in the rhythm of a vibrant and authentic family life, wherein we learn to love and be loved, there is nothing one can do to be loved more or less.

This summer, I learned that I cannot be a good doctor, let alone a good person, if I do not live in accord with the hierarchy of the way things ought to be. To this end, I might not be number one in my class, but I'll be number one to my daughter.
© Copyright 2007 Independent Collegian (www.independentcollegian.com)

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

My Conversion Story

Here at long last is This Rock's version of my conversion story, featured in the "Damascus Road" section of their December 2006 issue. Please take time to follow the link and read a small part of the story recounting why I converted to Catholicism. Obviously, the details and nuances of God's hand in the drama of a conversion are too numerous to be detailed adequately. (Not to mention not all would survive an editor's hand). Nevertheless, this piece bares my soul. I hope it can serve as an inspiration to cradle-Catholics. More than this, I pray that it can help, if only in a small way, the soul searching for its way into the bosom of the Church wherein the arms of Christ are felt as a warm and sure embrace.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

re: Updates CMSA

Friends,
I know I meant to publish "Elementary Logic and the Beginning of Life" here. However, after DT rejected the piece, I decided I would do well to submit it to another Catholic publication. Plus, I was at Officer Training School for the U.S. Air Force the entire month of June. I have been quite busy lately. Sorry. At some point I'll put it up.

Also, good news! My "Seduction of Hippocrates" was accepted for publication with Touchstone.
I'll let you know when it's published. The essay looks at the Hippocratic Oath and the recent abandonment of its principles in modern medical education. It should be a good one. I am just overwhelmed at the opportunity to be published next to such luminaries as Robert Louis Wilken, David Hart, J. Budziszewski, Alan Jacobs, and others.

Finally, Our Sunday Visitor, expressed interest in my column "The Difference of Catholic Hospitals and the Difference It Makes." All in all, I am excited by these opportunities. I think being published in outstanding Catholic periodicals will really add credibility to our efforts here in Toledo to establish the "Catholic Medical Student Association" at the University of Toledo College of Medicine.

Please continue to pray for Catholic doctors and other health care professionals. Especially keep Catholic OB/GYN residents in your prayers; they're the ones who need it the most.

In Christ,

Patrick

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Elementary Logic and the Beginning of Life

I was glad to see that This Rock published an editorial correction regarding the introduction of an inappropriate negative into my original essay. They are good people, and that is a good publication. However, at the time I requested the correction, I was simply planning on posting the original essay here. Fortunately, This Rock gave me the permission to resubmit the essay to publications of my choice, so I sent it for review to Dappled Things. I am waiting to hear from them (mid May) regarding the publication of a correct, original version of "Elementary Logic and the Beginning of Life." As soon as I do I will let you know. And if they decide not to publish, I'll post the original here; if they do, I'll post a link to DT. As always, I thank you for your readership and welcome your suggestions and comments. I'm always trying to become a better writer and a better Catholic, so please feel free to e-mail me at catholicmedstudent@gmail.com or patrick.beeman@utoledo.edu. Thanks.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The Catholic Medical Students Association

We're one step closer. I finally had a pretty good discussion with our Newman Club about changing our name to/adding "The Catholic Medical Students Association" to our present medical school Catholic group. Things are "looking good" for what I want to be the University of Toledo College of Medicine Chapter of the Catholic Medical Students Association. It's a cumbersome title, but it's very descriptive.

My friend Blase Hennessy, as well as a few other students of good will, have expressed a strong interest in living the Catholic faith in medical practice. No doubt, there is no better time to learn this than at the start of medical school. Therefore, we are trying to rejuvenate our Newman Club, nay remodel it, to be an even brighter light for Christ at UTCOM.

Recently, Blase set up a meeting for us with Dr. Paul Byrne, past president of the Catholic Medical Association. He was delighted at our plans for the CMSA and wants to be a part of helping us get it off the ground. Moreover, I have talked with numerous physicians, priests, and interested lay people who are willing to support our endeavor intellectually, financially, and spiritually. The Vicar General and Chancellor of the Diocese of Toledo also gave his support and was quite sure our Bishop, Leonard Blair, would be willing to lend his support and guidance as well. (I have yet to address a letter to His Excellency, so hopefully he doesn't read this yet.) I think it's gonna be a go. Here are some of my and Blase's ideas for the inaugural year of UTCOM's chapter of the CMSA. The details need worked out but you'll get the general idea.

  • A beginning of the year barbecue and possibly a White Mass (mass for health care workers) offered by our Bishop.
  • Bi-weekly "Catholic Forum" events in which we would host a lunch and a brief talk on topics of import for Catholics and Catholic medical personnel: i.e. "The Seven Sacraments," "The Church's Teaching on Abortion," "Care for the Terminally Ill," "Contraception," "Natural Family Planning and Catholic Medical Practice," "What It Means to be a Catholic Physician" etc.
  • A trip to the Catholic Medical Association's annual conference in Atlanta, GA October 4-6, 2007. We're gonna show our support for Catholic values in medicine and hopefully take at least eight students.
  • An end of the year conference of some sort on a topic like "Pro-Life Philosophy: Religious Perspectives" in which we would devote an entire day to theological, medical, and philosophical perspectives in support of life and invite a high caliber keynote such as Richard John Neuhaus, Avery Cardinal Dulles, Dr. Edmund Pellegrino, or Dr. Thomas Hilgers. Perhaps we could even host the first annual meeting of the Catholic Medical Students Association?
  • Support intellectual study of Catholic issues in medicine by training and equipping Catholic students to write about issues like abortion, euthanasia, contraception; present papers at regional conferences that support Catholic ethics in medicine; discuss ethical issues intelligently; and most importantly to live their Catholic faith in the vocation of medicine.
  • To mentor premeds and underclassman
  • To be mentored by significant Catholic role models in medicine
  • To provide a forum in which the Church's teachings can be faithfully presented, understood, and discussed among both Catholics and non-Catholics alike.
  • To defend life and extend the healing ministry of Jesus through our fidelity to Christ and His Church by being the best future physicians, nurses, and health care professionals that we can be.
These are just some of our thoughts. Let me know if you have suggestions. It is going to take a lot of planning to put this into action, and above all a lot of prayer. So please support us with a rosary or two, and bring our cause to the Lord that He would bless us and "prosper the work of our hands" as the Psalm says. St. Luke Pray for Us.

While you're waiting to see how this plays out. Check out the CMSA's website http://www.cathmsa.org/index.html and http://www.cathmed.org/.

Choice: A Travesty of Religion

Here's my column on what I consider to be a travesty: religious people supporting the pro-choice agenda. Recently, our medical school hosted a symposium on "Religion and Reproductive Choice." Click here for my thoughts regarding this event.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

My Essay on the Pro-choice vs. Pro-life philosophies

Abortion's victims

By: Patrick Beeman

Posted: 4/12/07

Nothing is so tragic as abortion. The strident cries of pro-choice activists cannot silence the effete screams of the baby suffering at the hands of an abortionist. Abortion is a polite and civilized genocide. In the political and moral rhetoric, the pro-life cause has conceded much. Talk to anyone, and you will hear the debate framed in terms of "pro-choice" versus "pro-life." But the innocuous term "choice" does no justice to the grim reality of elective abortion. For this reason, I sympathize with those who insist on calling the pro-choice cause "anti-life" or "pro-death." However, the rules of intellectual debate demand we call our opponents by what they want to be called. Persuading them to believe their self-claimed appellation is wrongheaded is another matter and more important is persuading them that their cause is wrongheaded.

I think it's fair to assume no one wants to kill babies. It is a perverted barbarism that has as its goal the destruction of helpless innocents. This is the reason pro-abortion people want to be called pro-choice. This removes the moral locus from the death of a human being to the putative "choice" of an articulate and autonomous mother. However, the rhetoric and arguments often advanced by the pro-choice camp do not seem to hint at anything more profound than the following: 1) people should be encouraged and free to have sex on any terms, no matter what the cost, and 2) human life is a dispensable and destructible thing subservient to the will of those who, to borrow Chesterton, "happen to be walking about." The pro-choice philosophy includes no notion of moral responsibility or heroism, supererogation or self-sacrifice. At bottom, its first principle is pleasure for pleasure's sake.

It's no wonder pro-choice activists make little attempt to hide their efforts to de-sacrilize, de-personalize, instrumentalize, genitalize and animalize (yes, I made up those words) human sexuality. Yet they accuse the Church of being "obsessed with sex" and tell her to "stay out of people's bedrooms." Their shrill voices succeed only in proving the opposite: they are the obsessed. Their whole worldview is defined by a faulty understanding of sexuality wedded (pardon the pun) to a rebellious notion of human freedom.

They cry, to paraphrase the Gospels, "We have no king but Pleasure." Their concept of freedom does not say that every person has a right to do what she wants with her life but rather a person's choice determines what is good. This, my friends, is autonomy unrestrained by reason and commonsense. And it is one of the most insidious forces at work in medicine, law and politics.

Note my following words with careful precision: pragmatically, the aforementioned worldview makes out pro-choice arguments and protestations to be so many thinly veiled expressions of a vicious desire to maintain a world that permits and even encourages the killing of unborn babies. The express position of the pro-choice philosophy is compassion solely for the mother. But compassion is morally neutral and it can be misguided and dangerous when not guided by a proper understanding of the good for human life.

On the other hand - the boisterous exclamations of the pro-choice lobby notwithstanding - the pro-life philosophy's express position is compassion for both mother and child. And it is a compassion motivated by a genuine love for both woman and child, created equal in the "image and likeness of God."

