Confessions of Cultural Heretics

"When the whole world is running headlong towards the precipice, one who walks in the opposite direction is looked on as being crazy." T.S. Elliot

Mommy’s Medicine Bag

Being married to a doctor sure does have its perks. If one of the boys spikes a fever of 105, breaks a finger in a door, splits open their eyebrow, or gets swarmed by fire ants (all hypothetical examples of course), free medical advice is always just one call away. But there are times when Daddy’s medicine won’t work, that’s when you need “Mommy’s medicine”.   So without further ado, here’s a list of the things in my medicine bag for treating the common ailments of childhood:

1. chewable papaya enzyme

Think of it as a more appealing alternative to cod liver oil. For stomach upsets of any kind (especially the highly suspicious bed time stomach pain), I give the boys a few papaya to chew on. I have to admit, this was something my parents always kept on hand when we were kids and it tasted so good, we would sometimes sneak pocket fulls of papaya to snack on. Then we would get a stomach ache, then our parents would give us some papaya. 🙂

2. MelaGel

This is a topical salve that contains tea tree oil and has soothing properties for everything from bug bites, sore hangnails, scrapes and scratches. I keep a disk in my purse because I am the mother of sons and we live in the south, so their limbs are always covered with bites and scrapes.

3. Arnica cream-

This ointment is the only homeopathic that REALLY works for our family.( I’m not saying that from lack of trying either.)  It is great for soothing  sore or pulled muscles, promoting bruise healing and I have even found it to be very helpful for easing pregnancy back pain.

4. Pinxav-

My firstborn is a blondie and super fair skinned and we had quite the time of it fighting diaper rashes, especially when he was teething. We tried all the usual ointments, then were introduced to this old fashioned, thick, magical stuff. We were able to find it at our Kroger pharmacy at the time and the original tub we bought over four years ago, we still have and it still is working its wonders on our second born.



A Few Thoughts on Circumcision

So I was asked (and have been asked many times) what my thoughts are concerning circumcision.  For just a little background, during my month on the pediatric service I performed about 50 circumcisions over approximately 24 working days using both of the Mogen clamp and the gomco.

To start, I must say I think it can be very easy to get caught up in the emotions surrounding this topic.  As a father who has two boys, one who is circumcised and who is not, and also as a physician who has performed many circumcisions, I find myself feeling rather neutral on the whole issue. For one, I think the idea that it is a ‘brutal and abusive’ action is a bit overstated. The procedure is actually very quick and clean, with pain medication given to the infant. That doesn’t mean the child doesn’t throw a fit during the procedure, but I have also had many infants act the same way when I was changing their diaper.  Infants are fairly easily consoled and are seem to be able to tolerate a fair amount of pain and discomfort for short periods of time.  I simply state this, not as justification, but as an observation that reflects that this procedure is not nearly as brutal as many try to make it out to be.  So moving beyond the procedure itself,  I think it is important to consider the motivations for circumcision.

Many parents do it simply to ensure that the son “looks like his father” or “looks like his brothers”. These motivations exist, for better or  for worse, and may not be the best intentions. There are other reasons to be circumcised.  Recently the American Academy of Pediatricians issued a policy statement

The policy statement and accompanying technical report from the AAP will be published in the September 2012 issue of Pediatrics (published online Monday, Aug. 27). The documents update the previous policy that the AAP published in 1999 and reaffirmed in 2005.

Since the last policy was published, scientific research shows clearer health benefits to the procedure than had previously been demonstrated. According to a systematic and critical review of the scientific literature, the health benefits of circumcision include lower risks of acquiring HIV, genital herpes, human papilloma virus and syphilis. Circumcision also lowers the risk of penile cancer over a lifetime; reduces the risk of cervical cancer in sexual partners, and lowers the risk of urinary tract infections in the first year of life.

The AAP believes the health benefits are great enough that infant male circumcision should be covered by insurance, which would increase access to the procedure for families who choose it.

“Ultimately, this is a decision that parents will have to make,” said Susan Blank, MD, FAAP, chair of the task force that authored the AAP policy statement and technical report. “Parents are entitled to medically accurate and non-biased information about circumcision, and they should weigh this medical information in the context of their own religious, ethical and cultural beliefs.”

Pediatricians are one of the major providers of circumcisions (along certain groups of family physicians and some obstetricians).  This is not about generating more revenue or business, because in most cases I think it would be safe to say that pediatricians would prefer to avoid the trouble of circumcision.  This new statement, in my humble opinion, is a reflection of evidence based medicine.  But note that the AAP still states that the final decision is to be left in the parent’s hands (now if only they would approach vaccines the same way….).

With that said, I think we need to keep a few historical, and biblical, facts in mind. For one, Jesus was circumcised.  In fact, many of us still celebrate the Feast of the Circumcision on the eighth day after Christmas.  Also, circumcision is never condemned in scripture, rather Paul writes “In Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision: but faith that worketh by charity” (Galatians 5:6) So basically, it doesn’t matter if you are or are not, as long as your faith and salvation are in Christ.

I do not think it is a procedure that should be banned, nor should parents be condemned for having it done. Nor should the uncircumcised (or their parents) be shunned or ostracized either.  This really comes down to parental choice, a choice that should be made with full knowledge of the risk and benefits of the procedure, and a reasonable motivation for having it done.

Let me know if you have more specific questions regarding this topic.

Once again, thank you for your attention!

In Christ,

Dr. Burke

Attack of the Influenza!!

