Diocese’s health care workers urged to show face of mercy

Photo Caption: Father Michael Driscoll, chaplain and director of pastoral care at OSF Saint Elizabeth Medical Center in Ottawa, takes part in a panel discussion with Dr. Steven Hamon, president of The Antioch Group.

By: By Jennifer Willems

Good medical practice has a place in Catholic health care, but treating the whole person requires love and compassion or it won’t be effective, according to speakers at the 10th annual Diocesan Health Care Day.

“It’s obvious that Catholic health care is uniquely situated to show the merciful face of God in Jesus Christ to all those you serve,” said Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, who offered opening remarks to the 100 mental health professionals, physicians, clinicians, pastoral care workers, nurses and social workers who gathered at the Spalding Pastoral Center in Peoria on Nov. 5.

“I don’t know if we’re ever more vulnerable than when we’re in the waiting room of a hospital or lying in bed or getting examined,” he said. “The people who interact with us at those moments have a gifted place to make Christ present by treating human beings as human beings, by intuitively knowing they’re hurting and scared.”

The theme for the conference, hosted by the Diocesan Health Care Commission, was “The Mercy of Christ and Mental Health: Clinical and Spiritual Care.” In addition to Bishop Jenky, participants heard from Dr. Steven Hamon, co-founder and president of The Antioch Group in Peoria, and learned more about Pope Francis’ decree on mercy, “Misericordiae Vultus,” from Msgr. Mark Merdian, episcopal vicar for health care for the Diocese of Peoria.

Msgr. Merdian called the conference “a practical day and a day of prayer as we consider how to treat those with behavioral and mental health issues and how to bring Christ’s compassion and mercy to them.”

Bishop Jenky said the need for mercy, love and forgiveness is increasing in a society that doesn’t have the same sense of security or moral direction that existed when he was a boy.

“Catholic health care can and should play its part in healing, grounded in faith, grounded in Gospel values, committed especially to the dignity of the human person,” he said, even though there is hostility from American culture and “elements of government.”

Noting that the goal seems to be to “push the church back into its sacristy,” Bishop Jenky said, “We’re going to stay in there. It’s exactly what you bring to health care that our culture needs, so we aren’t going away.”

In the end, Catholic health care exists to make disciples, he told the medical professionals.

“It’s about a lifetime of mercy, day after day, year after year, healing, helping, loving and witnessing to the Great Physician, who is our savior, Jesus Christ,” Bishop Jenky said.

Dr. Hamon also encouraged them to look to the example of Jesus as they interact with patients every day.

Rather than keeping to a strict schedule, Jesus took time to visit with people and looked past what a cursory exam might reveal, said Dr. Hamon, who holds a master’s degree in counseling psychology and a doctorate in clinical psychology/behavioral medicine. He held up Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4:5-42 as an example of what this kind of healing looked like.

An object of ridicule and shame because of her lifestyle, the Samaritan woman asked Jesus for help and he obliged by stepping outside the usual course of care and finding out what was important to her, Dr. Hamon said.

“Years of shame fell away and she ran into town, transformed,” he explained. “When he spoke, you felt that his words were directed at you — and we are called to do the same.”
Dr. Hamon asked them to move away from the “cognitive disso
nance” of thinking they could let the chaplains and women religious take care of the spiritual while they took care of the physical and “do what’s expedient to keep the doors open.”

If the care isn’t integrated, if it doesn’t “walk the walk” of healing with love and compassion, “it’s just another gimmick,” he said.

With the Lord’s help, they can show the face of mercy to those they serve, Dr. Hamon said.

In his remarks, Msgr. Merdian said Pope Francis wants to “revolutionize” our approach to faith and Jesus and the church during the upcoming Holy Year of Mercy.

“He wants to challenge us all to grow in love, belief, trust and the mercy of God, especially as a church,” according to Msgr. Merdian, who is pastor of St. Pius X Parish in Rock Island. “We need to constantly contemplate the mystery of mercy. It is a wellspring of joy, serenity, and peace. Our salvation depends upon it.”

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