Unfortunately, arguments aren't very convincing, even when they are logically sound. There is an element of the human heart not persuaded by reason alone. As Pascal observed, "The heart has its reasons, which reason knows not." To this end, groups such as the Genocide Awareness Project, couple graphic images of abortion to their arguments supporting the pro-life worldview. This is meant to appeal to the pathos of pro-choice and pro-life alike. Few of the pro-choice crowd will ever be convinced by logical argument, and few pro-lifers will be roused to action by the same, but no one can argue with the pitiable sight of a helpless innocent maimed and dismembered by the overweening conclusions and practicalities of the pro-choice philosophy. After all, as a "liberal" - as if massacring innocents could have anything to do with the promotion of authentic freedom - shibboleth goes, the GAP is merely "speaking truth to power." For my birthday, on the first of these two days, why not come express your solidarity with these tiny victims and their defenders? GAP will be here April 18-19.
© Copyright 2007 Independent Collegian

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

IC Column On Easter

Easter renews faith

By: Patrick Beeman

Posted: 4/5/07

Christianity is alive and well. No better is this seen than today, Maundy Thursday, as most of the world's two billion Christians countdown the final days of Lent to welcome the unspeakable joy of Easter. The Easter Triduum begins on Holy (Maundy) Thursday, continues with Good Friday, and culminates with the Feast of Feasts, this Saturday night's Easter Vigil, in which, as the Catechism teaches, "the mystery of the Resurrection, in which Christ crushed death, permeates with its powerful energy our old time, until all is subject to him."

Easter is more than simply the Sunday following the first full moon after the vernal equinox (this is how the date of Easter has been determined ever since the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D.). It is certainly more than a bunny as well. For all Christians, but most especially the liturgically-minded Catholic Christian, Easter is a long-awaited and welcome vivification of "our old time" by this special feast of the mystery of Christ's suffering, death and resurrection - that is the Paschal Mystery, which we re-celebrate each year.

The Easter Mystery makes all things new once again, and Christ comes alive in the hearts of his people as new Christians are welcomed into the Church through the gift of Baptism, separated Christians enter into and are welcomed by the Church that Christ founded, and all Christians - new and old - renew their baptismal promises, reject Satan and open themselves to Christ's Redemption (this all usually occurs during the Easter Vigil, on Holy Saturday).

Easter is my favorite day of the year. To see the joy on the faces of the newly baptized and those Christians who have chosen to enter the Church is exhilarating. One can tell they are supremely happy in that moment, like the weight of the world's sin and agony is lifted from their burdened hearts by God's consuming love. And actually that is kind of what happens. I know; I am a convert.

The funny thing is all of us converts describe a unique and ineffable joy attendant upon our entrance into the Church, something like coming home or finding true happiness. The long list of Catholic converts - St. Augustine of Hippo, Gerard Manley Hopkins, J.R.R. Tolkien, Jacques Maritain, Walker Percy, Oscar Wilde (a deathbed conversion, but a convincingly authentic one nonetheless), G.E.M. Anscombe, G.K. Chesterton and Alasdair MacIntyre (a Scotsman, but that's OK) - attests to the kind of great intellectual, aesthetic or literary genius that finds a home within the Church.

Yet some people say Catholicism is for the unenlightened. Well sure, if by "enlightenment" you mean a rejection of great literature, music, philosophy, theology, art and all the best of Western culture. No, Catholicism is, without being pretentious or recondite, all at once a rigorous theology for those with the minds to comprehend it, a persuasive worldview for those with the wills to believe it, a beautiful aesthetic for those with sensitive and refined imaginations, and above all, the way to a vibrant relationship with God for those with simple faith and child-like hearts: pauper and polymath alike.

I believe Catholicism because it is true, which is the only good reason for believing anything. What is sad to me is so many people, even Catholics, are indifferent to the coming Easter joy. They are of the "different strokes for different folks" type.

A consideration of truth-claims never enters into their thoughts about religion. Yet religion itself makes demanding claims of truth. It really does make a difference to Christianity whether Christ resurrected on Easter. To deny this is to delude yourself.

Pope Benedict XVI invites us to consider, "how a Christianity grown weary of faith has abandoned the Lord. The great ideologies and the banal existence of those who, no longer believing anything, simply drift through life, have built a new and worse paganism, which in its attempt to do away with God once and for all, has ended up doing away with man."

One way you, O Christian, can reclaim your faith, the dignity of man and affirm the reality of God's love, is to embrace the mystery of Easter these next three days. I'll see you at Mass.
© Copyright 2007 Independent Collegian (www.independentcollegian.com)

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Correspondence Between Me and Dr. W

His encouraging Response (Uberstudent? That was nice).

Patrick:

While stumbling around in the dark, a minor will accidentally strike gold.

I have been pontificating (please excuse this lapse of manners) for so long that the steady diet of science majors that have been

feeding our medical school will lead us down many wrong paths, and here, under my nose, is the uberstudent I have been seeking. (I was a mere

English major. You, on the other hand, may have just what we need to deal with the main problems of medicine today.)

More later. It is sad to think that you have to translate your thoughts so much to get students to read them. that is scary.

I definitely do not think Darwin is a neo-Darwinist. I could be wrong. I don't have your intellect.

More later.

Dr. W,

My response

Dr. W.,

I was a bit disoriented by parts of your e-mail, but for what it is worth, I will attempt to address the salient points of your missive. First a few rhetorical issues must be noted.

Since its number is so large, my primary audience is the undergraduate community at UT. For my own part, I try to write as much for medical students and the few faculty who read my column as I can (thank you for your readership). As you've noticed most of the columnists deal with tripe of the most inane sort. I tend to tackle the 'bigger issues' because a college newspaper is one of the few places that still exist where something like a public intellectual can express philosophical and theological ideas freely and stimulate discussion among members of his audience or fellow columnists.

Secondly, I majored in philosophy and theology and hold a Master's degree in the former. I came to medicine during my solitary senior year of college and completed the premed requirements while studying for my M.A. Accordingly, when I address philosophical or theological issues, I tend to know more about and comment upon the trends in academia bearing on these two venerable disciplines.

Hence, my comment about the general trend in academia to deny truth's existence. This can be seen most readily in the tired philosophies of postmodernism and deconstruction propounded by the likes of Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault and other 'continental' types. On your end, I agree and am glad that you are of the opinion that truth is what we are seeking. From my end, I believe this does demand that there is an ultimate Truth which can be found. No natural desire can be in vain, argued St. Thomas Aquinas and the other Schoolmen. In fact this is the whole point of philosophical realism, to which I think you alluded, namely that truth or reality is something that we discover not something that we subjectively impose on the world as in Kant or the German Idealists.

Another rhetorical point, I must be hyperbolic and superficial on some points or no undergraduate will read my column. I do not mean to write inflammatorily but the desire to evoke a reaction sometimes does creep in as I set my fingers to the keyboard. Along with this, my columns do not necessarily represent my most well thought or articulated view on a given matter, just one that would stimulate discussion and offer an alternative to much of the secularist philosophy that predominates our university (this is sad, for you will remember, the university is a Catholic invention).

I do not take my columns as seriously as my scholarly work. For instance, I am giving a paper at the University of Toledo's Philosophy, Medicine, and Diversity conference on April 21. It is entitled "Getting Our Priorities Straight or Which Comes First the Catholic or the Physician." Moreover much more seriously do I take my professional writing for publications such as This Rock (a magazine of Catholic theology/philosophy), and hopefully soon America and First Things, both of which have pending submissions. That being said, I do try to choose my words extremely carefully and much of what I say is nuanced. I learned to be precise from reading the Great Books and studying Latin and Greek.

On to more serious points which do not as much concern the art of persuasion. Neo-Darwinism is manifestly an atheistic philosophy masquerading as science. One has only to think of the titles of Richard Dawkins' most recent works "The God Delusion" or "The Blind Watchmaker." These are just puerile polemics with very little philosophical justification or legwork. I mean, scientists get angry when the Southern Baptist theologian denounces evolution, shouldn't the biologist dabbling in philosophy and theologically pontificating on the idea that there is no God and therefore no need of a pontiff at least consider that he is overstepping his professional competence by writing on these matters?

To be fair, even the six-day literal creationist, fundamentalist with a southern drawl, if he is a doctor, is going to use the latest antibiotics despite his worldview or convictions. No doubt you were overstating the case for rhetorical effect, but isn't that just kind of a wee bit ad hominem?

I am not a creationist, but I do believe in creation. I believe in evolution but I am not an evolutionist like Dawkins or others who use a scientific theory to construct their entire view of reality and frame the moral universe of their lives. You've no doubt heard of Francis Collins, arguably one of today's best scientists and an evangelical to boot. His take on evolution I think is more representative of Christian intellectuals like myself. To this end please consult the following by Stephen M. Barr whose nuanced view of evolutionary theory closely approximates my own. The first is the "Miracle of Evolution" the second is "theology for Physicists" and the third is "The Design of Evolution." You would probably really enjoy the last one.

http://www.firstthings.com/article.php3?id_article=87

http://www.firstthings.com/article.php3?id_article=187

http://www.firstthings.com/article.php3?id_article=238

Is belief in God a matter of faith, you ask? Yes and no. For some it is. For others it is not. Through reason one can come to an understanding, albeit limited, of God's existence and some of his attributes. Faith, to be sure, completes the picture painted by reason. Most persons likely do just believe in God on faith, and that's okay. Being a philosopher or a good logician is not for everyone, but most religions think that being a follower of the Deity is. But, as John Paul II observed in Fides et Ration, "Faith and Reason are like the two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth-in a word, to know himself-so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves." That's my view in short on the relation between the two.