We are in middle of a pretty bad influenza season.  No doubt about that.  From the CDC, 29 States are reporting high influenza like illness (ILI) activity and 41 states are reporting widespread geographic activity of ILI.  There is an increase in the rate of hospitalization and even deaths, with 18 pediatric deaths having already occurred this season (compared to 34 in all of the 2011-2012 season).  Working in healthcare, evaluating patients as the present in the emergency room or the clinic, it is safe to say that the Flu is no laughing matter.   Now there are a lot of articles out in the InterWeb about all of this, and I am seeing a recurrent theme stated at the end all the articles:  Vaccination is the best way to protect yourself from Influenza.

Now, I take a little issue with this, and here is why:

This graph shows the level of ILI outpatient visits so far in 2012-2013 as compared to previous flu seasons:

national levels of ILI and ARI

Pretty bad, right?  It looks like we are on track for either a early moderate season, or a pretty terrible flu season.  So no wonder there are so many more cases as compared to last year.  So based upon the articles out on the InterWeb, you must think that if so many people are getting sick this early, people must not have gotten vaccinated like they did last year!  Well, let’s take a look:

Figure 1. Flu vaccination coverage estimates from November 2012  compared to estimates from November 2011 and March 2012, National Immunization Survey, National Internet Flu Survey, and National Flu Survey

For all persons there were actually 0.2% more adults vaccinated! And the Children? 3.2% higher rate of vaccination as of November!    And keep in mind, the peak in the season so far came in December, after these numbers were compiled, and theoretically late enough for the vaccine to take effect, if it were going to take effect, that is…. I’m no statistician, but my thought is that if vaccine rates are the same as last year, yet we are having a worse flu season, then a couple of possibilities exist:

1) The Flu vaccine is the wrong one for this season

2) The Vaccine is the right one for the season but just flat out doesn’t work


3) A whole lot more people would have gotten sick if they didn’t get vaccinated

Personally, I lean towards 1 or 2.    The point of this little exercise is simply to make it known that we shouldn’t be relying solely on the vaccine to get us through this flu season.  In fact, I’m not sure I would necessarily recommend it as first line protection. (Note: I only got the vaccine (the first in my life) because I was ordered to by my Command)

So what can be done, you ask?

1) WASH YOUR DIRTY HANDS!  Wash them all the time, use the purell, just keep them clean.

2) Get plenty of sleep and rest

3) Eat healthy! yes, actually eat what is good for you and for your immune system

4) Consider using things like Vitamin C and Echinacea and Zinc.  The data is sparse on the first two, but they sure wont be detrimental in most people

5)Keep exercising and keep your body in shape

6) And lastly, but far from least important, if you are sick or feeling ill at all, PLEASE STAY HOME AND STOP SPREADING THIS DISEASE

That is all, thank you for your attention.


UPDATE: Just found this image on laboratory confirmed Influenza hospitalizations. This continues to support above statements




Snowballing at last

As we have mentioned in a previous post, Brian and I went through Dave Ramsey’s course called Financial Peace University when we were engaged. This class had a huge impact on our relationship and helped us to get on the same page about money and set up a long term game plan. Our first goal was to each get an emergency fund in place and then to start attacking our student loan debt. After we married, we combined our incomes and formed a new, written budget every month, which we have done every month since. Although our income was by no means huge, we were able to pay off a few of the smallest loans in just a few months. 

Then came our first pregnancy and Brian’s acceptance to medical school (both of which we were hoping for). This changed our position tremendously. We both felt strongly about me staying at home with our baby, yet also felt convicted to find a way to pay for medical school without putting our family into $150,000+ further into debt. I was able to find a temp job after our move which covered much of our living expenses until the baby was born, but didn’t touch the cost of Brian’s first semester of med school. Every avenue we had pursued came to nothing and we knew we needed to make some tough decisions if we were going to remain committed to avoiding taking on any additional debt while Brian pursued his degree.

So after much prayer and soul searching, Brian joined the Navy (something he had pondered since college, but I wasn’t too keen on at that time). We banked the sign- on bonus for a large emergency fund, and lived off our monthly stipend. Although our monthly stipend wasn’t much, I was able to supplement our income a bit from tutoring and became a true home economist to keep our expenses down. By the grace of God, we were able to ride out the remaining three and a half years without adding to our debt, despite cash flowing two pregnancies and deliveries, a major dental procedure and the purchase of a van.

Fast forward to the present and we are thrilled to be able to press play once again and begin attacking our debt with a vengeance. We just paid off  my last student loan ($9190.82), using the money we had been saving for emergencies during medical school. Only $39423 to go! Target date to being debt free: June 2014. We’ll keep you posted.


Back to the Blog

No, we have not fallen off the face of the earth, but we have had A LOT going on in the past few months to justify our neglect of the blog since our last post in (gasp!) March.

So here’s a quick catch up on our lives:

Brian finished his medical school training, completed Officer Development School with the Navy, received the Lucas County Family Medicine Award, graduated from University of Toledo Medical School, was promoted to Lieutenant, moved all of us from Ohio to North Carolina in two days and began his residency with the Naval Hospital. So you can call him Dr. Burke or Lt. Burke and help him remember he’s not a med student anymore!

What has been keeping me busy these past few months has been purely domestic. The house is mostly settled, Killian is almost 20lbs, teething and army crawling, and Joseph is completely potty trained (I think I deserve a diploma for that).

We are enjoying our new house with a lot more open space both inside and out for the kids to explore. In general this move has been a smooth adjustment, except for the BUGS. We have daily lessons in Living in the South, which have included instruction in identifying and avoiding  fire ant hills, snakes, spiders and other insects of unusual size. But on the plus side, we live 15 minutes from a beautiful beach, get a cooling breeze most evenings off of the ocean and have a persimmon tree in our back yard.

