WINNING ENTRIES OF THE FECAMDS ESSAY COMPETITION
THE CATHOLIC PROFESSIONAL
Name: AGBEGBEDIA OGHENERUME FRANCIS
Arriving at the summit of true demonstration of faith is a lifelong endeavour. It encompasses a period of growth that culminates in the incorporation of faith and worship into even the most ordinary of activities, and seeking to give God glory through them. A key aspect in this growth process is seen in an individual's ability to integrate his faith and vocation; an ability that should be evident in the Catholic professional.
The Catholic Professional, far from merely being a worker who worships in a Catholic congregation, is one who follows the ethics of his profession while being devoted to the teachings of the Church. He is not only proficient in the skills unique to his vocation, but also in the beliefs that make him Catholic. And with time, his Catholic values seep into his work and essentially become the bedrock upon which he operates.
In the medical scape, the connection of the life of the Catholic to the life of the doctor is found at the intersection of two oaths; the Baptismal oath and the Hippocratic oath. The former is required to receive Baptism, the sacrament that makes us Christians, while the latter confers on us the status of doctors. The Catholic physician is one who professes both faith and medicine.
Foremost in his attributes is his appreciation of the life and dignity of the human person. The Church teaches that human life is sacred and precious, and the relevance of every institution is seen in whether it threatens or enhances the life of humans. A true demonstration of this teaching is seen in the doctor who preserves life, cares for his patients, and makes decisions that ultimately ensure the well being of those under his care.
He is also expected to be professional. Mother Theresa in an address to doctors expressed the need for them “to also understand that their calling is a vocation more than a profession. A vocation is something beautiful, something holy, something great... A doctor’s vocation is very much like what Jesus did when He went about doing good and healing people". We are expected to invest our time, talents and resources, and let our light shine to the glory of God, while being proficient in our work.
Devotion to duty, excellent communication, integrity, humility, love for the poor, diligence, empathy and prayerfulness, amongst others, are attributes that all Catholics in the medical field should possess. All in all, he must see the face of Jesus in all patients while revealing the merciful face of Christ in his work. He must view his work of treating the human body as doing service to the body of Christ at large.
The life of a Catholic Professional, especially one in the medical field, doesn't come without its challenges of course - especially at a time where the world increasingly attempts to glorify anomalies such as abortion, contraception and in vitro fertilization. Consider the fact that euthanasia is now being veiled as a "patient's right to die", and you'll probably agree that it has never been more challenging to incorporate core Catholic virtues into the practice of medicine.
Knowing this, it is necessary to have a good understanding of why these practices are improper. Saint Peter's exhortation to "be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you" is applicable in these times. We must have proper knowledge of the moral, medical, psychological and sociological consequences of these acts and know how best to counsel against them. These are essentially issues which every Catholic physician should be well versed in, updated, and able to explain.
Another struggle the Professional faces is that of cultivating an active prayer culture in the midst of a hectic work schedule. This partially stems from the fact that we tend to separate our lives into secular and spiritual aspects, as though they were entirely different.
The solution to this problem is cultivating the habit of offering up every action to God in prayer, no matter how ordinary it may seem. Christ, for example, was very active in the ministry of healing. Saint Luke gives an account of Jesus healing Peter's mother in-law of a fever just after coming from the synagogue. Soon after, he healed many others of diverse diseases and continued well after the sun had set. Draw comparisons and you'll see similarities between this and a day in the life of a physician. But what did Jesus do immediately morning came? He went to a quiet place to pray. Jesus drew his strength from God through prayer.
Prayer is as important as any other activity, especially in building our faith. Communion with Christ is essentially the foundation on which our practice should be built. Without prayer, work becomes tiring, burdensome and ultimately fruitless. There is need to be steadfast in prayer, study of Scripture and devotion to the Eucharist. Imagine how much better things would be if we could take out a moment or two each day to pray for ourselves, our patients and colleagues. The benefits would be innumerable.
All Christians have been called to a life of perfection. And this calling is one that must be evidenced by fruit in our daily lives. As medics, we must view our calling as a privilege, and an opportunity to show love to others while practising active stewardship. There is need to constantly remind ourselves that not only is Christ a healer, but he is also present in the patient. The words of Christ in Matthew 25, "I was sick and you visited me" should echo in our hearts at every point in time, and spur us to perform every action as unto the Lord. May the Virgin Mary inspire us to make our vocational practice more and more Catholic until our worship becomes more of a lifestyle than an activity, and our professions of faith and medicine become inseparable.