Ah what else. O yes. In my defense, the first day of school Dr. Gold said something to the effect that Evidence-Based Medicine would be a part of our curriculum beginning with the first year. While I recognize that this cannot be entirely true because we don't actually have any responsibility for prescribing medications, implementing treatments, etc., my comment was not directed to this. I meant it more in the sense of a reductio ad absurdum argument. If truth doesn't exist then there is no "right" treatment for a given disease, therefore, such a doc would practice a "do-whatever-I-feel-like-at-the-moment" brand of medicine. Hyperbole as I said before.

Finally, you wrote, "I agree that Columbus, Galileo and the earth is round does not refute, or deny God. it more or less describes human limitation, and progress. where are we going, and why are we going? those are the questions, but no one has the answer in this dimension. we can always hope, however, and have faith, that we will eventually get there." (sic)

To the questions of where and why, most people find an answer in religious faith, so the burden of proof remains on the person who opposes religious belief to prove that the latter is absurd. That's not going to happen. So in my opinion we are stuck searching for the Truth, and having found it, we are to make sure our reasons are good and live our lives according to it, scrutinizing the inconsistencies in our thought but always being open to faith, because God is the ultimate source of Truth which comes to man through faith and reason, neither of which can contradict the other, for truth cannot contradict truth, and God cannot contradict himself. That's all I've got. Thanks

Best Regards,

Patrick C. Beeman
University of Toledo
College of Medicine

P.S. Please read my column tomorrow, it's on religious faith and Easter.


HIS First Message (posted just as he wrote it)

after being a faculty member in the medical school for the past 20 plus years, I was interested in your assertion that there is a trend to deny truth's existence. really? I thouught truth is what we are seeking? some of your arguments seem to imply that some major philosophical truth is an endpoint that a realist must accept (on faith?), rather than question, or inch our way toward the light.

or that there is a trend or fashion of materialistic Neo-Darwinism evolutionary theory that motivates us. if scientists and non-scientists took the important question as seriouusly as Darwin did, we would be better off. He was very concerned, as a religious man, of how God conceived the universe. As a physician who may not believe ini evolution, will you withhold newer antibiotics from those patients whose Staph has evolved a resistance to an older antibiotic? or not use the latest treatment for TB since evolution does not exist. will you offer your patients a choice?

I personally have no problem with evolution. why should man in her/his arrogance assume that the divine power did not use evolution as one of the tools to create? where does an understanding of evolution lead to assuming that Catholicism or Christianity of Judaism is for buffoons? an awful lot of scientists who believe in the fossle record have belief in a supreme being. and some dont. it is a matter of faith, after all, isnt it?

and where have you understood that some doctors practice a do-whatever-I-feel-like brand of medicine? is that what you suspect, after 6 months of medical school? I did not realize that evidence based medicine is part of the first year curriculum.

I agree that Columbus, Galileo and the earth is round does not refute, or deny God. it more or less describes human limitation, and progress. where are we going, and why are we going? those are the questions, but no one has the answer in this dimension. we can always hope, however, and have faith, that we will eventually get there.

IC Column: On the Existence of Truth

This Column provoked an interesting correspondence with the chair of a department at my school. See above for the correspondence after reading this.



Always for the truth

By: Patrick Beeman

Posted: 3/29/07

There are few things more absurd than advancing the truth-claim "there is no truth." The self-referential inconsistency of such a notion is not difficult to grasp, but it is not for that reason any less popular.

Undergraduates, being suggestible creatures, heteronymously live at the behest of a great number of forces. University administrators mandate which classes to take at which time and where, professors say what to believe, parents insist on good grades and a "useful" (I shudder at this word's application to the university) major for financial support. Such suggestibility, however, begets a certain amount of unreflective belief.

Consider a few diverse examples. Do you know anyone who believes in God, the liceity of abortion or the injustice of the Iraq War (these people are almost as bad as the pro-abortion group) who when pressed to defend their beliefs cannot adduce a single logically compelling reason? For instance, at this stage your answers should not be "because the Bible says so" or "women have rights" (well what about female fetuses?) or holding a sign bearing the words "Troops out now!" (Give me a break).

Or consider this scene: someone says, "I don't believe in God." And you ask why not. He responds, like one of the character's in C.S. Lewis's Pilgrim's Regress, "Christopher Columbus, Galileo, the earth is round, invention of printing, gunpowder, [you believe in God] because you do not have the benefits of scientific training." Can anyone say non-sequitur? This no more disproves God's existence than closing your eyes disproves yours. It simply doesn't follow.

The issue here betrays a crisis of reality. Most famously, it was stated in the words of Pontius Pilate who, in response to Jesus' statement that all who belong to the truth listen to Him, asked, "What is truth?" Indeed.

The moribund but stubborn trend in academia and among the intelligentsia has been to deny truth's existence. That is, to make the following logical proposition: it is true that there is no truth. Wow! And these supposedly clever people are teaching us bioethics, religion, literature, and science. These are not unimportant subjects like modern art or sociology about which we can be cavalier.

Yet, so it goes. Undergraduates eagerly jump on the bandwagon of whatever intellectual fashion is in ascendancy among their peers and professors. The materialist presuppositions of Neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory are the latest "scientific" dogma? Sweet, count me in on that one. The evangelical or Catholic Christianity of my parents is for buffoons? Too bad for my parents. There is no truth? Why, I believe that is true.

You see the problem? One has to take a stand on issues and not just accept simpliciter what professors or your friends believe. Recently, someone wrote a provocative little piece on the idea that the search for truth never ends. Well, yes, not until you find it. If the search for truth is a journey, it must have a destination, a goal. Questions demand answers. Those who describe themselves as being on a never-ending "journey to discover truth" are by definition lost. The road they're traveling leads, by their own admission, nowhere.

Truly one should never become complacent in one's beliefs. So you believe in God? Fine. The truth of God's existence is your conclusion, but don't ever stop searching for premises to support that conclusion. Live like He does, and let that truth vivify your intellectual pursuits and all other aspects of your life. Don't let the proposition become banal, for surely it is the most important issue of all.

So, for all you Pontius Pilates out there, consider Aristotle's observation, "If a man says of what is that it is or of what is not that it is not, he speaks the truth." So then, truth is simply "telling it like it is."

Truth is the conformity of mind to reality. Call me a rube, but I'm sure glad I believe what is true. I think my future patients will also be glad that I'm not a relativist. "What are we gonna do about my cancer, Doc?" "I dunno, I don't want to jump to any hasty conclusions about the existence of truth [i.e. the best medicine] - let's just do nothing and see what happens."

Lastly, I'm sure my lawyer will be glad when I tell him that I practice medicine according to the truth and not from the perspective of an ever-tortuous, do-whatever-I-feel-like-at-the-moment perspective. I'm sure that will make his job a bit easier. Semper pro Veritate.
© Copyright 2007 Independent Collegian (www.independentcollegian.com)

IC Column: Grey's Anatomy Some of What Medicine Is

'Grey's Anatomy:' some of what medicine is

By: Patrick Beeman

Posted: 3/22/07

OK. Perhaps my last column on "Grey's Anatomy" was a bit harsh. I was challenged to find some good in the show, and I never turn down a challenge (which is part of the reason I am now in medical school). At any rate, after scouring through too many "Grey's" episodes, I found one beacon of light within the drama's benighted moral universe.

In one episode, the intern George O'Malley is wrestling with his father's illness and death. In a conversation with the attending cardiothoracic surgeon Preston Burke, George cries out to his friend for guidance on what to do about his father. He presses Burke for the scientifically best course of treatment for his father's illness. Burke hesitates and says, "I don't have any more medicine for you. Now, it's about faith." Incredulous, George bursts out "but we're men of science."

"In my experience, science is not enough, O'Malley," Burke retorts, "but if you want me to hope with you and send up a prayer, that is something I'd be happy to do." And there you have it: "Grey's Anatomy's" single, solitary, sole expression of something profound. But then again, if one speaks enough, he's bound to hit upon something of depth at one point or another. By golly, I'll even admit that on that principle gunners ask good questions sometimes.

At any rate, my point in bringing this scene to your attention is to highlight the importance of recognizing the limitations of science and medicine. You see, medicine is about human life. This is not some feel-good nicety we doctors-in-training tell ourselves in order to justify the unconscionable salaries some of us desire. Rather, this goes to the heart of medicine's raison d'etre. That may sound pedantic, but it is no less true for that reason.

Medicine is an inherently moral enterprise that, nevertheless, needs the guiding power of ethics in order to stay true to its mission to comfort, cure and heal the sick without consideration for their social status, ability to pay or whatever; in short, to defend life in all its forms from conception to natural death. Medicine can only "take you so far," as it were. But when it comes to the big questions the sick person asks as he faces the horror of disease, suffering and even death, the answers are to be found outside the realms of scientific enquiry and inside the properly human part of man. And most fundamentally, man is a religious creature who finds his fulfillment only in something outside himself: namely, in God.

Is it any wonder, then, why the sick are often so much closer to God than the healthy? The comfort and material success of the wealthy and psychologically content are ingredients in a recipe for complacency. The logic goes: why worry about God, if I can meet my needs on my own? But when the stability of life is pulled out from under a person by the malicious hands of sickness, one sees his radical dependence on something greater than himself. He learns that his life is not his own, and his destiny is inextricably bound to something higher. Here's a lesson we all could learn: suffering, though not something to be sought in itself (that would be masochism), nevertheless has redemptive value. However, it is up to the person suffering to give it such value.

And the rest of us who are confronted with the suffering of others? Our recourse is not only in the fallibility of the medical profession, as "Grey's" taught us this one time. It is also in hope and prayer. So, let us hope and pray that medicine will humbly recognize its limitations in answering questions pertaining to life's meaning and abandon the pompous support of so-called mercy killing, abortion, embryonic stem cell research and the like.

I've got no more medicine for you now. But if you want me to offer up some hope and a prayer to end the suffering of the unborn, the sick, and the dying, that's something I'd be happy to do.
© Copyright 2007 Independent Collegian (www.independentcollegian.com)

Thursday, March 22, 2007

L'âme existe

The soul does exist. Despite the commonplace phenomenon whereby medical professionals ignore this question altogether or adopt some form of crude reductionism such as that tiredly and continually advanced by one of my professors, "all aspects of what we call personhood are derived from the activity of the neocortex," the soul does exist. (As an aside: the neocortex is a part of the brain associated with conscious functions, as opposed to more "primitive" actions like breathing, temperature regulation, etc.)

In class one day we took a survey which asked two questions. I pray that this is not representative of the wider medical community, but here you have it.


First question: "All aspects of personhood can be attributed to the activity of the cerebral cortex."
a) True
b) False
c) not sure

Over 50% of my classmates marked 'True.' Practically what this means is that people have either a grossly impoverished view of personhood or they are die hard materialists with a penchant for defining personhood functionally rather than formally (i.e. a human person is anyone who is born of human parents). This is not good. For the answer to the next question follows closely after the first.

Second question: "The definition of death should..."
a) only include the cessation of heart and lung function
b) be broadened to include inactivity of the neocortex (i.e. the so-called peristent-vegetative state)
c) not sure

70%. Yes you read that correctly, 70% of my fellow would-be doctors picked b) to my utter horrow and amazement. Still, I am confident not one of those 70% could adduce a meaningfully objective definition of death. That is, death is a the irreversible disintegration of the organism. Quite simple, that. Yet, beware for 70% of my classmates would be willing to harvest a person's organ's who was, like Terry Schiavo, in a peristent-vegetative state.

Note that answer b) is not one of the accepted definitions of "brain death," a subject which is still somewhat controversial even in the Catholic world. From my limited understanding, and I would defer to the Magisterium without a wink, brain death including irreversible loss of all brain function including the activity of the midbrain is a valid definition of death. Still there are those orthodox Catholic ethicists and physicians like Dr. Alan Shewmon, himself a pediatric neurologist, who oppose the use of the term and practice of declaring someone "brain dead." But I digress.

No, answer b) takes the extremely presumptuous view that people who do not appear to communicate (i.e. they cannot tell us whether or not they have any conscious activity or not) are in fact dead. This is merely euthanasia by another name. How do we know that these people are, in the experssed sentiments of Dr. Shewmon and William May, just in an "extremely locked-in state" whereby they are conscious but unable to express themselves consciously. The practical conclusions of such a state are horrifying. Just consider what it would be to be the patient in that situation.

This all comes down to the materialistic presuppositions of psychobiologists, who balk at even the suggestion that there might be something more to human persons than gray matter.

I do not have the time to elaborate further, but for the Catholic and indeed the entire history of Western thought, there exists a principal beyond matter, called the soul or mind, which is spiritual in nature and accounts for the uniquely human attributes of rationality and volition. This I maintain is the ultimate integrating and, pardon the pun, animating principle of the human body from which our embodied personhood ultimately derives. Anything less is crude materialism and incompatible with even the broadest religious understanding of the human person.

New IC column on the ends of medicine

Check out my latest column which only tangentially considers television doctors but really argues for a return to the medical profession's sacred obligation to heal and all that it entails.

http://media.www.independentcollegian.com/media/storage/paper678/news/2007/03/22/Forum/greys.Anatomy.Some.Of.What.Medicine.Is-2786801.shtml?mkey=2450709

IC Column I forgot to put up: De Nomina

More than just a name

By: Patrick Beeman

Posted: 2/22/07

I'm sitting at my computer hours before my wife and I head to the hospital for the birth of our baby boy. Medicine gives us the miraculous possibility of having at will, which is induced by administering Oxytocin, the hormone normally responsible for the process. I would tell you our son's name, but there is a problem: he doesn't have one yet. In fact, it is somewhat possible he will make his debut nameless, wandering about the world the first few days of his life nameless.

It's a familiar story admittedly. My daughter, Evangeline, (we call her Evvy) was simply known as "Baby Girl" for three days before a certain Agent Smith from the Bureau of Vital Statistics threatened me with imprisonment and a stint in Siberia unless I named the tiny miracle of a human being who captured my heart and continues to capture my time and love. The thing is, my wife and I can't agree on a name.

I see a person's name and the process which goes into deciding it as an incommunicably important event, into which should go much reflection, serious thought, and not a little prayer. Accordingly, I've done all three and more. Guided by what is indubitably the undeniable hand of Providence (kind of like Moses and the burning bush, but with shoes on and not quite as hot), I have been utterly convinced that I should name my son Augustine.

Why?

Saint Augustine was born in 354 A.D., the son of a certain well-to-do Roman named Patrick. See the connection? He is without question the single most important theologian and Christian philosopher that the West has ever seen (he beats Saint Thomas Aquinas only because he preceded him).

This goes for Christians and non-Christians alike; Augustine was the great theoretician of free will, grace, sacraments, authority, conversion, the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, the author of the first ever autobiography and my personal favorite saint. In naming my son Augustine, I would give him the gift of an erudite and unequivocal identity - and a patron by which to model his life.

He would stand out as an intellectual, contemplative Westerner and heir to the legacy of one of the greatest minds this world has ever known. And what is most important, to well-educated people and others familiar with the "Doctor Gratiae's" story, my son would be identifiable as a Catholic Christian, "solo nomine," to modify a Protestant theological principle.

This brings me to names in general.

When you name something, as Aristotle observed so long ago, you "say what it is." A name is a kind of definition whereby you state the essence of the thing named. In naming, you give someone an ideal to live up to, an identity, sometimes a patron, and a way of presenting himself to and being known by the world. Naming my son Augustine is like passing on the greatest things about Saint Augustine to him. And who knows how he might even improve on Saint Augustine's own work.

G.K. Chesterton observed, "The fascination of children lies in this: that with each of them all things are remade, and the universe is put again upon its trial. As we walk the streets and see below us those delightful bulbous heads, three times too big for the body, which mark these human mushrooms, we ought always primarily to remember that within every one of these heads there is a new universe, as new as it was on the seventh day of creation. In each of those orbs there is a new system of starts, new grass, new cities, as new sea."

In children, infinite possibilities exist, and it is the parents' task to nurture the efflorescence of these potentials in an appropriate and virtuous way within the context of unconditional love. After all, as John Paul II remarked that the family is the only institution on earth in which a person is loved for who he is (which, I would add, is revealed by his name) rather than for what he does.

One can see then, the name Augustine is important to me. While celebrities (even those from the great Hoth-like city of Toledo) name their children some awful things such as Suri, I would hope some of us choose our children's names for a purpose, not solely based on the name's popularity or sound but primarily and ultimately based on reason.
© Copyright 2007 Independent Collegian (www.independentcollegian.com)

IC Column: Grey's Anatomy All that Medicine is Not

I've finally done it. After many failed attempts, I gave up "Grey's Anatomy." My unsuccess in ridding myself of this overtly-sexualized-version of the television show ER is certainly not for lack of trying. It's just that for the longest time, I felt compelled to watch because "all my friends do" or for "educational purposes." I am in medical school, after all.

Some of my colleagues might balk at such a justification, but deep down all of us know that some of what we learn in medical school is about as relevant to medicine as this week's "Grey's." Don't worry, future patients - we're smarter than medical school thinks we are.

At any rate, the event that precipitated my liberation was nothing less than "Grey's" itself. The fact is the show has become completely unbelievable. And, as Mark Twain observed, the difference between reality and fiction is that fiction must be absolutely believable. "Grey's Anatomy" is a patronizing travesty of to what I've dedicated my life. If "Grey's" represents the goal of all this, then the ridiculous amount of hours I lost to the Beast, affectionately known by the name Gross Anatomy, seems for naught.

Yes, yes I know. One must go into it with an open mind and not expect to view "real medicine." Granted.

No doubt, "real medicine" is too frightening, confusing and unbearable for the masses to handle. That's why not everyone is a doctor. The simple fact is, however, that television shows and pop culture images such as those in "Grey's" do a great disservice to the profession.

The problem is not with the glamorization of medicine, for idealizing anything necessarily involves gilding it with elements which are not natural to it. The problem is with its implicit, and sometimes explicit, presuppositions about the nature of the medical profession. The characters in "Grey's" are not in medicine for their patients, (or any higher good so far as I can see) but for themselves.

Nevertheless, in the real world, every single person who gets in to medical school rephrases and means the words "I want to help people" during their interview. Otherwise, they don't get in. This is because the profession values selflessness and does its best to admit into its hallowed ranks only those people who display a certain minimal measure of altruism.

An example: in one episode, an orthopedic resident excuses herself from an operation in order to be "with her boyfriend" who is having difficulty dealing with his father's mortality.

Unbelievable.

True, doctors are people too, but when a person has placed themselves in your hands, expecting you to take care of them, you leave personal feelings behind you and treat the patient despite your own anger, frustration, sadness, depression etc. If not, then you don't deserve to be in medicine.

Another example, or really a few examples:, is that each of the characters is involved in some kind of complex, ridiculous relationship headed nowhere, and no one seems to mind.

One day Meredith is sleeping with her married attending. The next she is sleeping with her fellow intern and then sleeping with a veterinarian. The various sexual-relations permutations are mind-boggling throughout the show. Besides, would you want someone with as much insecurity and emotional baggage as Meredith Grey to operate on you? No.

Just imagine the indecision and unconfidence on the operating table. "Should I make the incision? No. Maybe he really doesn't have internal bleeding, and the car that struck him was only going five mph. Does the anesthesiologist know what she's doing? I think my butt looks too big in these scrubs. Is that dashing medical student ogling me from the surgery gallery and …." Flatline sound.

