Physicians, nurses, hospital personnel gather for the annual White Mass

Bishop Johnston approaches the sanctuary at Our Lady of Good Counsel Church Feb. 15 to celebrate the annual White Mass. (Marty Denzer/Key photo)

By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Associate Editor

KANSAS CITY — The annual White Mass for the Healing Professions was held Feb. 15 at Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in Kansas City.

Named for the white coats and uniforms traditionally worn by members of the medical community, the joint-diocesan Mass was celebrated by Bishop James Johnston, Jr., of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph with Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of the archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas serving as homilist. Father Charles Rowe, one of the two vicars general of the KC-SJ Diocese, Msgr. Stuart Swetland, president of Donnelly College in Kansas City, Kan., and KCK’s Father Anthony Williams, Director of  Integration and Spiritual Care at St. Joseph and St. Mary’s Medical Centers in Kansas City and Blue Springs, Mo., concelebrated,  with Deacon Ralph Wehner of KC-SJ assisting.

The Mass commemorates several feasts — the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes and World Day of the Sick — both celebrated on Feb. 11. This year, it honored the 162nd anniversary of the first apparition of Our Lady to Bernadette Soubirous in 1858, and the 28th anniversary of the establishment of World Day of the Sick by Pope St. John Paul II in 1992.

At the beginning of the Liturgy, Bishop Johnston expressed his gratitude to the members of the Catholic medical community. A little later, in his homily, Archbishop Naumann echoed Bishop Johnston in expressing gratitude to all those in the medical community who serve humanity for the glory of God.

“You frame the healing love of Christ to all those you are privileged to serve as doctors, nurses, therapists and administrators of medical institutions.”

He also spoke of the current “exciting time to be practicing medicine with all the medical advances in our lifetime.” As an example, he suggested that, in the foreseeable future, it was possible that the diagnosis of cancer would no longer be a fatal diagnosis as the advancements in treatment of cancer are advancing rapidly.

But he cautioned the doctors, nurses, therapists, administrators and medical students present that there was a flip side to the excitement—the advancements in healthcare also make this a very difficult time to practice medicine ethically.

Archbishop Naumann recalled an episode of the iconic science-fiction early 1960s TV series, The Twilight Zone. The entire episode took place in a hospital room, surrounding a bandaged woman in the bed, who was suffering some kind of deformity. The medical team had apparently tried several previous surgeries to correct it, unsuccessfully. But they were going to try one last time. Fast forward to some days later, as the team removed the bandages and revealed a beautiful woman. The medical team, however, shook their heads in dismay and apologized profusely for their continued failure. They then removed their surgical masks, revealing their own grotesque hideousness. So, in this Twilight Zone world, beauty is considered ugly and ugliness beautiful.

Nowadays, “due to developments in our culture and history,” the archbishop continued, “we live in a cultural, moral twilight zone. … Protecting, defending the sanctity of life is considered evil in some parts of our culture, while what is evil — taking the life of an innocent child — is shouted out and proclaimed heroic, even noble. Abortion, described by early feminists like Susan B. Anthony and Alice Paul as the ultimate exploitation of women, is now hailed as the cornerstone of women’s rights.

“Margaret Sanger, racist, eugenicist, seeking to rid the world of too many undesirable, poor children, is heralded as a noble humanitarian.”

Sadly, he said, “abortion is just the tip of the iceberg! Pregnancy and fertility are treated like diseases.”

He also mentioned Jerome LeJeune, the French pediatrician and scientist who is credited with discovering the chromosomal aberration that causes Down Syndrome, and the ridicule and hatred he endured during his lifetime.

The new gender ideology that has given rise to hormonal preparation of young children and adolescents for bodily mutilation, or transgender surgery, is another part of that iceberg the archbishop mentioned, as is physician assisted suicide.

Pope St. John Paul’s encyclical The Gospel of Love, was written 25 years ago this March. Some of the points of the encyclical include: the confusion of good and evil is precisely in relation to the fundamental right to life. The darkest moral climate, the moral confusion, is connected to a distorted notion of freedom that is untethered from truth: “the ability to do whatever I want whatever I want as long as nobody else gets hurt too badly…this allows for disposal of life when it’s weakest and inconvenient.”

Archbishop Naumann went on to talk about healthcare from a Catholic purview. “Hospitals are one of the fruits of Catholic culture … extending the Christian healing of Jesus” to the sick, the wounded, the helpless. He harkened back to the first reading from Isaiah, known to some as the “Suffering Servant” reading. The archbishop reminded the assembly that Jesus didn’t promise that His disciples wouldn’t suffer. In fact, we all will have some experience of the Cross of Christ. But He will be with us in the midst of our affliction and unites Himself to our suffering.

Authentic Catholic medical vision is to always put the patient first, he said. It’s a personalized approach. It is health care not based on making money or the esteem of others, but to serve Christ.

Archbishop Naumann quoted Pope Francis, who in his message for the World Day of the Sick, said, “‘Jesus looks at a wounded humanity with eyes that gaze into the heart of each person … inviting each person to share in His life and experience His tender love.’”

Catholic healthcare begins with a willingness to enter into another’s suffering, the prelate said.

“Catholic healthcare is not just a curing; it is also a caring.”

Today’s patients, Archbishop Naumann added, “in addition to therapy and support, expect care and attention — in a word, love.”

He concluded with words from Pope Francis, “May your work always strive to promote the dignity of life in each person … Let us remember that life is sacred and belongs to God. Hence it is inviolable.”

The Mass continued with the Annual Promises of Catholic Physicians—to imitate Christ, the Divine Physician, to make their work Christ’s and His work theirs, to dedicate themselves to the needs of their patients, to keep financial and political interests secondary to their patients’ needs, to embrace the spirit of poverty, giving time, professional skills and material goods to their patients, to live chastely according to their state in life, especially regarding their patients, all part of their apostolate—and the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

A reception in the church hall after Mass brought together members of the local region’s St. Cosmas and Damien Guild of the Catholic Medical Association, their families and medical personnel from both sides of the state line and the priests and bishops, for conversation and to meet people they hadn’t met before, over food and fellowship.


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October 23, 2020
The Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph