MISHAWAKA — Our Lady of Fatima Chapel at Saint Joseph Regional Medical Center was the setting for a White Mass celebrated by Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades at 6 p.m. Oct. 18. The White Mass recognizes the gifts of persons who work in the health care professions and takes its name from the white coats typically worn by medical personnel.
As Bishop Rhoades explained in his homily, Oct. 18 was chosen as the date for celebrating the White Mass because it is the feast of St. Luke, the patron saint of physicians and surgeons. St. Luke was a physician himself, as well as a prolific evangelist whose Gospel presents the most extensive biography of Jesus, the bishop noted.
“I thank you for your selfless devotion to others and for all the sacrifices you make as doctors, nurses, and health-care workers,” Bishop Rhoades told the congregation. “Your profession is more than ordinary work. It is a holy mission, a manifestation of God’s commandment to love one another as you assist, treat, comfort and cure the sick.”
Bishop Rhoades particularly recognized the “witness to the sanctity of life” given by the medical professionals, whom he called “guardians of life.”
“This is especially important today when powerful movements of opinion, often supported by the media, are trying to influence the consciences of doctors and health-care professionals to induce you to lend your services in practices contrary to Christian and natural morality,” he noted.
Bishop Rhoades cited efforts in several states to legalize physician-assisted suicide, and he reminded the congregation that “physician-assisted suicide, like abortion, goes against the very mission of physicians,” whose calling is to be “guardians of life, not to kill, but to cure, or when that is not possible, to comfort and assist through palliative care those who are in pain.”
When health-care professionals treat a patient, the bishop said, they are not handling “inert material,” but rather a person like any other person, a “precious creature of God’s love and omnipotence” with an eternal destiny. He encouraged the medical professionals to continue to be “generous defenders of life” who affirm the life and dignity of all patients, from infants in the womb to elderly near the end of life.
“Do not allow yourselves to be stained with behavior that is harmful to the sacred good of human life,” Bishop Rhoades said.
Bishop Rhoades also offered an ominous warning: “To live your profession with integrity, consistent with the Church’s moral teaching, might expose you to misunderstanding and criticism from others, maybe even discrimination. At such times, it is good to recall Christ’s prophecy: ‘If they persecuted me, they will persecute you.’ Jesus reserved a special beatitude for those who are reviled and persecuted on His account. Perhaps you haven’t experienced much of that yet, but if the culture of death continues to grow in our country, we can expect it.”
Chris Karem, chief operating officer of Saint Joseph Regional Medical Center, told Today’s Catholic that the medical center was honored to have Bishop Rhoades there to celebrate the White Mass for many reasons.
“We recognize the vital role that being a faith-based hospital plays,” Karem said, and by having the bishop celebrate the White Mass there, “We wanted to show our recognition of the important role faith plays in our caregivers.”
The faith-based component is important to many of patients, but also to the hospital staff, he continued, explaining that when he is on the patient floors, he often hears staff — housekeepers as well as caregivers — praying with patients or their families or simply offering words of encouragement.
Karem said the religious identity of the hospitals fosters the ability, courage and commitment of the staff to offer this kind of care.
The White Mass celebration there helped the hospital demonstrate to the staff how much their faith-based care of the patient is valued and appreciated, Karem said. And judging from comments he heard from staff after the Mass, he said that people appreciated the encouragement Bishop Rhoades gave to the caregivers in all the sacrifices they make.
What particularly resonated with him, Karem said, was the bishop’s reminder that by adhering to Catholic Church teachings, medical personnel may be criticized or even persecuted, as Jesus was.
“The bishop told them to be steadfast and immovable in the practice of their profession consistent with their beliefs, so I think that’s important,” Karem said. “It makes me think of the Bible verse about being steadfast and immovable, always excelling in the works of the Lord because the works of the Lord will not be in vain.”
“We were honored to have the bishop here celebrating the Mass; I look forward to it being an annual event,” Karem said.
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