A final example: Remember the Hippocratic Oath? Because I do. It says, "Whatever house I may visit, I will come for the benefit of the sick, remaining free of all intentional injustice, of all mischief and in particular of sexual relations with both female and male persons."

You just can't have sexual relations with patients. It's not right. But one character goes so far as to get "engaged" to a patient, and while he's being treated for heart problems to boot! Can you imagine the exploitation that would take place, if medical ethics were defined by "Grey's Anatomy?" It's a disturbing picture.

What scares me is that, while the show is presently unbelievable. What happens when tomorrow's doctors (my fellow students) make it believable? That is something I don't care to think about.
© Copyright 2007 Independent Collegian (www.independentcollegian.com).

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Updates

So the baby was finally born. His name: Augustine Jerome. Thanks so much for all of your kind wishes and prayers. I've really enjoyed your comments and e-mails.

I've been hard at work and I must say I am overwhelmed. I have so many writing ideas floating around in my head but so little time to put them down on paper. I really enjoy medicine but medical school not so much. I had planned to do a ton of writing over spring break but more pressing matters (i.e. family) presented themselves. I mean if I don't change these diapers who will?

Admittedly, I have been cooking and baking a lot. I bought two cookbooks "Bread" and "Mediterranean" both of which have kept me busy. Tonight I tried to make falafel but that didn't quite turn out. Thankfully my Scottish morning rolls and Scottish oatcakes were a big hit. Who know the Scots would be so talented with grains?

I know some serious posts loom in the near future. For now checkout www.independentcollegian.com My recent column "Gunners" is a big hit!

Sunday, February 11, 2007

re: On naming and some personal updates

Well today I submitted a short story and my medical school personal statement (which I am proud to admit was once described by an interviewer as "The most literary personal statement I'd read in twenty years") to the Legible Script's medical student writing contest. Check them out at www.thelegiblescript.org . The story is about the challenge of medical school. If it's published you can write to the kind people at the University of South Florida COM for a copy. Otherwise, assuming I retain publishing rights, I'll put it up here in the summer. On that note, this is an issue which continually confuses me. I mean, if I write something, should I at least have the right to use it as I wish?

At any rate, this week I'll be submitting an essay on Hippocratic medicine to the Francis A. Velay Humanism in Medicine Essay Contest sponsored by the Arnold P. Gold Foundation assuming of course my good, Catholic friend Blase Hennessy finishes editing it for me. He too is a writer and can be found at www.independentcollegian.com. Check his writings out. He likes to write about politics and is quite good at it. Plus, the more hits he gets, the more likely he'll be to go national. At least that's what I'm hoping. Long story short, whether I win or lose, my essay on Hippocrates will be up if and when it's allowed.

Lastly, on a personal note. Any day now we are expecting the birth of our second child, a boy. My wife and I continually to be at odds regarding the name. In what can only properly be described as a burning bush experience or the guiding hand of Providence, since I was fifteen or so I have been utterly convinced that I should name my first son Augustine, after the great 4th century Church Father who was so influential in my own conversion to Catholicism. My wife on the other hand, does not like the name.

My dilemma is this. For me, there has never ever been another name. It was always Augustine. For her, she has a few picked out. I told her to name him what she wants to, fully knowing how awkward a position I would be placing her in. Problem is, to pick another name, in my mind, would be like Zechariah opting not to name his son John (cf. Luke 1:63). It's something I cannot as a matter of conscience do (wouldn't you like to be married to me?).

You see, I have good reasons for wanting to name him Augustine. When you name something, you "say what it is" in the words of Aristotle. Naming, in a way, is to define the essence of a thing. That is why the Jews of the Old Testament placed such a high premium on the naming process, and why every time a name is changed in the Scriptures it is for some theologically significant reason. Think Abram to Abraham, Saul to Paul, or especially Simon to Peter. Each of these says something about who the person is or ought to be.

Perhaps I sound pedantic, but this is something so important, it of necessity cannot be anything less than a well reflected upon choice. Moreover, a name is the first thing a father can give to his child. For a mother, things are different. She gives throughout the entire gestation while the father waits patiently (and admittedly more comfortably) in expectation of the day. That is why I want to give my son something important and significant: namely the name Augustine. By doing so, I would be saying, here is the legacy I want to leave you with, to carry on the work of our family begun in my life when I was received into full communion with the Church and to carry on the work of great saints like Augustine who is such a marvelous example of grace working in a human life. After all, he is know to the West as the Doctor Gratiae (the doctor of grace).

Since it is the father's task to prepare and present his children to the world, by giving a meaningful name, I would be giving him a way of being known by the world and a way of expressing himself to it. "Augustine" to those who hear it will first, stand out (laugh it ,if you must with tiresome jokes) and second intrigue and third reveal. It's unicity will spark questions. Oh what does your name mean? And immediately he would have the opportunity to share the story of one of this world's greatest saints. The name is also revelatory. It says, "I'm a Catholic" and not just any Catholic, a Catholic like St. Augustine of old, an intellectual powerhouse of fidelity and love.

All right, I'm rambling now. Any thoughts would be appreciated. I'll put up pics as soon as the little guy is born. For now, some wisdom from St. Augustine that has nourished my soul and guided my life as long as I have been graced to know it.

This is a prayer of St. Augustine's that I pray everyday:

O God, Full of Compassion,
I commit and commend myself to you
In whom I am, I live, and know
Be the goal of my pilgrimage and my rest by the way
and may my soul take refuge from the crowding turmoil of earthly thoughts
beneath the shadow of your wings.
And may my heart, this sea of restless waves, find peace in you O God.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Catholic Action!

One of the best things a Catholic student in the health care professions can do is become involved with a local Catholic organization such as Newman Club or the Catholic Medical Student Association. Most campuses have some type of Catholic student organization. It’s worth becoming active even if you disagree with the leadership, take issue with the lack of catechesis among the members, etc., the point is to find some people with whom you can forge potential friendships. The culture war is not going to be won by a lone ranger. Catholics from all sides—spanning the whole theological spectrum—must gather together to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, receive the sacraments, heal the sick, learn about the faith and support one another.

For those of us who might be described as doggedly orthodox, and are prone to having a certain higher-level of catechesis, “social justice” at the expense of profound mystery becomes quite frustrating and even more tedious. However, we must ever remember, as Pope Benedict reminded us near the beginning of his pontificate, truth without love is empty and love without truth is blind. These are two sides of the same coin, as it were. Pouring our heart into helping the helpless as an expression and efflorescence of our love for Christ (and our concomitant theological orthodoxy) will only inspire a greater commitment to the Church and fidelity to Christ in those around us.

Think of Blessed “Mother” Teresa of Calcutta. Is there any doubt among anyone about her love for the Church and wholehearted acceptance of its teaching? No. Such acceptance spurred her great advocacy for and acceptance of the indigent. Is there any doubt about her commitment to the poor? No. She is remembered internationally as a woman of selfless abandonment to the “poor in spirit.” Such a one satisfies the Catholic heart either liberal or conservative and reminds us all that our response to the poor and suffering must ever be a response to the love God has for us and a result of the great gift of grace bestowed on us by His son.

No doubt, small gestures of great love and devotion can have a profound effect on the theologically tepid. So there’s nowhere to kneel during the Consecration? Kneel anyway as the Church prescribes. It won’t hurt you to kneel without padded kneelers for one day. Imagine what cost it was for Our Lord to take nails to His hands and feet, and to have His fascia (er, flesh) ripped away from His Holy Body. Bow during the Creed when “He became man.” Make all you do a prayer and people will want to know what inspires your action, devotion, and happiness.

Getting involved with your local Catholic student organization is a way for you to make a difference. You might possibly be the catalyst for a resurgence in your school of Catholic life. Maybe your organization only holds the occasional Mass and a few lunch-time meetings. Become a leader, and next year plan to increase membership twofold and set goals: to educate non-Catholics about specifically Catholic medical practice and ethics; to educate Catholics about what we believe, why we believe it, and why we should believe it, practice it, and teach it; to teach, at least rudimentarily, about NFP so patients can have all the options; invite renowned speakers to discuss Catholic issues and advertise around your local and campus community; hold monthly Masses, invite many Catholics and non-Catholics alike and hold a liturgy in which Heaven really does reach down to earth and earth is graced with heaven as in Michealangelo’s Creation of Man. The point is to faintly hear the angels singing. In truth, we must remember, the Mass can never be otherwise than that and far more greater than we can possibly grasp: for in it, Christ presents His eternal condescension to us by becoming not a bloodied body on a Cross, but a real and living presence under the appearance of bread and wine.

For now join the Catholic Medical Association and the Catholic Medical Student Organization.

http://www.cathmsa.org/

Both of these are great resources for all Catholic medical students. Perhaps, we’ll even be able to meet at the annual convention. In fact, I’ll count it: see you in Atlanta this October. Pax.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

IC Column: Stem Cells Done Right

Stem cells done right

Patrick Beeman

Posted: 1/29/07

Let's face it; I'm a bit of a nerd. I don't like to party. In fact, I don't party at all because if I did, I'd be the guy alone in the corner the entire time my friends and I were mooching free drinks and snacks from some poor soul we'd never met.

When I drink, I prefer to do so "Inklings-style," as part of good, intellectual conversation (The Inklings were a group of scholars, including C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, who met weekly at a pub to read their unpublished works and do other uniquely Oxonian things). And I won't drink anything that might be sold at a NASCAR event, but that's another story.

In fact, I'm more comfortable with a pint of Guinness draught and Dostoyevsky's "Brothers Karamazov" than with a pitcher of Miller-Lite and a table of rowdy friends. If only more pubs were set up for the kind of high-adventure that is the intellectual life. Alas. But that's what coffee shops are for.

