Orlando | Catholic medical professionals from around the country shared the joy of their faith and profession by celebrating the White Mass with Bishop John Noonan at Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Queen of the Universe, Oct. 9, 2021.
The White Mass takes place each year, recognizing the ministry of those who protect life and care for the ill and dying. Culminating the Catholic Medical Association Conference, Oct. 7-9, they celebrated the Joy of Medicine, the conference’s theme, by coming together as one around the Eucharist.
“The Eucharist gives us what we need to know: All things are possible for God because we are His people and we’ve come to serve Him,” Bishop Noonan said in his homily. “We serve each person as part of the body of Christ.”
He said Catholic medical professionals live the Beatitudes. “You provide service to the poor for you are the merciful to those you encounter every day. You minister to and pray for women in crisis pregnancies because you bring God’s compassion to them. You hold the hand of the dying because they are sacred. You embrace the parents of a sick child with patience and encouragement. Your patience shines forth as the gift of joy each time you offer your medical knowledge as an instrument of God.”
Due to COVID-19, they were unable to meet last year, which made the gathering even more special. Dr. John Littell, a family practitioner, was thankful for the conference and the Mass.
“The healing encounter requires the physical touch, the physical presence of one person with another,” he said. “And that’s true among healers. We need to have our own healing. When we’re together as a body of Christ in one setting, the Holy Spirit can do His thing in a way you can never hope to achieve on a Zoom call or webinar.”
Dr. Littell, who has been practicing for 31 years, said when he discovered the Catholic Medical Association, it helped transform his “approach” to medicine, and his life as “a married man and as a father.”
“It made me realize how essential my faith is to be the person that I am in every aspect of my life – because you cannot separate who you are as a Catholic person from the work that you do because your work needs to be Catholic to the core,” he said. “The medical profession above all needs to be Catholic because it is a healing ministry.”
Although he recently finds himself feeling as though “these are the Dark Ages of medicine,” he knows a physician can remain joyful “when going back to their roots, their religious traditions.” He said physicans must ask God how to heal the patient in front of them and then treat them according to their conscience as a Catholic. He finds gratitude each day for being able to do this as an independent doctor with his own practice.
Jeff Simpson and Kailee Hernandez, medical students at the University of Central Florida, enjoyed meeting classmates in person and sharing discussions with like-minded professionals. Their Orlando chapter was able to do little during the first year of the pandemic, which was already in full swing when they began. Simpson said he sought out the Orlando Catholic Medical Association to “find people who shared my faith and my passion for medicine.”
“In the aspect of actual content delivery, (school) was easier because the lectures were made to be online earlier and they were more available to us,” Simpson said, adding they missed out on social activities, learning physical exam skills, and getting to the simulation center to practice more hands-on techniques.
For Hernandez, who had been away from the Church for a while, the Catholic Medical Association offered something else. She found Catholicism again after starting medical school.
“I came to medical school and there are just a lot of ethical problems and so many things you have to decipher, so much responsibility you have as a physician — and I don’t really know what’s the right thing or how you decide what’s the right thing,” she said. “I knew this was going to be a really good foundation to base my practice on as a physician.”
Entering the medical field during an unusually tumultuous time — a pandemic, increased abortions, and issues surrounding transgender surgery and euthanasia to name a few, one might think that joy in their profession is hard to find.
“Things are constantly changing. That was okay yesterday, but it’s wrong tomorrow,” Hernandez said. “When you ground yourself in faith, you can say, this is always a truth and what I am always going to believe – even though things are changing around me – I stand my ground on what I believe.”
Simpson added differences of opinion and approach are, “a great opportunity to exercise Catholic charity and love.”
“I think your faith helps center you and gives you objective truth which can be so hard to find these days. It’s nice to feel confident in that,” he said.