So here we find ourselves, a family of Catholic Northerners, in the heart of the Bible Belt, where the fields are full of tobacco and sweet potatoes, and everyone calls me ma’am. This should be an experience for sure.


Brian’s graduation

Brian's graduation

Toledo Stand Up For Religious Freedom Rally- Updated with Video of Speech

On Friday I had the great honor of being one of the speakers for the Toledo Stand Up For Religious Freedom Rally.  I was able to join on stage an  Rev. Mark Hodges, pastor of St. Stephen Orthodox Church in Lima, Sister Cecilia Mary Sartorius, mother superior of the Little Sisters of the Poor in Oregon, Monica Martinez of the Diocese of Toledo, and Bishop Leonard Blair in speaking out against this atrocious mandate.  Here is the speech that I gave:

Good Afternoon! I am honored to be speaking before you all.  I am so glad to see so many individuals standing up for religious freedom!  I am a medical student at the University of Toledo College of Medicine and will be starting my training as a family physician in June.  My wife and I have also been teaching NFP in Toledo for the past three years.  As a soon to be doctor, the fight against this mandate is extremely important to me.

I wanted to first speak to you in my capacity as a medical professional.  From my perspective and that of many physicians around the country, this mandate does not make medical sense.  Now, I am not talking about the morality of contraception or even the health concerns of side effects of hormonal contraception and sterilization, but rather the fact that the government is mandating that we cover a medication and procedure that destroys a healthy physiologic state and that we are supposed to call this preventative care.   A recent post of the blog Catholic Vote made an excellent point in regards to the Affordable Care Act and subsequent clarifications (under which this Mandate falls): She writes:  You know that old sesame street song: “One of these things is not like the others, one of these things just doesn’t belong.” Among the conditions targeted [In this act] are alcoholism, depression, HIV, syphilis, diabetes, breast cancer, and fertility.  Which of these things just doesn’t belong?

This attitude that our government has taken towards fertility simply baffles me.  This just  isn’t good medicine.  But then again, this Mandate is not about medicine.  Rather this Mandate is about the erosion of religious liberty and conscience rights in the United States.   Once the government is able to force us to pay for contraception, sterilization, or abortifacients, then how long before hospitals and physicians will be forced to perform sterilizations or physicians be forced to write the prescriptions?  How long before you all are unable to receive healthcare that respects your beliefs?

The success of this mandate will be measured by how quickly and effectively Catholics and Christians are driven out of healthcare and education completely.  It is about how the government can keep Catholic and Christian businessmen and women from being successful, and it is about restricting which professions and jobs we can pursue. For if we are to be adhere to the teachings of our Faith and follow our conscience, how can we keep our Hospitals, Universities, and businesses open?  And when these close and we are out of work, they win.

We cannot let this happen.  We are the frontline in the defense of religious liberty and conscience protection.  This is not just about protecting institutions, but about protecting the religious liberty of the individual, for that is whom the First Amendment is written.  It is our individual witness, each and every day, that is going to turn this tide.  We must tell our family, friends, and colleagues what is going on and the Truth about this Mandate.  There are many misconceptions about this Mandate and distortions in regards to why we are opposing it.  I have had to face down colleagues and my superiors in defense of our religious liberty in the very hospitals in Toledo.  And there many fellow Catholics and other Christians who have no idea that this fight is even occurring.   And so We must stand up and be willing to be Martyrs in defense of our Faith and religious liberty, to show this country that we will not back down, and I pray that through this all, we will prevail and regain the freedom that is rightfully ours.

We had an excellent turnout with estimates around 1000 people!  There were many priests, religious, families, and business men and women present in the crowd.  I was amazed at the turn out and so happy to see so many concerned with this issue.  We even had media coverage which was for the most part non-biased.  I was interviewed by the local Fox Affiliate, which you can watch here:

We had coverage by the local paper, the ABC affiliate, and the CBS affiliate, as well as the local Catholic paper The Catholic Chronical.

And here is a video of the Bishop’s address to the crowd.

I will try to keep posting pictures and videos as they come available.



The Physician’s Calling


The Physician’s Calling: To Embrace His Role in the Physical and Spiritual Wellbeing of His Patient


By Brian J Burke

The practice of medicine has been transformed over the past century by the ever increasing technological advances.  This progress has lead to the saving of countless lives, eradication of diseases, extension of life spans, and the alleviation of suffering.  And yet, this increase in knowledge and technology is a double edged sword, for the physical aspects of disease and suffering have become the sole focus of both the physician and patient, while the metaphysical and spiritual aspects have been lost or rejected.[1] The consequence of this has been a spiritual crisis in medicine where neither the physician, nor the patients are able to adequately endure the suffering that cannot be eradicated.  This spiritual crisis continues to have negative impacts on the physician-patient relationship, undermining trust and the ability for complete physical, mental, and spiritual healing to occur.  This crisis can be overcome by approaching medicine through a Catholic paradigm in which the physician must embrace his full vocation as one who brings healing not only to the body, but also helps the patient to recognize the redemptive value of his suffering and to return to the Sacraments of Healing[2] in order to obtain the complete physical and spiritual healing that God gives.  The goal of this paper is to establish the fullness of the physician’s vocation by showing how the physician partakes in Christ and His Church’s redeeming mission through the field of medicine, discuss suffering and its salvific nature, and finally, show the spiritual role the physician plays in the physician-patient relationship.

