Friday, February 12, 2010

Fulfilling Our Vocation In Suffering

On the feast of Our Lady Of Lourdes, Pope Benedict gave a message commemorating the World Day of the Sick.  This message is, as expected from our Holy Father, filled with insight and guidance, particularly for physicians (and medical students) who face suffering every day.  Here are some selections:

Speaking of the Virgin Mary:
…she trusted in God and, with her soul pierced by a sword (cf. Lk 2: 35), she did not hesitate to share the Passion of her Son, renewing on Calvary at the foot of the Cross her "yes" of the Annunciation. To reflect upon the Immaculate Conception of Mary is thus to allow oneself to be attracted by the "yes" which joined her wonderfully to the mission of Christ, Redeemer of humanity; it is to allow oneself to be taken and led by her hand to pronounce in one's turn "fiat" to the will of God, with all one's existence interwoven with joys and sadness, hopes and disappointments, in the awareness that tribulations, pain and suffering make rich the meaning of our pilgrimage on the earth….

….One cannot contemplate Mary without being attracted by Christ and one cannot look at Christ without immediately perceiving the presence of Mary….

…Associated with the Sacrifice of Christ, Mary, Mater Dolorosa, who at the foot of the Cross suffers with her divine Son, is felt to be especially near by the Christian community, which gathers around its suffering members who bear the signs of the passion of the Lord. Mary suffers with those who are in affliction, with them she hopes, and she is their comfort, supporting them with her maternal help. And is it not perhaps true that the spiritual experience of very many sick people leads us to understand increasingly that "the Divine Redeemer wishes to penetrate the soul of every sufferer through the heart of his holy Mother, the first and the most exalted of all the redeemed"? (John Paul II, Salvifici Doloris, n. 26)….

Pope Benedict then focuses on the Eucharist:
…the Eucharist is the gift that the Father makes to the world of his Only Son, incarnated and crucified. It is he who gathers us around the Eucharistic table, provoking in his disciples loving care for the suffering and the sick, in whom the Christian community recognises the Face of its Lord….
….It thus appears clear that it is specifically from the Eucharist that pastoral care in health must draw the necessary spiritual strength to come effectively to man's aid and to help him to understand the salvific value of his own suffering….
….Mysteriously united to Christ, the one who suffers with love and meek self-abandonment to the will of God becomes a living offering for the salvation of the world…..
….Thus, pain, received with faith, becomes the door by which to enter the mystery of the redemptive suffering of Jesus and to reach with him the peace and happiness of his Resurrection…. ….chapels in our health-care centres become a beating heart in which Jesus offers himself unceasingly to the Father for the life of humanity! The distribution of the Eucharist to the sick as well, done with decorum and in a spirit of prayer, is true comfort for those who suffer, afflicted by all forms of infirmity….

And once again, returning to Mary:
May she help everyone in testifying that the only valid response to human pain and suffering is Christ, who by rising defeated death and gave us life that knows no end.

As Catholics, we have a unique perspective on the role of suffering in the world.  As time marches on, our society more strongly rejects the idea of pain and suffering, and fails to see the ways in which it can allow an individual to grow.  We have an opportunity, as physicians, to work closely with the suffering individual to see the value in their suffering.  When a doctor enters into the relationship with the patient, they must see the person who is to be loved. For not only did Christ command that his disciples go forth and heal, or that they see Him in the poorest of their brethren, but too that they should “love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind…You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mt 22:37-39) When the doctor sees the patient as a human person and chooses to love that person as himself, the doctor then can become Christ to that person. There is a very special interpersonal relationship between the doctor and the patient. This relationship is “‘a meeting between trust and conscious.’ The “trust” of one who is ill and suffering and hence in need, who entrusts himself to the “conscience” of another who can help him in his need and who comes to his assistance to care for him and cure him.” (The Charter for Health Care Workers, 2.) Just as those who were sick and suffering “came to hear [Jesus] and to be healed of their diseases,”(Lk 6:18. ) so too does the patient come to the doctor with faith in his ability to heal. This healing can occur on many levels since man is composed of more than just a physical body. Truly, it is proper that the doctor should seek to heal not only the body, but also the soul and the mind, just as Christ did. The most profound way the doctor can accomplish the treating of the person is by helping the patient to recognize his vocation as a patient. This vocation is that which was discussed earlier concerning the uniting of the suffering of the patient with the Cross of Christ. In this interpersonal relationship, the doctor is Christ to the patient, healing and serving in the most loving ways those who are broken and outcast and helping them to “take up his cross, and follow me.” (Mt 16:24.) On the patient’s side of this relationship, he becomes Christ for the doctor by both giving the doctor an opportunity to serve him in his suffering and by his offering up of his suffering in union with the suffering of Christ and being a witness of love for all of mankind. When this profound relationship is realized between the doctor and the patient, medicine is no longer restricted to a treatment of the disease but becomes also an intervention on the human body that “touches not only the tissues, the organs, and their functions, but involves also at various levels the person himself.” (The Charter for Health Care Workers, 40.)

Let us, this Lent, turn to our most holy mother Mary, and ask that she help us to imitate her fiat.  With her help, we can truly serve those that the Lord puts into our paths.

1 comment:

  1. You are such an insightful and thoughtful young man! My prayer for you is that you will always call upon this ministerial approach in your avocation. Thank you for your witness, and for this most beautiful post!
    God Bless!