Before I Formed Thee in The Bowels Of Thy Mother, I Knew Thee.

Semper idem logoThis is the second editorial by the Committee of the New Evangelisation in the CMQ. The Committee of the New Evangelisation is a group within the Catholic Medical Association of England and Wales that is concerned with young people in healthcare, from students in healthcare sciences to young professionals in healthcare.

“Before I formed thee in the bowels of thy mother, I knew thee; and before thy camest forth out of the womb, I sanctified thee, and made thee a prophet unto the nations.”

Vocation is a hard enough subject to ponder on in the Catholic sense of the word, so pondering on the vocation of the healthcare worker is indeed a challenging task. At a glance, it seems quite simple – vocation is a call from God unique to each of us. For our part, we believe that God called us to be in the medical profession as a means to be happy, to sanctify us in this life and to get us to heaven in the next.

However, how are we to live the part? We ARE, after all, “a royal priesthood, a people set apart.”

There is no denying that there are many really good and conscientious Muslims, Hindus and even atheists in the healthcare field alongside us, some even sharing similar views and ethics as us. How are we Catholics in healthcare different from any one of these well meaning people?

We are blessed to have here an article written by Rt Rev. Philip Egan, Bishop of Portsmouth on the vocation of the healthcare worker. A nurse has also written on her search for her vocation on the Camino de Santiago. Following two very successful conferences for young people in healthcare, our next conference will explore the culture of life as part of our mission in September. Keep a look out for further details!


Rt. Rev. Philip A. Egan BA, STL, PhD Bishop of Portsmouth

semper idemA few years after I was ordained a priest, the Bishop appointed me to be the full-time Catholic chaplain to a large hospital on Merseyside. The hospital had over a thousand beds, with a major Accident and Emergency department, plus hundreds of staff. As with anyone in a new assignment, it took me some time to get used to the role, and not least to being constantly busy on call 24/7. In time, I began to appreciate the crucial function a chaplain can play for both patients and staff, a supportive role of prayer, Word and sacraments. I also came to appreciate the genuine dedication and generosity of the medical staff caring for the sick. Indeed, it seemed to me that most health-care workers, people of faith or not, saw their work as a ‘vocation,’ a calling in life to which they found themselves especially suited and personally fulfilling.

Bishop Philip EganFor Catholics, however, health-care has a sacred resonance. It is not simply that we care for others in their hour of need; it is a sacred ‘philanthropy,’ a work of mercy, and one that is modelled on Christ. As we read in the Gospels, Jesus Himself spent much of His public life among the sick, loving them, healing them, exorcising them, and restoring them to life. One of my favourite episodes is the leper in Mark 1: 40-45, who comes up to Jesus and begs Him to cure him. “Of course I want to: be cured!” Jesus retorts. Another is the woman with the haemorrhage in Mark 5: 25-34, who creeps up to Jesus in the crowd, thinking “If I can touch even his clothes, I shall be well again.” When she does, we are told, Jesus was immediately aware “power had gone out from him” and the “source of the bleeding dried up instantly.”

Sickness is a result of the Fall, the original sin of Adam and Eve. But by His death and resurrection, Jesus has overthrown sin, suffering and death. This is why after the Ascension, Jesus told the Apostles and the early Church to continue His ministry to the sick: that “they would lay their hands on the sick, who will recover” (Mark 16: 18). Jesus wants to give His grace, that is, the power and energy of the Holy Spirit, to those who are sick that they might share in His resurrection. In this way, those who are suffering can bear more readily their Cross, offering their sufferings for the salvation of others, and, if it is in accord with God’s will, be healed. Not only did Jesus institute one of the seven sacraments precisely for the healing of the sick (cf. James 5: 14-16), He asked us all to pray for the sick, to assist them with our prayers and to care for them. Down through history, many have turned to the merciful Heart of Christ in their moment of need, assisted by the prayers of the Blessed Mother and their patron saints. All of us can tell a story of praying for a sick person, and all of us can tell a story of how, against the odds, our prayers were graciously answered.

