Compassion and the Christian physician

0221_FrCharlesRowe_boxEd. note – The following homily was given at the White Mass for members of the medical profession on February 15 at Our Lady of Good Counsel church in Kansas City.

Greetings to Bishop Finn, Archbishop Naumann, members of the Catholic Medical Association, all who attend this liturgy. Please know of my gratitude for your service. I think I speak for all of us in ordained ministry in acknowledging the precious contribution you make to the Church’s apostolate by bringing the light of faith to those who require medical care. In the difficult moments of sickness, the presence of a faithful gospel witness is simply invaluable.

The medical profession is a noble calling that involves people helping others who are suffering. The medical professional tries to heal the person who is ill. It is such an exalted occupation that the physician became a metaphor for Christ. The Lord himself indirectly said as much, citing the proverb, “Physician, heal thyself” in reference to his miracles of healing. Very early on in Christian history, Christ came to be called the “Divine Physician’ who healed all the ailments of body and soul. So it’s altogether logical that hospitals were born in the matrix of the Christian church. Devoted disciples sought to fulfill the commandment of loving their neighbors and caring for the sick as Christ had directed.

One aspect of medical care that merits emphasis is that of compassion. Compassion literally means “suffering with.” In the high tech atmosphere of modern medicine, I fear this dimension of medical care may have gotten obscured. Dedicated professionals enter into the suffering of their patients. They share the sorrow and discomfort that illness brings. They feel the pain of their patients. And they thus enter into a very human and very profound communion with the people they serve. In this way, physicians and nurses imitate Christ who achieves redemption by taking our sufferings upon himself. This redemptive passion of the Messiah was in fact prophesied in the suffering servant song of the first reading. Nowadays, Catholic professionals enter even more deeply into the suffering of Christ for their fidelity to Church teaching. Really, this is fidelity to the promotion of authentic human dignity, a dignity which is violated by unethical procedures that have now become standard practice.

The awareness that we suffer with Christ and for Christ should encourage us. Our passion is not in vain, but can be a force for redemption. This is an important point to hold onto. Too often affliction engenders bitterness; a kind of siege mentality can cut us off from the needs of others. The suffering we endure for the sake of Christ should in fact make us more compassionate, more empathetic with all who suffer, especially those who suffer injustice.

One final point: Christ is also present in those whom we care for – the indigent poor who have no other access to health care, the mother with a difficult pregnancy, the incurably ill, the dying and their families. Christ does appear in these distressing disguises and invites us to serve him in them. Every medical encounter can in fact become a religious encounter, a sacred locus where the disciple is privileged to meet the Lord in his vulnerable brothers and sisters.

May this Eucharist transform us. May it help us transform the sufferings we encounter into a sharing in the Savior’s passion, a means to make the peace and joy of the risen Christ more present in the world. May we too join in Mary’s joyful song of praise to God, glorifying him as he displays the wonders of his mercy and lifts up the lowly through our service to them.

Fr. Charles Rowe is Vicar General of the Diocese of Kansas City – St. Joseph.


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October 01, 2020
The Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph