DE PERE — They came representing all areas of health care, from vascular surgery to hospital ministry. They come with conviction about the importance and sanctity of life and respect in all aspects of their role in medicine. And they left inspired.
“Moral Courage in Medicine” was this year’s theme for the annual gathering of members of the St. Gianna Molla Guild of Northeast Wisconsin. Some members of the St. Gianna Molla Guild attended a retreat led by Jesuit Fr. Robert McTeigue on Saturday, Feb. 6.
Sunday’s events began with a white Mass at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral celebrated by the Bishop David Ricken. The day continued at St. Norbert College’s Bemis Center, where attendees heard a profound call-to-action message delivered by Fr. McTeigue.
The priest is currently director of campus ministry and adjunct professor of philosophy at Ave Maria University in Ave Maria, Fla. His areas of expertise include medical ethics, metaphysics and Ignatian spirituality.
Sunday’s talk was not an ordinary speech to health care providers talking about the responsibility bestowed upon them each day. With intensity sprinkled with humor, Fr. McTeigue challenged the participants to face their martyrdom, a term that we often associate with the beginnings of the church.
“We believe that the highest form of faith is martyrdom and a willingness to remain faithful even at the cost of shedding one’s own blood,” he said. “The martyr bears witness and testifies with his own blood and there is a greater good unwilling to lose even at the cost of all lesser goods.”
Fr. McTeigue continued, “A martyr is willing to let his own life be shattered, even destroyed, so as to maintain his integrity and the highest wholeness which of course is friendship with Christ.”
He went on to discuss courage in action.
“Courage is protecting what is good, for the sake of justice and charity even at the risk of a terrible loss,” he said. “Courage has to have a worthy object.” For example, he said, bungee jumping is not courageous but running into a burning building to rescue a child is courageous. “Christian courage is bottled up in two emotions, anger and courage.”
Many people may not connect anger to courage, but St. Augustine did, said Fr. McTeigue, quoting the saint. “Hope that has two beautiful daughters, anger and courage.” Anger at the way things are and courage to see that they do not remain the way things are.
A courageous act is not an act of futility, he said, and without anger we will not have the needed zeal to protect the weak and promote the good.
Fr. McTeigue brought up additional points about the role of government and the marginalized.
“How different things would be if we didn’t outsource corporal works of mercy to the federal government. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we would form communities to take care of the sick and poor ourselves according to the revelation of Christ?” he asked.
“We wouldn’t have to take blood-soaked dollars from federal hands because federal dollars always have strings attached. Let’s agree that the corporal works of mercy are no longer for sale.”
The talk then moved into naming evil as evil. He talked about “pouncing” it. “If we do not pounce on evil now, then someone else will have to pay the price for our cowardice.”
Courage is a debt that we pay to secure the future, he concluded. “If we do not act courageously now against evil, then a future generation, most likely our own children, will have to pay our debt with interest.”