Medical students who wish to be true to their faith fight enormous obstacles
At the Boot Camp, some presenters spoke of apologetics, and the students were eager to absorb all the material. When I spoke with them, they indicated that they lacked confidence in their ability to present to colleagues, mentors and future employers the truths and values of the faith in a way that would win souls and not just arguments. They need to be taught the art of rhetoric in a manner that can be enlisted in service of the apologetic intentions. (Stratford Caldecott’s sublime and practical work, “Beauty in the Word” would be a good place for them to start.)
Medical education, rightly, provides constant reminders of the demanding vocation of being a healthcare provider. These students knew that the difficult path would be all-the-more difficult because of their commitment to be faithful Catholic doctors. The true “Gospel of Life” (including, but not limited to, the issues of abortion, contraception, homosexuality, euthanasia, assisted fertility, and the like) would make them positively unwelcome, both professionally and personally, in many clinical settings. It is not impossible, in the present and coming political/legal climate, that faithful Catholic doctors might be precluded from practicing medicine, whether de facto or de jure.
What do these students (and those like them) need? Well, they need each other. The students that I met were obviously delighted to find truly Catholic counterparts, reminding them that they are not alone. They need faithful mentors who are both capable and accomplished. I was honored to meet several such mentors who were teaching at the Boot Camp. What a cadre of medical and moral heroes can be found among the ranks of the Catholic Medical Association!
These Catholic medical students also need more of what was given to them over five days at the Boot Camp—education in the Catholic approach to medicine that is at once both up-to-date and timeless, both broad and deep. These students also need both mentoring and resources to be brought quickly up-to-speed in the facts and principles essential for Catholic intellectuals at work in the arena of moral conflict. They need practical and traditional methods of spiritual formation—the classics of Catholic spiritual practice that have been battle-tested by saints for centuries (e.g., the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius Loyola, of course, and I’d be glad to recommend “Spiritual Combat Revisited”, a contemporary restatement of Scupoli’s classic, by Jonathan Robinson.)
I also believe that these students need sound liturgical formation, which, given their age, they almost certainly have not yet received. Into their chaotic and demanding schedules, they need to insert a rhythm of prayer, beginning with a commitment to the Liturgy of the Hours. Above all, they need to be taught an understanding of Eucharistic spirituality that centralizes the Incarnational and sacrificial aspects of the Mass. (Towards that end, I would recommend the words of Schneider, Moorman, and Kwasniewski.)
What do these good young people, these would-be Catholic doctors need from all of us? Prayer—of course. We must commit to a program of militant intercession on their behalf, that they will be drawn to and persist in the practice of medicine as faithful Catholics. I ask you to commit to a weekly effort at intercession, whether it be prayer, fasting or sacrifice. And of course, they need our financial support. A donation can help bring another medical student to next year’s Boot Camp, as well provide for their benefiting from all that the Catholic Medical Association has to offer.
Remember—if we want to have faithful Catholic doctors in the future, we have to start preparing them and supporting them right now.
When I write next, I will speak of the apparent clash between sorrow and joy in the Christian life. Until then, let’s keep each other in prayer.
Father Robert McTeigue, S.J. is a member of the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus. A professor of philosophy and theology, he has long experience in spiritual direction, retreat ministry, and religious formation. He teaches philosophy at Ave Maria University in Ave Maria, FL, and is known for his classes in both Rhetoric and in Medical Ethics.