Christ himself is the Divine Physician[3].  When He revealed the heart of his redemptive mission, he said “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”[4] So to care for the dying and the sick, health care workers actively participate in the divine mission by providing life, both to the body and to the soul, for man cannot be seen as only one or the other.  The health care worker imitates Christ as the Good Samaritan[5] and acts as minister of God through the outpouring of love for the suffering person.  And is not loving those who suffer the role of every Christian and of the Church?  This is a part of the mission of redemption that marks the existence of the Spouse of Christ.

In the Charter for Health Care Workers, Blessed John Paul II is quoted as saying that “the Church…has always seen medicine as an important support for its own redeeming mission to humanity.  In fact, service to man’s spirit cannot be fully effective except it be service to his psycho-physical unity.”[6]  In his address to the World Congress of Catholic Doctors, Blessed John Paul II says that Christ, being “the physician of our souls and bodies, who forgave the sins of the paralytic and restored him to bodily health, has willed that his Church continue, in the power of the Holy Spirit, his work of healing and salvation even among her own members.”[7]  These works of healing are done on the priestly level through the sacraments of anointing and reconciliation, which are joined to the works of the doctors and nurses and other health care professionals.  The work of such a professional has the same object, the human person, as that of the pastor.  Both ministers act to orientate the suffering individual to the Cross of Christ.

Suffering is the paramount problem of man’s existence.  “Illness and suffering have always been among the gravest problems confronted in human life.  In illness, man experiences his powerlessness, his limitations, and his finitude.  Every illness can make us glimpse death.”[8]  It is through the action of Adam and Eve that sin was brought into the world, and with it, suffering and death.  The story of man’s attempt to evade both suffering and death is the stuff of ageless legends and the impetus to seek both the ancient and modern remedies that might stave off such a fate.  Simply consider the 20th century and the number of procedures and medications that are designed to end pain and anguish.  It is easy enough to buy Aspirin or Tylenol over the counter at the local drug store or to go to your doctor and ask him to prescribe something stronger.  Even in the area of childbirth, a woman has free access to enough drugs to numb her body from the waist down, thus allowing her to escape the curse of Eve.  And today’s healthcare is full of promises to slow or reverse the process of aging and the physical and mental suffering that accompanies it.  This is not to say that pain medication or the avoidance of pain and suffering is immoral or should not be employed.  Rather these points are only to show the attitude of the general public in regards to the ability and desire to avoid suffering as much as humanly possible.  This aim in many cases can be quite appropriate given the debilitating nature of the various forms of suffering.  Even the Catechism recognizes that “illness can lead to anguish, self-absorption, sometimes even despair and revolt against God.”[9]   However, the avoidance of suffering and pain can be taken too far.  For some, it has become something overwhelmingly evil and must be eradicated at all costs, even at the cost of rejecting their God.  This is the danger that man faces when he does not recognize the redeemed nature of suffering that has been brought about through Christ’s passion.  Whereas it is not wrong for man to desire an end to suffering, he must also simultaneously embrace it for his greater good, for though “suffering is, in itself, an experience of evil…Christ has made suffering the firmest basis of the definitive good, namely the good of eternal salvation.”[10]  With this understanding suffering can be viewed as a gift from God; as a way for man to work towards his salvation.

St. Paul writes in his letter to the Colossians of the relationship of suffering and the Cross.  He says, “I fill up in my body what is wanting to the sufferings of Christ, for the sake of his body which is the Church.”[11]  This reflects the new meaning of the suffering of man.  No longer is it simply the curse, but now it is the blessing of God.  Just as the doctor takes part of the salvific mission of the Church through the ministry to the sick, those who are sick and suffering take part in the redeeming mission of Christ.  In the words of John Paul II, “On the cross, Christ made his own all the weight of evil and took away the sin of the world (Jn 1:29), of which sickness is but a consequence.  By his passion and death on the cross, Christ has given new meaning to suffering: now it can configure us to him and unite us with his redemptive passion.”[12]  By his death and resurrection,Christ has redeemed the world.  In that action he has allowed the suffering man to partake in that redemption and within this new meaning of suffering for the Christian, there is a threefold salvific attitude that exists:

an ‘awareness’ of its reality ‘without minimizing it or exaggerating it’; ‘acceptance,’ ‘not with a more or less blind resignation’ but in the serene knowledge that ‘the Lord can and wishes to draw a good from evil’; ‘the oblation,’ ‘made out of love for the Lord and one’s brothers and sisters.’[13]

To consider these three points in another way, one can use the words knowledge, trust, and action.  In that awareness there is knowledge of the nature of the illness and suffering and of the cross which is to be borne.  This is critical, because as Pope JohnPaulII(from whom this threefold salvific attitude comes) said, the patient neither wants to minimize or exaggerate it, but rather embrace it as it truly is.  Through the acceptance there must be a trust in the Lord.  The patient must realize that in his Incarnation and Passion, “Christ has raised human suffering to the level of redemption.”[14]  In this way, Suffering becomes not a cruel punishment but a means of salvation, and so the patient must rejoice in the opportunity to suffer because it has been allowed by the Lord, who desires the salvation of all.  The third part of this attitude is action.  The oblation of whichJohnPaul speaks requires that action must be taken.  It may only be an interior movement of the will, but nonetheless it is essential for this suffering to be fruitful.  The patient needs to consciously make the decision to offer up this suffering on behalf of the body ofChrist.  In this way, not only will the graces be obtained, but the psychological affect will be greater.  Through his suffering, the patient has entered into the redemptive act ofChrist and it is the physician’s role to help orientate the patient towards this end.