But even at Beaners, you'd spy me translating Saint Augustine's "Confessions" from Latin, and drinking a "skinny" latte. You might even catch me adjusting my glasses by pressing finger or thumb to the bridge of my nose. So it's official, I'm kind of nerdy, which explains why every Wednesday when I receive the current issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, I drop what I'm doing and read it from cover to cover. OK, maybe I just read the headlines and two or three articles of interest.

At any rate, one recent issue sported an exciting piece on stem cell research, which I, as a Catholic medical student, am all for. Interest piqued? Read on.

Stem cells are great. They have the uncanny ability to differentiate into many different cell types. And without a doubt, they display potential in treating an obscenely long list of diseases including breast cancer, multiple sclerosis, and Severe Combined Immunodeficiency Syndrome (the "bubble-boy disease"). This is precisely why we need to continue pouring money into researching them. Who knows what cures lie on the horizon?

But notice how I didn't us the word "embryonic?" Embryonic stem cell research is quite another thing, for that requires destroying the embryo whose cells are harvested - that's just downright evil.

The aforementioned JAMA article cites examples of adult stem cells, which have shown promise in turning into the type of cell that is defective in diabetes. And then we read, "many scientists believe the best potential lies in embryonic stem cells." Why?

Does anyone remember the debacle in South Korea when Hwang Woo-Suk reported in the world's most prestigious scientific journal, "Science," that he had generated a human stem cell line from a cloned human embryo only to have to retract - to his great shame and to that of the much ballyhooing scientific community - this fabrication in June 2005? Or does anyone recall that many embryonic stem cells produce teratomas (a type of tumor containing many different types of tissue such as hair, teeth, etc.)? That is, embryonic stem cells produce cancer and those treated with them can die of fatal tumors.

In the words of Maureen Condic, a professor of neurobiology at the University of Utah's medical school, reporting in last month's "First Things," "The assertion that embryonic stem cells in the laboratory can be induced to form all the cells comprising the mature human body has been repeated so often that it seems incontrovertibly true. What is missing from this assertion remains the simple fact that there is essentially no scientific evidence supporting it." How's that for succinct?

The fact is that channeling billions of dollars of public monies into some scientific will-o'-the-wisp seems ludicrous when these resources could be allocated to funding already promising and uncontroversial research into adult stem cells. Why not cast down the scientific hubris and search for cures that don't require adopting the moral principles of the Third Reich? Our society can only be better for taking the moral high road by not treating human persons like products for technological manipulation.

Certainly no one wants our world to resemble Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World," in which, among other perverse things, the very word "mother" becomes profanity. Yet, we're on the brink. And the solution is simple: we can start by keeping in mind the words of the great philosopher Dr. Seuss, who observed, "a person is a person no matter how small." That includes embryos.
© Copyright 2007 Independent Collegian (www.independentcollegian.com)

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Updates January 23: Elementary Logic and the Beginning of Life

Good news. Today I received the February issue of This Rock and my article "Elementary Logic and the Beginning of Life" is featured in the "Up a Notch" section. To my great surprise I am in the same issue as one of my favorite authors and a person who was instrumental in my intellectual conversion to Catholicism, Peter Kreeft, who is professor of philosophy at Boston College and author of over forty books. I'll never forget first reading a statement of Kreeft's regarding the intrinsic moral evil of condoms and thinking the man was crazy. Funny to think that I now make arguments similar to his in national publications and consider it an honor to have my name printed beside his, and slightly hopeful that he just might read my article. Perhaps I can expect a phone call or e-mail?

At any rate, I will put the This Rock version up when it becomes available online. For now, check out www.catholic.com. Eventually my writing will be on their website. Also, read Prof. Kreeft's work at www.peterkreeft.com

I have received a bunch of support from fellow bloggers. I intend to link to them once I figure out how to rework this webpage. Any suggestions for this blog? Please let me know. It's supposed to be a forum, not just my random ramblings as entertaining as those might be.

In the near future, look for a post on "Mere Christian Medicine." I'm in the process of putting together an essay which looks at the vocation of the physician from the Christian perspective (the common heritage of Catholic, Protestant, and Eastern Orthodox believers). Until then, thanks for reading. Expect more posts after February 2nd. This date marks our second anatomy exam over what I like to call the three p's of perdition: pelvis, perineum, and peritoneum. Agite gratias Deo.

Monday, January 22, 2007

re: Anatomy and the Virtue of Humility

Without a doubt Gross Anatomy presents the first greatest challenge to the medical student. Long hours studying, little reward for extra time in the lab, a ridiculous volume of information, having to forget one's old vocabulary (e.g. the leg is not the whole lower limb, it's only the portion from the knee to the ankle), and having to forgo most every other pursuit, not just to get Honors, but for some of us just to pass. Anatomy is the first class I've taken that I loved but was not the best in, which brings me to an important point: humility.

The Greeks weren't big on this virtue, but medicine demands it. People come to the physician at their lowest moments, unequal partners in a covenantal partnership. The patient does not have the experience or knowledge which the physician has gained through countless hours with his head in a book, heart on hold, and hands upon some anatomical structure palpating it's normal and pathological examples. This is why the patient comes to the physician. He comes in a manner completely trusting and utterly vulnerable. This is why a physician needs humility more than others. He must always remind himself of the privilege of knowing what he knows about the human body and human soul. He must never forget that the profession permitted his entrance only after severe scrutiny and that it maintains its relationship with him on the stipulation that he provides care to a patient with competence, excellence, and integrity.

Gross Anatomy, for many of us medical students, is our first introduction to professional humility. And for Catholic medical students, it should be a time to accept our call to serve with humility recognizing that even doctors are human beings with fallibility and the possibility of erring. Most importantly for the Catholic medical student, humility must be accepted in imitation of Our Lord who humbled himself to the point of death, even death on a cross.

So for you premeds, know that one of the biggest adjustments of medical school is knowing that you might not be the number one student. If you do become so, rejoice! God has graced you with superior intellectual talents. And because they are graces, they must be accepted with humility as well. For us all, whether we eat or drink, or whatever we do "Do all to the glory of God." (1 Cor 10:31).

Thursday, January 18, 2007

IC Column: The Pro-Life Dr. King

The pro-life Dr. King

Patrick Beeman

Posted: 1/18/07

Challenges to the legacies of so many influential men have not come from lack of great ideas but from those ideas falling into the wrong hands or otherwise being misconstrued or used for suspect ideological purposes. Such is the case with Martin Luther King, Jr.

Because I am a student, I have yet another reason to be thankful for the life, ministry (for his life's work was anything but "a job" as some of my medical student colleagues erroneously view the medical profession), and martyrdom of King. Because the celebration of his life grants us a day off, each year I re-read his "Letter from Birmingham Jail" in thanksgiving for what he did for our country.

It still frightens and amazes me that not too long ago, King was waging war against one of the most facile fallacies ever committed by the mind of man: racism, which is simply taking an accidental attribute (skin color) of a human being as something essential to his personhood (which would make people with different skin colors different kinds of things, which is absurd according to all but the most base of men such as Adolf Hitler, Margaret Sanger, or David Duke). It is no wonder that Richard John Neuhaus, the present editor of the journal "First Things" and King's one-time associate, called the civil rights era an "epic moral drama." Strange words, those.

You see, King's efforts were not about politics. They were not about being Democrat or Republican, Left or Right; they were about moral truth, right and wrong and who was right (desegregationists) and who was wrong (segregationists).

In his "Letter," King gave the simplest reason for his activism. He wrote that he was in the Birmingham jail (after being arrested during a peaceful protest) because "injustice is here." The broadest category to which the sin of racism could be applied is injustice: not giving to people what is due to them by right. King goes on to outline his personal reasons for being involved in the civil rights movement and proves himself quite the intellectual by drawing on Thomas Aquinas, Saint Augustine, Paul Tillich and others.

King speaks of a person's moral obligation to oppose unjust laws. In this connection, he approvingly cites Saint Augustine, "An unjust law is no law at all." But the problem that King recognized is distinguishing just laws from unjust laws. And in this respect, King draws on Thomas's theory of law, and wrote, "A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God … Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality."

And so it goes with a very similar moral crisis in our own day: abortion. Racist laws and abortion laws have one thing in common, they "distort the soul" (both of the woman and the child killed) and degrade human personality on so many levels. One could very easily say that the Roe v. Wade decision (remember, that was the Jan. 23, 1973 event in which the American people voted for more liberal abortion laws? Or wait, no we didn't) presents an even greater epic moral drama, for by it we have not only discriminated against but have slain a large portion of human beings simply because they are smaller than we, don't quite look like we think they should, act like we think they should or because they inconvenience us by demanding equality, justice and the right to live.

So, what was I saying about King's legacy? I agree with Neuhaus' analysis of the "two liberalisms." The first is that of King, "inclusive of the vulnerable and driven by a transcendent order of justice" but the second liberalism is that of today, "exclusive and recognizing no law higher than individual willfulness." Too many self-styled liberals have followed the second, claiming King as their inspiration. The problem is that it doesn't work. King was, it is ever to be remembered, a Christian, even if an imperfect one, who wanted to establish an order of justice and equality for all people: black, white, Catholic, Protestant and - had his life not been taken so cruelly in April 1968 - he would probably now add "unborn and born alike."
© Copyright 2007 Independent Collegian (www.independentcollegian.com)

Monday, January 15, 2007

An Eastern Orthodox Physician's Prayer

If only more medical students entered medicine with the gravity of its calling, exemplified in the following prayer, burned into their hearts. No doubt, we would hear less complaints about "rude" and "arrogant" doctors. But that's not even the half of it. For the Catholic doctor (and by extension, all Christian doctors) medicine is a vocation to heal based on the life and ministry of Our Lord. Material success, prestige, respect, wealth, and pride should most certainly not motivate a person to request admittance to this most noble of professions. Rather humility, charity, justice, courage, and hope should beckon the doctor to practice his art with skill, selflessness, and out of a sense of gratitude for the privilege and responsibilities of medical education.


