Gospel Reflections by Father Gerry Pierse, C.Ss.R.

C - 4th Sunday of Easter

Acts 13:14, 43-52 • Rev 7:9, 14-17 • Jn 10:27-30

Carers Not Curers

One of the most honest lectures that I ever heard was from Dr. Brian Maurer during my Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) course in Ireland. According to him one of the greatest difficulties of the medical profession is that doctors have come to see themselves as healers and try to sell themselves to patients as such. This, and the slogan, "the physician has failed if he does not eradicate disease," is, according to him, a heresy. The fact is that a big percentage of diseases are degenerative; they are just part of the process of growing old, and so they cannot be cured. All a physician can hope to do is to delay the process and lessen the discomfort. Another big percentage like AIDS and some kinds of cancer are incurable. A third group are self limiting and would cure themselves anyhow. The physician may then be able to help cure some of the remaining. If the physician's self image is that of a healer he will be meeting failure most of his life. We tend to walk away from failure and so some physicians tend to ignore the patients that they cannot cure. On the other hand, if the physician sees him or herself as a carer there is no patient with which they cannot be successful. Every patient that goes to a doctor feels unwell in some way and a caring doctor can help the patient to reduce or at least cope with the disease that they experience.

For Dr. Maurer there are four C's necessary for the doctor. Care for the patient. This means that the needs of the patient come before one's own needs. These may be one's need to be successful, or at least to appear to be successful or to get wealthy, and they may get in the way of real caring. Compassion. This means feeling with the patient. There are physicians today who make the patient into a thing. They look at reports and tests about the patient but never listen to or touch the patient. They never try to get the feeling or the perspective of the patient which may be a very import element if the patient is to be helped. Communication. Good communication puts a patient at ease. If the sickness is named or at least the process of diagnosis is explained, the patient becomes less frightened. It is very important to answer questions honestly and not to tell the patient lies. However, it is also important to assess how much of the truth a patient is ready to hear. Very often a doctor's assessment of what the patient can hear will bear a relationship to the doctor's personal capacity to deal with the fear of death. Finally there is competence. No amount of impressive communication will make up for knowing what you are doing. Quack doctors do not help patients.

Dr. Maurer's lecture came back to me as I read the tenth chapter of John's Gospel which is about the Good Shepherd. This, the only parable that John records, tells us that Jesus is the Good Shepherd and that he is the gate to the sheepfold. The model of leadership implied by this title is in contrast to leaders who lord it over those who come under them. In Jesus we find care. He cares so much that he is willing to die for us, his sheep. In this way he becomes the gateway opening up new contact with the Father for us. He is also compassionate. The thing that distinguishes him from the pharisees and the other leaders of his time is that he is compassionately present to all situations. The other leaders were more often present in a condemnatory way. Jesus communicates, he takes time to explain his teaching to the crowds and to go into greater detail with his disciples. In this he often experienced the frustration of not being understood. His patience probably came from his constant presence in prayer to his heavenly Father. Above all, while caring for the world, he did not cure all of its woes.

Our self perception will follow our prayer just as our prayer will follow our self perception. If we see ourselves as people who will right all the wrongs of the world we will tend to pray in a way that seeks power from God to accomplish the task. But if we see ourselves as followers of the Good Shepherd we will tend to be more still in our prayer, more like the gentle shepherd, gentle toward ourselves and gentle towards others. We will be gentle in the confidence that God cares for each of us and we will bring that care to those we encounter. Our way of doing will flow from our way of being.


Taken from Sundays into Silence - A Pathway to Life. Copyright © 1998 by Claretian Publications

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Sundays into Silence

A Pathway to Life

by Gerry Pierse, cssr
380 pp., PhP 299, U$ 19.95

“The best word I can find to describe this book is integration. In these reflections on the gospel readings for year A, B, and C of the liturgical cycle, Fr. Pierse integrates the richness of the word of God with experiences and stories from life in the community. He shows how through silence, the word can bear fruit in service and sacrament.” (R. J. Cardinal Vidal)

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