The ministerial journey of Christwas filled with numerous healings.  He had a great compassion towards the sick and infirm and “his many healings of every kind of infirmity are a resplendent sign that ‘God has visited his people’ and that the Kingdomof Godis close at hand…He has come to heal the whole man, soul and body; he is the physician the sick have need of.”[15]  Christ, as stated before, is the Divine Physician.  He had such a compassion for the sick and suffering that he “took our infirmities and bore our diseases”[16] when he was “like a sheep…led to the slaughter, and as a lamb before its shearer.”[17]  His sacrifice was his ultimate act of healing for each individual who would profess his name.  Moreover, it was a renewal of the world, a healing of a world torn apart by sin. To inaugurate this healing of the worldChrist first healed those whom he had come into the world to redeem.  In each miracle he performed to heal the body, he also was healing the soul of that individual.  However, His healing ministry was not limited to his lifetime nor did it end with his death and resurrection, but rather He has set the example for his disciples and called them on to continue this ministry in the salvation of the world.

At a point during His ministry, Christsent His disciples into the world.  He “gave them authority over unclean spirits to drive them out and to cure every disease and every illness.”[18]  In this command, the disciples were called to act as the Good Samaritan to those they encountered.  This parable “witnesses to the fact that Christ’s revelation of the salvific meaning of suffering is in no way identified with an attitude of passivity.”[19]  Rather, Christ commanded his disciples to action, to bring healing both in the physical and spiritual realms to those they encountered.  This command and action was not limited to the lifetime of Christ, but went beyond his ascension, as seen in the Acts of the Apostles, especially in the healing miracles of Peter.[20]  Through His example and commands to his disciples, Christ calls on all of mankind to bring comfort to the suffering.  In the parable of the Judgment Day, Christ relates how at the end of time, the King will come and say to those who sit on his right, “Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world…I was…ill and you cared for me.”[21]  Those to whom he speaks reply “Lord, when did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?”[22]  They reply in this way because they who are righteous do not realize the depth of the service that they perform and are answered by the King when he says “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”[23]  This parable is critical for today’s physician.   Modern medicine attempts to cure the disease of the person in piecemeal and once the symptoms of the disease are removed, then modern health care guidelines would dictate that no more treatment is necessary due to cost prohibitions.  The doctors have already lost a great deal of support from insurance companies and from hospital administrators in the treatment of the individual patient.  They are now under greater pressure to cut costs wherever possible, even if that means that time with the patient and the ability to treat the whole person, body, mind, and soul, is lost.  This is the attitude that the parable of Judgment day condemns.  And so the modern physician must turn away from the pressure of the secular world, and return to Christ, so that the physician may live out the example Christ has given.

With these commands, the doctor is now called to enter into a deeper relationship with the patient.  It is important for the doctor to enter into this relationship to prevent the forcible removal of the identity of the person to occur.   It is imperative for the doctor to see the patient as a person to be treated and to be loved, not a disease to be cured, but in so many instances this is not the case.

This human person, the patient, has an inherit dignity that must be recognized.  Before proceeding, we must remember what a person is. KarolWojtyladefines a person as

An objective entity, which as a definite subject has the closest contacts with the whole (external) world and is most intimately involved with it precisely because of its inwardness, its interior life.  It must be added that it communicates thus not only with the visible, but also with the invisible world, and most importantly, with God.[24]

Because the individual both exists and communicates with the entirety of reality, that is both the visible and invisible, and communicates with God, he has a special dignity and value.  This value must be recognized in medicine.  However, the materialistic and reductionistic philosophies have successfully created a certain biomedical culture.  “This culture of biomedicine facilitates our viewing the patient as “other,” an object that is synonymous with his or her biologically based disease.”[25]  When a doctor enters into the relationship with the patient, they must instead see the person who is to be loved.  For not only did Christ command that his disciples go forth and heal, or that they see Him in the poorest of their brethren, but also that they should “love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind…You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”[26]  When the doctor sees the patient as a human person and chooses to love that person as himself, the doctor then can become Christ to that person.

There is a very special interpersonal relationship between the doctor and the patient.  This relationship is “‘a meeting between trust and conscience.’  The “trust” of one who is ill and suffering and hence in need, who entrusts himself to the “conscience” of another who can help him in his need and who comes to his assistance to care for him and cure him.”[27]  Just as those who were sick and suffering “came to hear [Jesus] and to be healed of their diseases,”[28] so too does the patient come to the doctor with faith in his ability to heal.  This healing can occur on many levels since man is composed of more than just a physical body.  Truly, it is proper that the doctor should seek to heal not only the body, but also the soul and the mind, just asChrist did.   It is in this moment that the fullness of the physician’s vocation lies.  The call of the physician and his relationship with his patients is seen in the Old Testament book of Sirach where it is written that

… God has also established him in his profession. From God the doctor has wisdom …. God makes the earth yield healing herbs which the prudent should not neglect….Through which the doctor eases pain, and the druggist prepares his medicines. Thus God’s work continues without cease in its efficacy on the surface of the earth.[29]

The very profession of medicine is one given by God in order for God’s work and glory to continue on this earth.  Within his vocation, the physician is obligated to recognize his particular call as an instrument of God to bring healing to those around him.  One of the most profound ways the doctor can accomplish the treating of the person is by helping the patient to recognize his vocation as a patient.  This vocation is that which was discussed earlier concerning the uniting of the suffering of the patient with the Cross of Christ.  In this interpersonal relationship, the doctor is Christto the patient, healing and serving in the most loving ways those who are broken and outcast and helping them to “take up his cross, and follow me.”[30]  On the patient’s side of this relationship, he becomes Christ for the doctor by both giving the doctor an opportunity to serve him in his suffering and by his offering up of his suffering in union with the suffering of Christ and being a witness of love for all of mankind.  When this profound relationship is realized between the doctor and the patient, medicine is no longer restricted to a treatment of the disease but becomes also an intervention on the human body that “touches not only the tissues, the organs, and their functions, but involves also at various levels the person himself.”[31]