And when the entire profession seems to have fallen away from its lofty calling to "Do no harm" and to serve the indigent, suffering, and helpless as Christ did, it falls to Catholic doctors, a fortiori, to be the vanguard of the profession's renewal and recommitment to the service of life. Not for sectarian reasons, but rather because the dignity of the human person demands it. For each and everyone of us are "created in the image and likeness of God" (cf. Genesis 1:26ff).

A Physician's Prayer: From Our Eastern Orthodox Brethren

O Lord Jesus Christ our God, Lover of Mankind, Physician of our souls and bodies, who didst bear the pain of our infirmities, and by whose wounds we are healed,

Who gave sight to the man born blind,

Who straightened the woman who was bent over for 18 years,

Who gave speech and sight to the mute demoniac,

Who not only forgave the paralytic his sins, but healed him to walk,

Who restored the withered hand of a troubled man,

Who stopped the flow of blood of her who bled for 12 years

Who raised Jairus’ daughter to life

And brought the 4-day-dead Lazarus to life

And who heals every infirmity under the sun,

Do now, O Lord, give your grace to all those here gathered who have labored and studied hour upon hour, to go into all the world, and also to heal by the talent You have given to each of them.

Strengthen them, by your strength, to fear no evil or disease,

Enlighten them to do no evil by the works of their hands,

And preserve them and those they serve in peace,

For You are our God, and we know no other,

And to you we send up glory together with your Father who is from everlasting, and your most Holy, Good, and Life-creating Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

Why I chose Medicine, Or Why Medicine Chose Me

Medical School Personal Statement

Tolle, lege; tolle, lege” (Latin: pick it up, read). These simple words from a mysterious source prompted St. Augustine’s conversion from a directionless youth to a man of singular purpose. They resound throughout the history of the West, and they have not been lost on me. I could swear I heard those same words as I sat in the garden of the restored thirteenth-century Austrian monastery where I was studying during the spring of 2003. The book before me was not St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans but instead a simple medical-school catalog. In a paroxysm of enthusiasm, I studied its contents and there found the answers to my questions.

During that spring I was grappling with what I should do with my life, a not uncommon phenomenon among undergraduates. Since the age of fifteen, I knew that I wanted to be a doctor (Latin: “doctus,” learned) of some sort. I intended to study for a Ph.D. in philosophy or theology and then teach and do scholarly work. It had never occurred to me that I might instead become a “medicus” (Latin: physician). Yet when the possibility dawned on me, I knew I had found my path.

Obtaining a Ph.D. always made sense to me because it would allow me to indulge in the activities I love: teaching, researching, and writing. However, I began to wonder whether it might be true that the healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do. If this were so, then it seemed that the world may need medical doctors to care for the sick more than doctors of philosophy to teach undergraduates. While the latter task is certainly important, I realized that caring for the indigent and suffering was both more fulfilling personally and the vocation to which I am called.

Inspired by this insight and hoping to view the medical profession objectively, while also connecting as closely as possible to patients, I enrolled in classes to become a pastoral-care volunteer. In this role, I have been able to converse deeply and personally with patients regarding their fears, pains, and frustrations. I have witnessed firsthand doctors’ and nurses’ care for patients and the individual patient’s response to that care. This experience—and certainly the stern exhortations of a few patients—has taught me that a physician needs to be more than a scientist; he or she must also, and primarily, be a human being. The doctor must consider not only how a disease presents itself in a subject but also how the subject experiences a disease, with all its life-shattering consequences. I intend to be a physician who listens to, touches, and sees primarily a suffering human being and only then diagnoses and treats the underlying cause of the distress. My pastoral-care experience has taught me how to listen to patients, an invaluable lesson in “bedside manner” for a physician hopeful. However, more than that, it has taught me how to deal with illness “humanely,” an ability I will take with me into medical school where I will learn to grapple with illness “scientifically.” Volunteering has served to affirm my decision to become a doctor. Put more boldly, my volunteer work has ignited in me an insatiable desire to provide medical care to patients like those I have met in my pastoral-care duties.

My resolve has been further strengthened by my work as a Chester Scholar at MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland, Ohio. This competitive internship collates the clinical and research aspects of medicine. As a Chester Scholar, I have had the opportunity to witness numerous surgeries. I have shadowed physicians in every specialty from anesthesiology to neonatology to psychiatry. In research, I have studied human fetal membranes in an NIH funded lab, working one-on-one with my preceptors John Moore and Deepak Kumar. During these months, I obtained a panoramic view of life in a teaching hospital, an unparalleled opportunity, I am told, even for most medical students and attending physicians. Here I have found even more reasons to pursue medicine, the most important of which is that I truly enjoy even the quotidian activities of physicians. In my eyes, even the mundane is not mundane for a doctor.
When I ask myself why I want to be a physician, a bewildering number of answers comes to mind. Among them are the challenging education it requires, its awesome responsibility, the exciting prospect of lifelong learning, the satisfaction of helping others, the trust and honor with which a physician is regarded by his patients and the community, and even perhaps the purgatorial test affectionately known as the “application process.” Certainly, aside from the last, these are most people’s reasons for becoming a doctor: they are tried and true. These reasons are undoubtedly my own, but in no way do they have the character of banality. Rather, these reasons impassion and animate me every day to fulfill my goal of becoming a caring and learned physician. In fine, while St. Augustine is universally venerated as a Doctor of the Church, I deeply hope that I will be remembered as a doctor of medicine, but only after I am first remembered as an exceptional and magnanimous human being.

My daughter discovers birthday presents; I discover the joy of not cutting my hair shortly before medical school

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Independent Collegian Column: Charles Peguy

Sordid Love and Good Stories

Patrick Beeman

Posted: 1/11/07

Charles Péguy was a gifted French writer who lived before World War I. In fact, it was the Great War that took his life at age 40. He's largely been forgotten by his Catholic coreligionists as a result of his passionate love for the Church, which has not been too popular as of late, and is more often than not written off as "zealotry" - too "John the Baptist" for our modern, restrained times. He has also been neglected by Western secular thinkers who become very easily distraught by the religious fervor and complications which, to be fair, did complicate his life. But complications are the spark of life.

Life is indeed a story. And no one wants a story without suspense, temptation, and the possibility that the hero may lose his soul as a result of the challenges he faces. Just think, would "The Lord of the Rings" be a great story without Frodo's accepting a task too great for a hobbit and nearly losing his life in the process? Would the stories behind Christianity be worth believing without God becoming a baby, having the possibility of freely suffering, and ultimately dying? Would your own life be worth remembering were it not for your acts of courage in the face of temptation, the loves which have caused you pain or those moments of severity which punctuate all of our lives, such as consciously awaiting the death of a loved one? Probably not.

Péguy's life is a marvel to behold. He shows us how in this life the possibility of evil - as mysterious as this truth is - in turn makes possible heroism, love and courage. You can't have heroism without danger; and you just can't have courage without fear. Only if there is something of which to be afraid can a person gain that virtue which is basically "readiness to die in battle." The man who enters battle fearlessly because he enjoys bloodshed isn't courageous, but foolish. He deserves no moral approbation. But let's consider a more everyday example.

A columnist friend of mine, who shall remain anonymous, but demanded that I refer to him as "very good looking" if I used his story, recounted to me that last week he was backing out of his parking space at a certain retail facility when he heard a crunch. He had bumped into the car behind his (no doubt because he was too intent on listening and singing along to Muse, his sorry excuse for music). At any rate, he inspected the vehicle and noted no damage, so he decided to cut and run. That was until one of the store's patrons called out to him, made him get out of his car and marched him into the building, calling out the make and model of the vehicle.

The woman, against whom my friend committed the offense, also inspected her vehicle, noting no damage. She sent him on his way and thanked him for doing the right thing. However, and my friend recognizes this, he deserved no moral praise. He didn't do the right thing. He had an opportunity to develop the virtue of courage but buckled when he thought of the likely consequences. You see, then, how the possibility of harm makes possible an act of virtue.

Peguy had many similar situations in his life. In one instance, he unexpectedly, (without asking) fell deeply, torridly, passionately "in love" with a woman with whom he had collaborated. The problem? He was already married. And unlike many men in his circumstances he remained absolutely faithful to his wife, his family and the teachings of the Church. He demonstrated moral courage and paid dearly for it. As a result of his fidelity, he suffered immensely. But he suffered well, for the sake of loyalty to the truth - the guiding principle of his life.

I leave you with a slice of Péguy's wisdom, and I ask you to consider what the following means with regard to moral courage: "It will never be known what acts of cowardice have been motivated by the fear of not looking sufficiently progressive." Does this mean there are certain things we advocate as students because it is posh to do so? That we would support one class of people's so-called rights while infringing on the rights of other, say, unborn persons? That we would rather do nothing in the face of evil than be seen as the modern-day John the Baptists "crying out in the wilderness?" That we would have the dissimulating audacity to be "personally opposed, but …"
© Copyright 2007 Independent Collegian (www.independentcollegian.com)

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Among Other Things, I Enjoy Baking

My Conversion Story. I'll put the published version from This Rock up when it becomes available online.

