Irish Guild of Catholic Nurses & Irish Catholic Doctors Association, Pilgrimage to Knock – Homily of Bishop Kevin
Irish Guild of Catholic Nurses & Irish Catholic Doctors Association
Pilgrimage to Knock – 7th May 2016
Homily of Bishop Kevin Doran
One of the elements of event management which has to be carefully considered is the making of provision for medical emergencies. Today that should not be a problem. I warmly welcome the pilgrims who have travelled to Knock as members of the Irish Guild of Catholic Nurses and the Irish Catholic Doctors Association. Together with you, I welcome the sick whose presence is so central to the Knock pilgrimage and indeed to the whole mission of the Church.
Encouragement is a word that we hear quite often in the Acts of the Apostles. People like Paul and Barnabas who were missionaries in Asia minor, went about encouraging the believers. We find that same theme in our reading this afternoon. Your pilgrimage to Knock today is about encouragement in a number of ways:
• this gathering of doctors and nurses, together with the sick and the elderly reminds us of the very important place of healing in the ministry of Jesus
• it gives us an opportunity to pray together and to ask the Holy Spirit to renew in each of us and in all of us together our sense of vocation and mission
• through our gathering, we recognise that we are not just individuals trying to do a job, or indeed people waiting to be healed; we are members of a community of faith and a community of healing.
Doctors and nurses are engaged in relationships of care which are rooted in trust. There is a lot of talk these days about “centres of excellence”. Your patients need to know that excellence is not just a word that is used on glossy brochures, but that it is the goal towards which we strive in all that we do. They need to know that they will receive the very best that you can give. With all the intricacies and specialist areas of modern health care and the complex structures of a large hospital, this in itself is quite challenging. I imagine that – for nurses and doctors of all faiths and of none – it must often seem that human gifts and energy on their own are not enough.
Catholic healthcare professionals are not just nurses and doctors who happen to be Catholic. What defines you as Catholic healthcare professionals is that you see all those who are involved in the healthcare relationship – colleagues, patients and the relatives of patients – as people who have also been invited by the Creator to share a relationship with Him, a relationship which is the source of meaning and hope for everyone. Being in right relationship with the Lord is integrally related to our acceptance of one another as brothers and sisters who have received the same open invitation.
The Hippocratic Oath pre-dates Christianity. The ethics of healthcare, with its focus on respect for human life, was always about seeking what was good and true and applying it to the science of healthcare. In more recent centuries, unfortunately, science has tended to focus more on what is possible or potentially “useful”. Questions about what is good, if they are asked at all, often seem to come when the essential decisions have already been made. When we talk about a Catholic approach to healthcare, what we mean is that, for those who care for the sick, the words of Jesus: “whatever you do (or fail to do) for the least of these my brothers and sisters, you do (or fail to do) for me”, have a particular resonance. But there are not two kinds of goodness, a Catholic goodness and an ordinary goodness. Good healthcare is good for people, full stop. The difference is that faith sharpens our perception of what our common humanity calls us to do and to be.
Factors such as efficiency and cost-effectiveness are essential elements in the planning and provision of a working healthcare system in a world of limited resources. We need to have confidence, however, that those who are involved in caring for us when we are sick, are more focussed on what is good for people. It is encouraging these days to see groups of doctors and nurses like yourselves, who have that focus. As Catholics, our approach to healthcare must always be consistent with reason, but it is also inspired by faith. There is no conflict between the two.
An ethos which is informed by faith should not be about controlling or defining other people. Unfortunately our Catholic ethos is sometimes seen in that way. Whether you work in general practice or in a large public hospital, your Catholic ethos is simply about adhering to and proposing a vision of the dignity and worth of the human person which is inspired by the Gospel. What we do flows from who we are as disciples of Jesus Christ and reflects his desire to heal all who came to him.
So far, I have not said very much about our Scripture readings. They are not particularly about healthcare, but they do speak to us about the Holy Spirit, who is the power and the wisdom given to us for our mission, just as Jesus promised. It is worth looking at one of the characters in the first reading, Apollos. He was clearly an intelligent man who was open to faith but who was not yet a Christian. He placed his significant gifts at the service of the Church in Ephesus and he was, in his turn, helped by Pricilla and Aquila to grow into a greater understanding of the Way of Jesus Christ.
Among our colleagues these days, there is great diversity. Many who are Catholic do not allow their faith to influence their professional lives. Some of them may be actually hostile to faith, but others have simply not made the connection between faith and life. On the other hand, many of your colleagues these days are not Catholic or Christian, but they are sincere believers, whose ethos of respect for life is very similar to ours.
All of this suggests to me that, in exercising our mission as Christian healers, we should be on the lookout for people like Apollos with whom we share common ground and we should be open to seeing ourselves in the role of Priscilla and Aquila, as people who are not just committed to living our own faith in action, but ready to share our vision with others.
I have no doubt that the coming years will bring many challenges for Catholics who are serious about their faith and about their professional responsibilities in healthcare.
• The proposal to repeal the eighth amendment is not about ironing out a few minor legal difficulties, it is about opening the door to a liberalisation of abortion which is not consistent with the truth about the human person. The idea of referring it to a citizen’s convention is simply an attempt to distance the government from whatever is recommended. Some of your colleagues are speaking about unborn children with life-limiting conditions, as if their lives were useless; as if they were already dead. I think it will be especially important for Catholic doctors and nurses, who know the truth, to help people to recognise that babies with life limiting conditions are patients in need of care.
• We are also facing serious challenges around the provision of chaplaincy services. The focus on so-called generic chaplaincy undermines the right of every person, of whatever religious persuasion, to be offered spiritual support in a manner which is consistent with his or her faith. Equality, surely, is not about the lowest common denominator.
• Technology is at the heart of advances in healthcare, as it is in every sector of society. We need to invest in technology, but we also need to invest in people. I know that many doctors and nurses feel undervalued and, as carers, have little sense of being cared for. I think this is a particular challenge for healthcare professionals who see themselves as following in the footsteps of Christ. We cannot wait for systems and structures to provide care. We need to look after one another.
I hope that your pilgrimage to Knock today will have given you some encouragement, as you face out into the serious business that awaits you. Look around you; you are not alone. You have one another and the Holy Spirit will go with you.