The healing of the patient cannot be completed solely on the physical level.  There is necessarily a spiritual component to the healing.  In Sirach, it is written

My son, when you are ill, do not delay, but pray to God, for it is he who heals.Flee wickedness and purify your hands; cleanse your heart of every sin….Then give the doctor his place lest he leave; you need him too, for there are times when recovery is in his hands. He too prays to God that his diagnosis may be correct and his treatment bring about a cure. Whoever is a sinner before his Maker will be defiant toward the doctor.[32]

The patient is called to turn to God for a spiritual healing in the midst of his illness, recognizing that both physical and spiritual healing is given only by God.  And as described above, in Christ’s healing ministry there is a consistent pairing of physical healing with spiritual healing.  This same ministry has been passed to his Apostles and disciples, and as such, throughout the centuries there has been a close relationship between the Priest and the Physician.  The physician can provide the physical healing, while the priest is able to offer the medicine of the soul.    In a recent address for the Twentieth World Day of the Sick, Pope Benedict wrote about the need to emphasize the “’sacraments of healing,’ that is to say the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation and that of the Anointing of the Sick.”[33]  These Sacraments offer the physical manifestation of God’s grace to the patient.  These are an “expression of the physicality of our faith, which embraces the whole person, body and soul.”[34]  The physician is called to encourage the patient to return, like the prodigal son, to God for a completeness of his healing.  The Sacrament of Penance can be extremely important during a time of illness. Pope Benedict writes

A time of suffering, in which one could be tempted to abandon oneself to discouragement and hopelessness, can thus be transformed into a time of grace so as to return to oneself, and like the prodigal son of the parable, to think anew about one’s life, recognizing its errors and failures, longing for the embrace of the Father, and following the pathway to his home. He, in his great love, always and everywhere watches over our lives and awaits us so as to offer to every child that returns to him the gift of full reconciliation and joy.[35]

This is a crucial action that the suffering patient can take in his recognition of his role in salvific suffering.  This is that interior act of the will that recognizes the gift of suffering that has been given, which then turns to an external action.  Through this Sacrament, the patient is able to enter into a deeper relationship with Christ, and thus bring the salvific nature of his suffering to a deeper level.  The physician who recognizes this can be a source of encouragement and support for the struggling patient.  The relationship the patient has with that physician may mean the difference between despair and hope in their suffering of illness, and so it is imperative for the physician to fulfill his role in the spiritual awakening of the patient.  This necessarily requires that the physician, as described in Sirach, have a relationship with God.  He too must turn to God for guidance and support in his mission of healing, for all of the physician’s abilities and successes derive only from Him.  Moreover, the physician must have a relationship with the clergy who bring the Sacraments to the sick and suffering.  This relationship can be seen in the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, where the healing ministry of the priest intersects most directly with that of the physician.  Pope Benedict writes

In the Anointing of the Sick, the sacramental matter of the oil is offered to us, so to speak, “as God’s medicine … which now assures us of his goodness, offering us strength and consolation, yet at the same time points beyond the moment of the illness towards the definitive healing, the resurrection (cf. Jas 5:14)”[36]

This Sacrament allows the attention to be given to the sick that the Church has called for, and in doing so reminds the pastors and those serving the sick, that what is done to the least of their brethren, is done for Christ.

The Sacraments of Penance and the Anointing of the Sick both have their source in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, that source and summit of all Sacraments.  Concerning the Eucharist, Pope Benedict states that “received at a time of illness, it contributes in a singular way to working this transformation, associating the person who partakes of the Body and Blood of Christ to the offering that he made of himself to the Father for the salvation of all.”[37]  The reception of the Eucharist is the ultimate act of unification a patient can have with Christ in this world.  As the patient and Christ become one in that moment, the suffering offered up to Christ crucified reaches its infinite depth of meaning.

Each of the Sacraments can be special gifts that the patient receives.  But to do so, the patient must be made aware of their existence, of the power of healing that can be given to the patient through these gifts of God.  In these Sacraments, the priest and the physician meet, acting as emissaries offering the mercy of God. The physician brings knowledge and support, while the priest brings the power of the Sacraments to the patient.  This aspect of the physician’s role cannot be ignored, for it is an integral part of the healing of the patient.  In answering his vocation, the physician has been called to minister to the physical and spiritual needs of his patient.  Moreover, the physician takes part in establishing the Kingdom of God, for in that Kingdom,

Suffering is present in the world in order to release love, in order to give birth to works of love towards neighbor, in order to transform the whole of human civilization in to a “civilization of love.”  In this love the salvific meaning of suffering is completely accomplished and reaches its definitive dimensions.[38]

The vocation of the physician calls him not only to bring healing to the body, but to recognize that suffering transforms into love, love of the one suffering and love of God.  The acts of love that are man’s response to those suffering can act as a pebble in a pond, sending ripples of change throughout the whole of society.  The physician, by approaching his suffering patient with genuine love, has great capacity to do good, even when he cannot eradicate the suffering.  This love is what can open the mind of the patient to a deeper understanding of their suffering, and give them the ability to find the fullness of their healing by turning to God and His Sacraments.[39]

The past century of medicine has brought many new advances but not without a significant price.  The physician and patient have both suffered as the spiritual aspects of their respective roles have been minimized or eradicated.  It is time for the physician to reclaim that lost part of his vocation, his part in the spiritual healing of the patient.   This occurs through the establishment of a Christocentric and loving relationship between the physician and the patient, which allows the physician to guide the patient back to Christ and His healing Sacraments.  In this way the physician may live out the parables of the Last Judgment and the Good Samaritan, bringing the patient physical healing and helping him in his journey to God.



