Recently, I attended the annual educational conference of the Catholic Medical Association (CMA), “Medicine at the Service of Marriage and Family: Transforming the Culture with Truth and Love,” in Denver. The conference provided insight into the innumerable ways that our Catholic health care professionals are creating an authentically Christian culture in the medical profession. The conference contained some lessons for us all as we seek to influence culture and politics.
I would encourage you to learn more about the CMA (www.cathmed.org) at some point and, for health care professionals, join your local guild (contact firstname.lastname@example.org).
LESSON 1: POLITICS IS DOWNSTREAM FROM CULTURE
While a significant number of the presentations at the conference had public policy implications, the conference was not necessarily tailored directly to impact public policy. The lack of focus on impacting public policy did not seem, however, to be rooted in a lack of awareness of the value of politics and law. Rather, it had more to do with the supreme importance of creating a specific culture, namely a culture receptive to the message of Truth and Love (in other words, Jesus Christ).
While there is a constant push to envision politics as an all-encompassing reality, politics cannot be such.
Politics is an incredible enterprise, but it has a narrower scope.
Instead, it is culture that is all-encompassing. As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (a.k.a. Pope Benedict XVI) has stated: “We might say that culture is the historically developed common form of expression of the insights and values which characterize the life of a community.” In this light, politics is one aspect of our culture.
The CMA conference was a lesson that influencing politics, while noble, may or may not inevitably influence the culture. And, as much as we may try to influence politics, sometimes making an influence on politics might be out of our control. However, with culture, influence is always possible. There is always an opportunity to shape the “common form of expression of the insights and values which characterize the life of a community.” And as the CMA conference taught, this shaping occurs through relationship and community (for example, family, colleagues, patients, etc.).
LESSON 2: STEWARD YOUR TALENTS
I was absolutely humbled by the many great people and minds attending the conference. Whether it was a leading academic researcher or a bedside caregiver, God’s gifts and talents were on full display.
The event was a living example of the Parable of the Talents (Mt 25:14-30). The health care professionals in attendance were not seeking to bury and hide their talents, but were tirelessly working to multiply the gifts they had received to be of greater service to our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ.
Whether we are a custodian or the president of the United States, Christ makes the same loving demand. He calls us to cultivate whatever gifts and talents he has placed in our care, and will hold us accountable in our response to this charge.
LESSON 3: LEARNING MUST SERVE THE GOSPEL
The CMA conference was chock-full of presentations, covering topics such as preventing burnout in a stressful profession; the physical, emotional and financial repercussions of hormonal contraceptives; the impact of cell phones on the brain; evaluating the research on gender dysphoria; providing dignified end-of-life care; and caring for the stranger, the homeless and immigrants. The wealth of learning opportunities reminded me of the great philosopher Aristotle’s observation: “All men by nature desire to know.”
But our learning must be at the service of the Gospel, lest it all be in vain as we are told by Ecclesiastes. As we continue to influence culture – and politics – through our efforts, we must place all of our learning and wisdom at the foot of the Cross of Calvary in the holy Mass. In doing so, we can live out the beautiful prayer of St. Ignatius of Loyola: “Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, all I have and call my own. You have given all to me. To you, Lord, I return it. Everything is yours; do with it what you will. Give me only your love and your grace, that is enough for me.”
Tom Venzor is executive director of the Nebraska Catholic Conference, with headquarters in Lincoln. Contact him at email@example.com.