By David Tisdale
Bishop Louis Kihneman welcomed physicians, nurses, medical technicians, and others who serve in various roles in healthcare to the annual White Mass Sunday, Oct. 22 at Biloxi’s Cathedral of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The White Mass is a tradition dating back nearly a century and celebrated in October near the Feast of Saint Luke, patron saint of physicians. Doctors, nurses, and others in the medical field wearing white coats participated in the procession at the beginning of the special service; all healthcare providers, regardless of their faith, were invited to attend.
Bishop Kihneman noted the occasion as one in which healthcare workers were the particular focus of its prayers and tribute, recounting his recent mission trip to Saltillo, Mexico, in which he came in need of the services of one of their colleagues.
“I got sick at the end of our mission trip and the doctor there gave me two shots and I said, ‘I’m alive!” he said, “So, I’m very grateful to our medical staff, and let’s remember all who work in the medical field.”
He also expressed, humorously, at the beginning of his homily, the reassurance he felt with the presence of so many physicians at the Mass.
“Surrounded by all our doctors, it truly is a moment in which we could think, ‘I could pass out right now, and I’m good!’” Bishop Kihneman joked.
“I express great gratitude to all those who work in the medical field, who keep me on this side of the grass,” he continued. “And while I’m very grateful, I’m also very aware that the call is to be with God in heaven, the promise of sharing God’s life in Heaven, that is the work of all that we do.
“It is Jesus who brings us to God the Father, it is Jesus who helps us to know that we are brothers and sisters and we are loved by God,” he continued, “So whether we come up for holy communion or communion prayer, it is truly a moment in which the gospel comes to us not just in word, but in power, and in the holy spirit, and that’s the conviction we are called to live in our lives.”
Dr. Nick Conger, an infectious disease specialist at Memorial Hospital in Gulfport, was the guest speaker at the White Mass. In his talk he discussed the importance of keeping close the tenets of Catholic, Christian principles in the day-to-day work of treating patients; he also spoke of the benefits of becoming a member of the Catholic Medical Association (CMA). Dr. Conger praised the CMA for its efforts to protect Catholic medical service providers from discrimination, including in those situations where medical procedures or practices run counter to the principles of their faith, and in providing an overall supportive community through CMA membership (https://www.cathmed.org/).
Dr. Paul Matherne, a deacon in the Diocese of Biloxi and family practitioner with Ochsner Health in Gulfport, introduced Dr. Conger.
Dr. Conger urged his colleagues in attendance to incorporate “Christian love” as they attended their duties at clinics, hospitals, wherever their services are needed, and discussed the model of Jesus as physician in the bible.
“The Gospels are full of examples of Jesus’s concern for the sick, and drawing special attention to his acts of healing,” Dr. Conger said. “These are essentially healthcare miracles. He cleansed a man of leprosy, he gave sight to the blind, he made the mute speak, he even brought a young girl back to life.
“Wouldn’t it be nice to take Jesus on rounds with us, have him in our clinics?
Dr. Conger further noted in the Gospel of Matthew it points to how Jesus’ mission fulfilled the prophecies of Isaiah, in that he “took away our infirmities and bore our diseases.”
“We have the image of Christ the King that’s the triumphant image, and then the merciful image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, showing the love of Jesus pouring out of his heart,” Dr. Conger explained.
“Then there is another metaphor, that the early church had – that of the divine physician. He even referred to himself once as a physician. In Luke’s gospel, he [Jesus] was asked “Why do you eat and drink with the tax collectors and sinners. His response was ‘Those are who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do.’ Before that, he not only healed a man who was paralyzed, he forgave him of his sins.
“His healing mission went further than physical affliction, he reached people at their deepest level of existence,” Dr. Conger continued. “He sought their physical, mental and spiritual healing.”
Dr. Conger called on his audience to incorporate their faith in their practice, to model Christ by “not just focusing on the physical healing [of patients] but by being more in tune with the mental and spiritual needs of our patients” in blending Christian love with physical treatment.
“We do our best to apply our knowledge in order to give the best care, but the physical ailments will always keep coming,” he said. “We know death is inevitable; therefore, attending to our patients’ spiritual needs will have the longest lasting impact.”