Benedict. (2011, November 20). Message of the holy father on the occasion of the twentieth world day of the sick. Retrieved from

Catechism of the Catholic Church.New York: Double Day, 1995.

Hroscikoski, Mary, O.S.F. M.D. “The Patient and the Disease as ‘Other’”. Franciscans and Healthcare.Ed.Elise Saggau,O.S.F. St.Bonaventure,New York: The Franciscan Institute, 2001.

JohnPaulII, Discourse in Lourdes, August 15, 1983, n. 4. Rpt. in Charter for Health Care Workers. Ed. Pontifical Council for Pastoral Assistance.Boston:St.PaulBooks and Media. p. 59.

John Paul, II. Salvifici Doloris. Boston: St.PaulBooks and Media.

JohnPaulII, To the world Congress of Catholic doctors, Oct. 3, 1982, in Insegnamenti V/3, p. 676, n. 3. Rpt. in Charter for Health Care Workers. Ed. Pontifical Council for Pastoral Assistance.Boston:St.PaulBooks and Media. p. 28.

The New American Bible.New York: Catholic Book Publishing Co., 1992.

Pontifical Council for Pastoral Assistance. Charter for Health Care Workers.Boston:St.PaulBooks and Media.

Wojtyla, Karol (John Paul II). Love and Responsibility. 1981. Trans.H.T.Willetts.San Francisco:Ignatius, 1993.

[1]In the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragrpahs 362-367 it states that “the human person, created in the image of God, is a being at once corporeal and spiritual. The biblical account expresses this reality in symbolic language when it affirms that “then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” Man, whole and entire, is therefore willed by God. In Sacred Scripture the term “soul” often refers to human life or the entire human person. But “soul” also refers to the innermost aspect of man, that which is of greatest value in him, that by which he is most especially in God’s image: “soul” signifies the spiritual principle in man.  The human body shares in the dignity of “the image of God”: it is a human body precisely because it is animated by a spiritual soul, and it is the whole human person that is intended to become, in the body of Christ, a temple of the Spirit: Man, though made of body and soul, is a unity. Through his very bodily condition he sums up in himself the elements of the material world. Through him they are thus brought to their highest perfection and can raise their voice in praise freely given to the Creator. For this reason man may not despise his bodily life. Rather he is obliged to regard his body as good and to hold it in honor since God has created it and will raise it up on the last day.  The unity of soul and body is so profound that one has to consider the soul to be the “form” of the body: i.e., it is because of its spiritual soul that the body made of matter becomes a living, human body; spirit and matter, in man, are not two natures united, but rather their union forms a single nature.  The Church teaches that every spiritual soul is created immediately by God – it is not “produced” by the parents – and also that it is immortal: it does not perish when it separates from the body at death, and it will be reunited with the body at the final Resurrection.”

[2] Paragraphs1420-1421 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains the sacraments of Healing in this way: “Through the sacraments of Christian initiation, man receives the new life of Christ. Now we carry this life “in earthen vessels,” and it remains “hidden with Christ in God.” We are still in our “earthly tent,” subject to suffering, illness, and death. This new life as a child of God can be weakened and even lost by sin.  The Lord Jesus Christ, physician of our souls and bodies, who forgave the sins of the paralytic and restored him to bodily health, has willed that his Church continue, in the power of the Holy Spirit, his work of healing and salvation, even among her own members. This is the purpose of the two sacraments of healing: the sacrament of Penance and the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick.”

[3] Cf. CCC 1503

[4]John 10:10

[5] Lk 10:29-37

[6] Charter For Health Care Workers, 5.

[7] Insegnamenti V/3, 676, n.3. found in Charter for Health Care Workers, p. 28.

[8] CCC 1500.

[9] CCC 1501.

[10] Salvifici Doloris 26.

[11]Col 1:24

[12] Discourse in Lourdes, August 15, 1983, n.4 found in The Charter for Health Care Workers, p. 59,  also found in CCC 1505.

[13] The Charter for Health Care Workers, 54.

[14] Salvifici Doloris 19.

[15] CCC 1503

[16] Mt 8:17; cf. Isa 53:4.

[17] Isa 53:7-8.

[18] Mt 10:1; cf. Mk 3: 14-19, Lk 6: 13-16, Acts 1:13.

[19] Salvifici Doloris 30.

[20] Acts 3: 1-10.

[21] Mt 25:34-36.

[22] Mt 25:37.

[23] Mt 25:40.

[24] Wojtyla, 23.

[25] Hroscikoski, 56.

[26] Mt 22:37-39.

[27] The Charter for Health Care Workers, 2.

[28] Lk 6:18.

[29] Sirach 38: 1-2, 4, 7-8.

[30] Mt 16:24.

[31] The Charter for Health Care Workers, 40.

[32] Sirach 38: 9-10, 12-15.

[33] Benedict XVI, 2011.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Ibid.

[36] Benedict XVI, 2011.

[37] Ibid.

