Day 2: Updates from the Divine Mercy Medicine, Bioethics, & Spirituality Conference

Register online here.

Highlights from Day 1, June 7.

The 18th annual Divine Mercy Medicine, Bioethics, and Spirituality Conference is happening now on the grounds of the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Organized by the Marian Fathers’ apostolate Healthcare Professionals for Divine Mercy, the conference is a place where faith and reason meet and mutually enrich each other.

This year's theme is: Fortitude - A Virtue for Healthcare Professionals. Fortitude is the moral virtue that ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good. Catholic healthcare remains an integral part of the healthcare of this nation. Thus, there are unique challenges now and into the future that Catholic health care workers will face. Fortitude is needed where there are difficult options in healthcare, often resulting in moral distress.

Participants are present both virtually by livestream and in person, gathering more than 34 states and five countries. Healthcare professionals from across the spectrum of the field attended, drawn by the important formation in both spiritual care for their patients and in best practices in healthcare. Continuing Education Credits are available to conference participants.
 

Day 2: June 8, 2023

Once again, the day dawns with the thick smoke of the Canadian wildfires drifting across Eden Hill. Thankfully, some rain clears the air a little, but still the smog lingers over the Berkshire Mountains, putting issues of health top of mind for those who witness it.

The conference gathers for Holy Mass once again at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy. Spiritual director to the Healthcare Professionals for Divine Mercy, Father Kaz Chwalek, MIC, is once again the main celebrant.

“Love of God, love of neighbor,” said Fr. Kaz in his homily. “Loving God means loving neighbor, and loving neighbor means paying attention to them, even despite our own limitations.”

“Sometimes we think we are to offer our life for God, but it’s actually the other way around, God who works on our behalf, and continuously interceding, being there for us, taking care of us as long as we say yes to Him because He respects our freedom. But He will do everything for us,” even allow Himself to become one of us in every way except sin, “becoming our servant.”

Marian Martyrs
At the end of Mass, Fr. Kaz invited participants to take part in the ongoing novena to the Marian Martyrs of Rosica, Bl. Anthony Leszczewicz, MIC, and Bl. George Kaszyra, MIC, in preparation for their liturgical memorial on June 12.

“Blessed Anthony and George were martyrs during World War II who offered their lives on behalf of people,” explained Fr. Kaz. “They didn’t have to die, and yet they chose to be with the people because they didn’t want them to despair. They wanted to share their life all the way to the end until they were burned alive.”

Blessed Anthony and George’s heroic service to their flock can be an inspiration for healthcare workers, putting themselves in danger or working under the most demanding circumstances in the service of their patients.

You can find the novena prayer here.

After Fr. Kaz led an opening prayer, Dr. Ron Sobecks returned to the podium as the first speaker of the day, addressing the topic “The Gift of Presence and Mercy in the Restoration and Preservation of Health.”  He discussed the importance of a childlike spirit, being present to God “wherever and whenever we are in life.” We can easily make ourselves endlessly busy, he warned, not being present to souls and failing to live love.

Dr. Sobecks shared some of his own life experience, growing up in Ohio and learning to live his faith at his home parish, St. Columbkille in the suburbs of Cleveland. It’s in our home parishes that we learn about the Eucharist, the Real Presence of God, and how to respond to God’s presence in prayer. Without our own living faith, we will struggle to be present to our neighbors, including the patients healthcare professionals serve.

Dr. Sobecks spotlighted the immense role the late Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, MIC, had played in his life, both through his writings (especially the booklet Divine Mercy Message and Devotion) and through his personal ministry as “Fr. Joseph, MIC,” director of the Association of Marian Helpers. He expressed his abiding gratitude for the gift of the Divine Mercy message and devotion, which, he said, had prepared him both personally and professionally.

Delving deeply into medical science and Divine Mercy theology, Dr. Sobecks offered a rich overview of the intersection of faith and reason in the lives and work of healthcare professionals. 

Next, Dr. Christopher Klofft returned to the podium to address “Medically-Assisted Suicide: Understanding and Witnessing to Truth.”

Discussing the present laws surrounding “physician-assisted” or “medically-assisted suicide” in various states, Dr. Klofft raised some of the questions and concerns confronting healthcare professionals in evaluating patients asking for this sort of help in dying, especially in a patient’s mental health. He discussed the stigma surrounding suicide and any sort of conversation about that issue. 

Dr. Klofft expressed a certain pessimism about the state of the struggle with the culture of death, especially in light of the support in states such as Massachusetts for permitting assisted suicide. But given our intrinsic human dignity, the pro-life cause is not optional.

“We don’t define dignity for ourselves; it is instilled in us at our creation,” said Dr. Klofft. “We are fearfully and wonderfully made.” Though opponents to the pro-life cause may call such claims merely sectarian, they overlook that human dignity must have an external origin, a higher origin. “Dignity has to come back from something beyond merely human definitions.” 

After lunch, the conference reconvened to hear a video address from the Most. Rev. Joseph Roesch, MIC, Superior General of the worldwide Congregation of Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary. Father Joe addressed Samaritanus Bonus and Fortitude: An Approach of Mercy for Patient Care.”

Samaritanus Bonus was an official letter of the then-Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on the care of persons in the critical and terminal phases of life, issued September 22, 2020.

Father Joe shared memories of his late parents, thanking God that both passed before COVID hit, and that they’d had relatively blessed and peaceful passings. He offered a summary of the contents of the document, commenting on its theological teaching, spiritual reflections, and pastoral insights.

Quoting Samaritanus Bonus, Fr. Joe said, “The commandment 'do not kill' (Ex 20:13; Dt 5:17) is in fact a yes to life. … From a clinical perspective, the factors that largely determine requests for euthanasia and assisted suicide are unmanaged pain, and the loss of human and theological hope, provoked by the often inadequate psychological and spiritual human assistance provided by those who care for the sick.”

To hear more of Fr. Joe’s wisdom, check out his podcasts on DivineMercyPlus.org. 

Now, the keynote speaker for the day: Dr. Paul W. Hruz, who addressed “Medical Approaches to Alleviate Suffering from Gender Dysphoria: Scientific Evidence and Outcome.” He referenced the widening culture divide between different views of how we understand who we are as human beings, and who we are as male and female persons. Dr. Hruz appealed to the teaching of St. John Paul II in his landmark encyclical letter Fides et Ratio (Faith and Reason):

Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth — in a word, to know himself — so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves …

Examining the data on gender dysphoria, Dr. Hruz discussed the prevalence of that condition, and the evolving approach taken to it by the broader academic and medical community. “Not only are the numbers increasing, but the demographics are changing,” he explained.

He then took a deep dive into the science of gender, of gender dysphoria, and the sexual differences between human beings. 

Following Dr. Hruz was a video address by the Very Rev. Chris Alar, MIC, provincial superior of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Mercy Province and director of the Association of Marian Helpers. Father Chris discussed “The Virtues of Our Lady and Fortitude in Healthcare: Model for Patients and Healthcare Professional.”

Father Chris drew on the heritage of the Marian Fathers, focusing on the Ten Evangelical Virtues of the Blessed Virgin Mary. These virtues, based in the Gospels, have been part of the Marians’ Rule of Life since the founding of the Congregation in 1670.

“Your work, like Our Lady’s work, is accompaniment,” said Fr. Chris, “being at the side of the person, at the bedside, on the cross, on their sickbed, helping them to grow; to grow healthy if that’s God’s will, and to help them pursue the best outcomes in body, mind, and spirit.”

Father Chris explained that Healthcare Professionals, like Our Lady, help their patients grow in fortitude, in strength and therefore in the practice of the virtues. He walked the conference through the Ten Evangelical Virtues, examining how each one plays a role in patient care and professional development for Healthcare Professionals. For more on those Ten Virtues, click here. 

 

After Fr. Chris’ talk, the Conference prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet. Then Dr. Paul Hruz returned to the podium to speak on “Sexual Identity: Speaking Truth with Love to Our Patients.”

Dr. Hruz gave an overview of the medical science on gender and sex, then explored some of the disorders that could complicate the conversation. He examined the medical conditions that might lead to ambiguity, offering some thoughts on the resolution of these exceptionally rare cases.

Our belief in universal human dignity “challenges us to address these individuals with compassion,” he said, requiring fully professional healthcare, but he offered a critical analysis of the ideological approach to these rare cases that would attempt to relativize sex and gender for all.

Turning from human reason to the contributions of Catholic faith, Dr. Hruz spoke of the importance of understanding both where we come from and where we are going to, our ultimate end, drawing upon St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body and philosophy.

In the end, Dr. Hruz said, it all comes down to love: love of God; love of patients; love of the truth. 

 Following Dr. Hruz, Dr. Bryan Thatcher, MD, the founder of the Marian apostolate Eucharistic Apostles of The Divine Mercy, spoke on video on “Virtues of St. Faustina with Terminal Tuberculosis: A Model for Patients.”

There’s so much suffering all across the world, said Dr. Thatcher, who shared stories from some of his correspondents, including family members, about the natural disasters, diseases, wars, and other forms of suffering afflicting them at the present time. “When you’re tested, we all need to pray for strength because it’s very difficult to carry one’s cross,” said Dr. Thatcher, and we need to help others carry their own crosses.

He turned to the pages of the Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, drawing upon her rich experience of suffering as well as her deep insights into its meaning and purpose in our lives.

“The world we live in seems very far from the one promised us by faith,” said Dr. Thatcher, but we can’t allow those temptations to win. We can’t be Christ-like if we simply seek to avoid suffering. Now certainly, we must alleviate suffering where we can, especially through expert and professional healthcare, but for all our best efforts, some evil and suffering will remain. We must learn to bear that well, following the model of Jesus, the Divine Mercy Incarnate, and His saints, such as St. Faustina or Bl. Michael Sopocko.

Thank you, everyone!
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