Patrick's Conversion Story

Every conversion story has its dramatic moments. This should be no surprise considering that history is the drama of God’s search for man and man’s response to being found (cf. CCC section I, chapters 2 and 3). Indeed, conversion is the most radical moment in a person’s life. In this process, God’s grace effects a change in a person’s relation to Himself. Therefore, it really is no surprise that each conversion story can be counted among the events of history no matter how mundane, glamorous, or unique it is. Each story is truly the recapitulation of salvation history in the individual.

My own story begins like this. I was raised in a serious Christian home. We were Evangelicals of the non-denominational, charismatic kind. In our home, we prayed devoutly, the Holy Scriptures were our life, and charity was the ideal. It could be said truly that Christ ruled our home.

My parents were excellent examples of Christian faith and piety. I well recall getting up early and seeing my dad praying alone in the dark on his knees. My mom perfectly fulfilled the vocation of a Christian wife and mother in her sacrifice, untiring service and love. So to me, Christianity was real and alive. It had profound effects on people’s lives. I knew that to be a Christian was to take Christ and His Word seriously. There could be no such thing as lifeless Christianity for one who had come to “the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:8). This atmosphere encouraged seriousness toward Christianity and prepared the ground of my soul for the seeds of Catholic Christian faith.

After attending an Evangelical grade school for kindergarten and a Catholic grade school for first grade (Providence was working even then, I see now), I was homeschooled until I entered college at age fifteen. College awakened me to what the French Dominican A.G. Sertillanges called, “the intellectual life.” I became fascinated with and absorbed in questions of truth, apologetics, and meaning, the answers to which revealed to me the illogicality of a divided Christianity. I also became convinced that “truth cannot contradict truth” and that accepting a Christianity which affirmed differences in opinion which were simply thinly-veiled violations of the law of non-contradiction could not itself be true. I wondered, as most Protestant converts eventually do, “Why would Christ have left such a confusing mess for us to sort out?” I thought hard, “Which church has the whole truth and nothing but the truth?”

During that same time, the non-denominational church we were attending became enthralled by the vapid and inane teaching of the prosperity gospel, or the word-faith movement, led by figures such as Kenneth Hagin, Oral Roberts, and Kenneth Copeland. What the word-faith version of Christianity lacked in substantive doctrine it made up for in snappy slogans such as “name it and claim it” which means something like, if you say something (anything!), by the sheer power of your words, it will come true, if only you have enough faith. Or, “don’t speak it into your life” which means, if you admit—even when you have a headache—that you are sick, you are opening yourself up to sickness and closing yourself to the life of health, wealth, and prosperity God promised for you in the Atonement.

I found this “health and wealth gospel” to be nonsensical, offensive, anti-intellectual and deeply perverting of authentic Christianity. It not only bothered me, it induced a crisis of faith in which I had to figure out (or so I then thought) what to believe. I concluded, “If this is Christianity, then I’m out.”

One can imagine how relieved I was when I became a Catholic and found that I did not have to figure out every doctrine of faith or moral truth on my own; the Church had already been doing this, by the Holy Spirit’s guidance, as promised in John 14:26, for 2000 years. I needed only assent to her claim of authority and rest in the peace it brings. I quickly learned that to be a Christian did not mean that I had to be something like a pope (or rather what some non-Catholics view the pope to be) or an avatar of Truth itself. The world had already had a number of popes to defend Christian doctrine, preserve the unity of Christendom, and prevent heresy. It did not need me to pretend to the papacy. And the world had certainly already experienced the Incarnation of Our Lord, and He had entrusted the Church, not me, to be the “pillar and foundation of truth” (1 Tim. 3:15).

My aversion to the word-faith movement came from an unlikely source. My dad worked in Christian radio. Accordingly, we always and only listened to Christian music. My favorite artist was Rich Mullins, who wrote the inspirational “Awesome God.” Rich was somewhat of a Protestant ascetic. Significantly, he was also something of, what I call, an “asymptotic Catholic.” His music is replete with Catholic ideas about such things as the Eucharist and liturgy, and he himself planned on entering the Church before his tragic death on September 19, 1997.

At any rate, after a successful career in Christian music, he sold his possessions and gave up his royalties to live in on a Navajo reservation in order to teach music to children. For a music artist, he had a deep sense of piety, and his lyrics betrayed a sophisticated theology.

Rich Mullins admired St. Francis of Assisi. Or better, he had a devotion to St. Francis. And his devotion deeply affected me. I read the Little Flowers of Saint Francis and saw a clear glimpse of what it meant to live as a Christian. Reckless abandon to Christ was the only way to serve Our Lord. However, I also noticed that St. Francis attended the Mass, invoked Our Lady in the most endearing and dignified terms, and received the holy stigmata. “Wait a minute,” I thought, “St. Francis was Catholic!” Any of my previously held animadversions toward Catholicism evanesced. I concluded, “If Rich, the best Christian I knew, could venerate and model his life after St. Francis, who was obviously a devout Catholic, then Catholics must be all right.”

With that thought, I began looking for more authentic expressions of Christianity. I attended Lutheran and Presbyterian services, Anglican liturgies, and various youth groups, none of which struck a cord with me. However, one day in the fall of 2001 I looked in the newspaper and saw an advertisement for a Memorial Mass for the victims of the September 11th tragedy. I decided to give it a try, as it were.

I was completely enamored of the grandeur of the Mass, the reverence of the people, the expression of longing and contentment on the faces of those proceeding to receive the Eucharist, and the palpable ancientness and eternal character of the liturgy. In contrast to the Protestant services, the Catholic Mass was focused on Christ and His work, not on what the minister had to say about the day’s readings.

At the end of this mysterious drama of the Last Supper, I thanked the priest. “I am not a Catholic”, I said. “Um” I stumbled, “Minister? “Reverend?” “I am not sure what to call you. But I am deeply impressed with what just happened.” The priest responded, “I am Father Mike Williams. Call me ‘Father.’ And, if you’re interested in learning more about Catholicism come to the RCIA classes beginning next Tuesday.” RCIA is the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults and is the normal way non-Catholics enter the Church. It involves formation in Catholic teaching, fellowship, prayer, and preparation for the Sacraments.

That Tuesday, I somehow convinced my former-Catholic parents to take me to the classes. I was considerably nervous. I was only fifteen at the time and always self-conscious about my youth. I seriously feared that one had to be over eighteen years of age to convert to Catholicism (it seemed then that one had to be over eighteen to do just about anything). Thankfully, that is not true!

From the first moments of RCIA, I began to read Catholic apologetic works voraciously. Patrick Madrid’s Surprised by Truth was heartening. Karl Keating’s Catholicism and Fundamentalism provided me with arguments to justify my newly fulfilled faith to my parents and friends. Karl Adam’s immortal The Spirit of Catholicism gave me a firm understanding of authentic Catholic tradition.

I began having an uncountable number of “ah ha” moments, where I realized, “This person is Catholic too.” I was reading St. Augustine’s Confessions, my favorite book, and realized Augustine was Catholic. In my philosophy course, I realized that my favorite philosopher was Catholic: St. Thomas Aquinas. Even the author of the history of philosophy I was reading, Frederick Copleston, S.J., was Catholic! In my English course, I realized that Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales is a story about Catholics. “So Chaucer is Catholic too?” I thought. Then the biggest realization came: everyone who was a Christian until the sixteenth century was a Catholic (I did not then know about the Eastern Orthodox). To be a Christian—before the Protestant Reformation tragically sundered the unity of Christianity and splintered the Church into churches—was to be a Catholic. A Eucharist-receiving, Bible-believing, Pope-defending, Mary-honoring, genuflecting, confessing Catholic!

I was planning on entering the Church at the Easter Vigil, but for various familial reasons, I decided to postpone my conversion for an indefinite period of time. Someone arranged for me to meet with a Protestant minister who wanted to expose the errors of Catholicism. Unfortunately, he recommended Dave Hunt’s work, A Woman Rides the Beast, which is fraught with so many fabrications and falsehoods it is unbelievable. Fortunately, I had the previous mentioned work of Keating and other apologists. I was needless to say, unconvinced by the minister. I called Father Mike and told him that no matter what, I had to enter the Church. I had made a huge mistake in delaying.

On May 18, 2002 at the Pentecost Vigil, I was received into full communion with the Catholic Church. I was confirmed (to become a defender of the faith and a soldier in the Church Militant) and made my first communion, tremulously but confidently taking the real Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ onto my tongue. My paternal grandfather, a Catholic his whole life, stood as my sponsor. But neither the Holy Spirit’s work nor the prayers of Our Lady ended.

A year later, my wife (then, my girlfriend and a member of my “old church”) and I started the marriage preparation process. We knew we wanted to live our Christian vocations in the Sacrament of Marriage. She decided to enter RCIA a little over two years after I did, and was received into the Church, to my great joy (and all of Heaven’s), on Easter Vigil 2004. About a month later we were married.

Moreover, my dad and mom recently returned to the Church, both making a decades-overdue confession; further, my two younger sisters entered the church Easter Vigil 2006. Lastly, my mom’s friend, who also attended the aforementioned non-denominational Church, completed RCIA and in so doing brought her husband back to the practice of the faith “ever ancient, ever new”. God really does answer prayer!

In looking back, I am grateful for mine and my family members’ conversions (or reversions) to the Catholic faith. My wife and I often thank God for the simple joy of being Catholic. I encourage everyone who is praying for the conversion of a family member to persevere. Even the most unlikely converts often unexpectedly find themselves aboard the Barque of St. Peter. I know I did.

Patrick is a former lecturer in philosophy at Cleveland State University (M.A.‘05). He holds a B.A. from Franciscan University and will begin medical school in August at the University of Toledo College of Medicine. He is now twenty-one years old and has a daughter, Evangeline Grace, and another child due in February (Augustine, if the baby’s a boy). He can be reached at darthbeeman@hotmail.com.