[38] Salvifici Doloris 30

[39] The implementation of these ideas is very possible.  To do so there are  few steps that can be taken:

  1. Be aware of the needs of the patient and have knowledge concerning the salvific nature of suffering
  2. Have knowledge of practical recommendations for patients including documents, encyclicals, books, pamphlets, and individuals in the community, particularly clergy, who can be of assistance.
  3. Most importantly, the physician needs to earn the right to have this discussion with the patient, which means the physician needs to be a font of love for those around him and prove that he is willing to live out the very life he is calling his patients to strive for.  To do so, it is important for the physician to have an active spiritual life and frequent the Sacraments himself.

Rug Rats

Kids seem to have a universal set of bad habits. The past few weeks I have battled with our toddler to keep both of his socks on. I am constantly finding random socks strewn about the house. While the chilly floors don’t seem to bother him, I’d rather not have him develop a cold because of his bad habits. So I did what my father did to me and my siblings…I told him about the rug rats.

What are rug rats you ask?

They are small rodents that live under the carpets and nibble toes off of children’s bare feet. Only socks or shoes can protect you from the hungry pests.

So I told Joseph, and I can’t say I was surprised, but it worked. His eyes grew big and he ran to grab his sock and jumped on the couch to escape the invisible rodents while he covered his bare foot.

Then he began to “see” them under the carpet and started shouting at them “rugrats! I have my socks on! Do you want some milk?”

At which, I had to explain their diet consisted of bare toes alone, and that since all of our toes were covered they would be moving on to look at another house for some tasty bare toes.

Funny, Brian and I had just had a conversation this weekend about how every culture seemed to have a monster of sorts that parents would use to scare their children into being good. I have to say I have mixed feelings about this tactic, but I can’t deny its immediate effectiveness. And so the rug rats will live on in the imaginations of my children.


Why yes, fetal tissue IS used to develop vaccines and other products….

Rebecca Taylor over at the blog Mary Meets Dolly has written an excellent article, “Morally Tainted: Products Made Possible By the Killing of Innocent Human Life” which is about the use of aborted fetal tissue in developing several different manufactured products

Oklahoma state Sen. Ralph Shortey has introduced a bill to the Oklahoma Legislature that has caused quite a stir. S.B. 1418 says it would ban any product for human “consumption” that contains aborted human fetal tissue or where the research or development of any of the ingredients required the use of aborted fetal tissue…..

When Shortey suggested that his bill was not simply about aborted fetuses in the food supply, but about companies using cells and tissues from aborted human beings to test or develop various chemicals, drugs or therapies, one angry commenter on the Huffington Post retorted, “What companies? Name them. If you can’t, then this is the rantings of a paranoid delusional.”

Rebecca goes on to describe several different companies that are actively using fetal tissue obtained from abortions and does an excellent job detailing the moral questions that arise in using this type of tissue.  One area of great controversy that she touches upon is Vaccines (Emphasis mine):

Yet, some of these products, like drugs or vaccines, can be life-saving. The question then becomes: Can Catholics use these life-saving products that were developed using aborted fetal tissue in good conscience?

Many of them, like the vaccines for rubella and polio, are developed or produced in cell lines that came from abortions that occurred decades ago, and no new abortions or destruction of life are required to produce those vaccines.

The guidance given by the Church on the use of vaccines may be the best guide for other life-saving products as well. In the case of vaccines produced in aborted fetal-stem cell lines like MRC-5 and WI-38, where the abortion occurred decades ago, parents must ask their health-care provider for an alternative vaccine that was grown in cells not procured by illicit means. If there are no alternatives, then they must voice their objection.

I would challenge parents out there, How many of you have actually voiced their objections to your child’s physician? To the vaccine manufacturer? To the FDA?  How many of you know that several different vaccines are manufactured using fetal tissue derived from abortions and that there are alternatives for some of them?  (For a list, see Children of God for Life and their excellent PDF)

For many, you may not have had any idea.  This once again raises the issue that parents need to be informed concerning vaccines prior to giving consent for their administration.  And unfortunately, you will not be able to ask most physicians about this issue because they will simply be clueless about the use of aborted fetal tissue in vaccine development.  After you have done your research and you approach your physician, you will need to be prepared to be ridiculed.  In medical school we are fairly indoctrinated with the idea that vaccines are God’s gift to man and that there is no reason a healthy individual should not be given every possible vaccine.  We are encouraged to NOT critically analyze this evidence or question the vaccine schedule, and when you do so, you are quickly ostracized and labeled “heretic”.   The medical profession and the media have assumed that every single concern objection to vaccines has to do solely with the whole “Thimerosol and Autism” controversy.  However, as many of you know, there are many other concerns that due arise, including the increase in allergies and autoimmune disease, other behavioral issues beyond autism, and autism itself.  Whereas Thimerosol has been somewhat debunked (depending on the literature you look at) there are other possibilities.

A biotech startup out in Seattle, Sound Choice Pharmaceuticals, is actively working on creating morally acceptable vaccines.  In the course of their research, they have shown that vaccines that are contaminated with human DNA (from the manufacturing process that uses aborted fetal tissue) may be a culprit in the Vaccine-Autism link.   This raises the issue of using these morally tainted vaccines to a whole new level.  And yet, many continue to be complacent and simply do as their physician instructs.

The medical profession and vaccine manufacturers have heard the Church’s argument that these vaccines “are permissible when no alternative is available.”  And since there is no huge outcry from the patients and customers, and we do not see masses of kids refusing vaccination until a suitable alternative is available, the medical establishment and vaccine manufacturers have no reason to change their ways.  I am not advocating that we do not vaccinate (nor am I advocating FOR vaccines), rather we need to take a stronger stand and DEMAND that there be morally suitable vaccines.  There are too many unanswered questions with vaccines, particularly with the ones using fetal tissue.  We have to ability to demand answers and alternatives, but it requires that we stand up and say something.

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