In the late 1980s, the then Cardinal Ratzinger came to Cambridge to give a lecture. During the Q & A after-wards, someone in the audience asked a fascinating question: “When we pray for the sick, does God, if He wishes to make them better, heal them directly, or does he usually work through the medical staff?” The future pope paused to think about this for a moment. “This is too complex a question to answer here. But I would say that God works in the world by causing love. Yes, God works in the world by causing love.” I have always found that a deep and all-embracing answer. For love is stronger than death; indeed, “love no flood can quench, no torrents drown” (Songs 8: 6-7). That is the role of Christianity in the world: to ‘cause’ love, to spread it, to fill people with it, so that, through the death and resurrection of Christ, they can rise above sin, suffering and death. If we Catholics took seriously this mission of ‘causing love’, it would surely bring about a world-revolution.

Yet, if many health-care workers already see their work as a vocation, what is the specific vocation of a Christian health-care worker?

I would say there are two points here. First, the vocation of a Catholic health-care worker is the same as that of St. Luke, patron of doctors and surgeons. Indeed, it is the same fundamental vocation that any Christian has: namely, the personal call of Jesus Christ to be His disciple. Jesus says to each one of us personally “Come follow me” (Luke 5:27). To be a disciple, from the Latin disciplina discipline, means to be a learner, a student, an apprentice to a master. As Christ’s disciples, all of us are ‘works in progress,’ persons led by the Spirit, under the Word of God. This is why it is important to spend time with the Lord each day in prayer and study, that we might experience the personal love of Jesus for each one of us, refreshed by His sacraments, and also that we might gain an ever deeper knowledge of what our faith in Christ means. We need to know not only what the Church teaches, but why. A great help to this is the new, updated Charter for Health-Care Workers that the Holy See published on 11th February 2017, the Memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes, the annual World Day of Prayer for the Sick. The Charter gives guidance on many of the ethical dilemmas that arise with the new medical techniques and procedures.

Secondly, in today’s secular culture the Church is calling us to the work of new evangelisation, that is, to an evangelisation “new in its ardour, new in its methods and new in its expression” as St. John Paul II once put it. In other words, in calling us to be His disciples Jesus wants us to be missionary disciples, people who radiate the Gospel through their character, their work, all that they think, say and do. The problem with the word evangelisation is that it can sound like ‘bible-bashing’ or ‘tub-thumping’. There are occasions when we must take a stand, such as on abortion, euthanasia, an injustice, etc. But in its broadest sense, evangelisation is a constant two-way activity, like breathing-in and breathing-out. Evangelisation is as much about myself growing deeper in my faith as it is about reaching out to others and witnessing to them. There is a myth going round that St. Francis of Assisi once said “Preach the Gospel at all times, but if necessary use words.” I say a myth, because this saying is not found in any of his actual writings and reported words. In fact, St. Paul says the opposite: “Faith comes from what is heard” (Rom 10: 17). I suppose it is true, witness of life must come first, but in some way this must lead to the proclamation of the Word of life. Each one of us will need to find the best way to do this.

Hospital CorridorA hospital is an ‘areopagus,’ a cross-roads where different people from many different professions come together to work for a common good, the health of the sick. This includes peoples of different religions and none. How the Church participates in this enterprise needs to be carefully thought through. In Britain, Catholics constitute about 7% of the general population. But in a hospital, given the large number of interna- tional staff in the NHS, the percentage might in reality be higher. This is why it would be good for Catholic health-care workers to ‘network’ with each other for support, friendship, prayer and formation. Does your hospital have a Chaplaincy? Does your hospital have a Cath-Soc? Becoming involved in these ways is a practical contribution to the mission of the Church in its service of the common good..

At some point, all health-care workers will also be health-care recipients. It would be good, if you are a Catholic health-care worker, to pray often during your daily work for those for whom you are caring: a quick mental prayer “Lord, help this person.” St. Leo once said, “He came down from heaven that we might go up to heaven.” As we pray for the sick, let us pray also for those who care for them. The vocation of a Catholic health-care worker is to persevere in the practice of the faith so that one day they can come to faith’s reward, when they hear the Lord say to them: “Well done good and faithful servant; come and join in your Master’s joy” (Mt 25: 23).