LA Times offers a gentle, shallow Catholic health-care story

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I was encouraged, and a bit surprised, that the editorial team at The Los Angeles Times elected to cover the local White Mass honoring Catholics who work in health-care jobs, in Catholic hospitals and in other settings.

I was also happy, and surprised, that the story focused on the spiritual side of this story with several professionals talking about the degree to which it is natural to consider the needs of souls while attempting to heal the bodies of those who are suffering.

I was surprised, you see, that this story didn’t focus on some of the very real political conflicts that are currently threatening faith-based health institutions. Instead, the story offered — appropriately so — kind voices of pastoral experience that blended into the reporting like this:

An annual tradition since 2009, the event has outgrown several local churches that once hosted the mass. Sunday was the first time it was held at the cathedral.

“People think healthcare and God go together automatically, but work isn’t always a God-filled place,” said Kathleen Grelich, a physical therapist who attended the mass for the first time. “It’s nice to merge that here.”

Named for the white lab coats worn by many in the medical profession, the service is held around the Feast of St. Luke, the patron saint of healers. Archbishop José Gomez urged attendees to bring “God’s love and care to every person and patient” they meet to heal the body and spirit. He called healthcare professionals “apostles of love.” …

Worshipers, some wearing white coats, stood with their hands cupped in front of them while the Archbishop performed the “blessing of the hands” to pray for their strength, skill, sensitivity and steadiness.

So what is missing?

At first, I was happy that this story contained very little, if any, political content. However, the more I thought about that hole in the story the more troubled I became.

Is it possible right now to write about Catholics and health care without talking about the increasing pressures on Catholic institutions to water down their teachings on issues related to abortion, contraception, euthanasia and other hot-button topics linked to what the Blessed John Paul II called the “culture of life” and its struggle with the powers linked to the modern “culture of death”?

Is it possible to completely ignore the church’s decades of support for universal health care, yet the divisions that now exist in Catholic institutions caused by the fine details of the new Obamacare regime?

I also noted, when watching the White Mass sermon by Cardinal Gomez (found on YouTube), that he consistently urged his listeners to dare to be “quiet missionaries of the culture of life.” He also stressed the importance of Catholic health-care workers remaining totally committed to the faith and teachings of the Catholic Church, even seeing their work as a doorway to effective evangelism of the the lost. It is important for the society and for the church for health-care workers to let their faith touch every detail of their work, he said.

In the current context, those words have pastoral, doctrinal and political implications. The Los Angeles Times team missed that side of the event.

The closest the story came to any of these debates? There is a slight hint in the words of Dr. Eli Ayoub of the local St. Francis Medical Center, who was named the national Catholic doctor of the year:

The first local recipient of the mission organization’s honor, Ayoub said he often works with patients who don’t have insurance. He has brought a mobile clinic to his native Lebanon every year for three decades, and his five children now travel with him abroad to bring healthcare to people in need.

“There’s nothing like working with a lady who is gasping for breath in the ER and seeing a smile on her face the next day,” he said. “It’s a pleasure to take care of those patients.”

So this is a lovely little story. That’s good.

Unfortunately, we live in an era in which faithful Catholic health-care work is often linked to tensions and problems that are far from lovely and the strife is real. Sadly, that was part of the story in this event — as the cardinal gently noted.

About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.


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