Name: Nater Akpen
THE PRACTICE OF FAITH AND MEDICINE
The business of life and death, and all that lies in-between is the concern of medicine. It is also the concern of the Catholic faith. This uniformity of concern indicates that there is no tension between medicine and the Catholic faith. Where a tension appears to exist, it is a matter of a momentary loss of memory. To maintain the singular nature of the Catholic and medical identity, there must be a remembrance. It is this loss of memory and remembrance that form the substance of the proceeding.
LOSS OF MEMORY
After Jesus – as physician par excellence – had broken the fever of Simon’s mother-in-law and seen other patients, he retired for the evening. At the dawn of morning, before returning to his ward and clinic – which was really the streets – he went away to a silent place to pray. This was fundamental to Jesus’ day.
A practitioner who forgets to pray would find that his practice and faith would appear contradicting. Indeed, a prayer-less practitioner would be too sick to heal the sick. This is because to give mercy, the practitioner too must first receive mercy. Prayer is the wellspring of mercy and the practitioner who ignores that wellspring soon finds that he is out of mercy to give patients. In other words, he finds a tension between his faith and practice; he becomes like any other practitioner who has not been illuminated with the light of Christ especially through the rich patrimony of Catholicism.
The practitioner finds his faith at odds with his practice when he forgets that his practice is a vocation. On the wards or in the clinic, the Catholic practitioner does quite the same things as a secular practitioner might. The difference is that the Catholic practitioner would do all those things with great love. This would be because he recognises Christ – who he would wish to be united with in death – in the patient who is before him.
Seen this way, every engagement with a patient becomes a foretaste of the beatific vision – that solemn encounter between man and divinity itself. Roles as per usual would change. The secular practitioner would remain the all-knowing being who would perch on high and make pronouncements upon patients; the Catholic practitioner would find himself face to face with the very image and likeness of his God.
A tension may also arise when a practitioner forgets to be pro-poor. Such a practitioner would charge exorbitant fees to maintain personal luxury and dignity that is proper to his office. To be pro-poor is not synonymous with putting up services without a fee. Bills, after all, need to be paid and every labourer deserves his keep. Fixation on fees as though health was a “highest-bidder” item would be a distorted view of things. It would amount to creating a setting whereby the rich have a monopoly of health (and the practitioners who provide it). Choosing to be pro-poor when a fortune can be made is to do something counter-cultural. But then, to follow a master who says “Sell all you possess and give to the poor … come, follow me” is to be countercultural. The Catholic practitioner, therefore, is a countercultural phenomenon.
To locate his true role, the Catholic practitioner must formulate principles that would guide his attention in engaging with old and emerging issues. This is an invitation to “believing with the intellect” as much as believing with the mind. This is key to wholesomeness.
First, the practitioner must remember to uphold the dignity of man from conception to death. The Catholic practitioner is not “an arbiter over life or death”. Put differently, the practitioner is not the referee to blow a whistle to commence or end life. This excludes assisted reproductive technology, euthanasia or abortion from the itinerary of the Catholic practitioner. This presupposes that the practitioner must not act evilly that good may arise from it (here, medical advances that temper with the dignity of man with the promise of a resulting good are foremost in thought), must not play God, and must not seek to promote life at excessive expense, pain – especially without the reasonable hope of improvement.
Charity must be remembered by the practitioner. This virtue would demand that he be open with patients or their surrogates regarding the true nature of therapeutic interventions: the costs, benefits, side-effects, options etc. To choose one intervention arbitrarily for some financial or ideological reason would detract from good Christianity and even amount to classical deceit (that is, withholding information with a view for personal gain) and exploitation of the vulnerable.
The last principle to be remembered relates to the practice of religion itself. The Catholic practitioner must not prevent a patient from acting out his faith nor must he force him to observe another faith. This may mean the medical procedures suggested by the practitioner may be disapproved and rejected by the patient. The practitioner too must not be prevented – or indeed, prevent himself – from being Catholic and acting as such. For him, therefore, his Catholic and medical identity must be a double-barrelled identity that is whole and inseparable. That is, without tension.
To live up to his vocation, the Catholic practitioner must be authentically Catholic and demonstrably medical. No tension must exist between the two. He must retrieve his lost memory and consolidate what he now remembers. This is what the future of the world itself depends on; only in this way can the world be healed of its suppurating wound that it now desperately hides. The Catholic professional, simply, is a sine-qua-non – a without-which-not – for the preservation of the soul of the world; its very sanity.