Even though evil inflicts great damage, Jesus has gained victory over power of sin and death

As published in the Northwest Indiana Catholic on April 2, 2017

 

       One of my best friends died last week after living with a brain tumor for three years - Dr. Michael White. He had a thriving medical practice in the Milwaukee area, serving hundreds of individuals and families as a general practitioner. Michael served as an advisor to the archbishop on medical and ethical issues, led the local branch of the Catholic Medical Guild, healing and blessing thousands of lives as he practiced his vocation of medicine. 

       A devoted husband and loving father of eight children, he lived long enough to see the birth of 15 beautiful grandchildren with three more on the way.  He was my personal physician for a number of years and I will miss him greatly. He just turned 60 this month.

       Dr. White’s spiritual understanding of his service as a doctor was profound and simple; he believed that every person had the call and the responsibility to help Christ heal the world, to set aright the damage caused by sin and death. 

       Whether he was helping a mother through her pregnancy, prescribing medicine for a child with whooping cough or doing a routine physical exam, Dr. White understood that he was restoring the Body of Christ to health and wholeness. He also had a great respect for the integrity of the human person, rightfully viewing the body of each patient as the temple of the Holy Spirit and the sacrament of the soul and the heart. 

       His integration of faith, spirituality and medicine was a wonderful gift to experience!

       In January of 2014, Dr. White received the crushing news that he had a brain tumor. He accepted this suffering of three years with a deep peace and equanimity. I regularly asked him if he was angry or sad about his painful struggle. After all, he had to give up his medical practice completely. After working endlessly-long days for years, suddenly this new idleness must have laid heavy on his heart. 

       In addition, the intense physical pain, the ceaseless medical treatments and the knowledge that, barring a miracle, he had a relatively short time to live had to be heavy crosses to bear. In light of all of this disturbing and difficult suffering, I would have expected him to have some resentment, anger or depression, but honestly he never did. 

       He expressed sadness for his family but never for himself.  Amazingly, he never lost his joy, peace or good sense of humor. He saw it all as a part of the divine plan.

       This astonishing, humble and authentic peace was truly the fruit of Dr. White’s deep faith in God’s providence and self-awareness of his mission. Since he already viewed his medical vocation as his participation in the healing and redemption of Jesus, it was no small leap to apply the same spiritual logic to his brain cancer. 

       In his epistle to the Colossians, Paul beautifully articulates the fundamental Christian belief that our suffering in this life, offered to Christ as an oblation of our hearts, becomes a part of the saving tide of grace which flows from the Savior’s wounded side and resurrected heart. Dr. White grasped this mysterious truth of redemptive suffering, living it heroically for the last three years.

       The more I ponder the legacy of my friend’s remarkable life and heroic death, the deeper I appreciate the gift of his particular spirituality. The whole idea that the great human project is a progression of integrating, healing and restoring the broken pieces of our souls, hearts, minds and bodies in Christ is a bracing vision.

       Even though evil may continue to inflict damage on us, both individually and communally, Jesus Christ has already gained the victory over the power of sin and death. By living our specific vocations, we share in that redemption of the world won for us on the cross. 

       The image that comes to mind is that of a vast painted canvas stretched out over the earth. Depicting thousands of beautiful people in loving and joyous comm with God and each other, the painting, however, is sadly damaged. Torn in spots, soiled and dirty, even bearing gaping holes in the middle, this work of art needs much tender loving care to make it whole again. 

       Jesus Christ is the master artist, joyfully leaning over this masterpiece, painstakingly restoring it to its radiant and original beauty, with power, grace and much patience. Obediently taking his direction, and confidently adding their own loving efforts to the cause, eager assistants, strategically placed all over the canvas, aid the Master in bringing the original perfection of this massive work of art to complete fulfillment. 

       Dr. White reminds me that we are all here to love and heal the human race, surrendering to the transforming power of Jesus Christ, allowing him to utilize our gifts, energy and passion for the salvation of the world.

       I went to see Dr. White one last time, six days before he died. Bringing with me oil, which I had placed and blessed on the tomb of Jesus while in Israel, I anointed him and prayed for him and his family.  When we finished, he placed his right hand, still wet with the oil, on my forehead and blessed me. 

       What a beautiful, final gesture that will always linger in my heart. Even in the last days of his life, my friend was still healing, loving and blessing us, a doctor and a disciple to the very end. 

       Well done, good and faithful servant!  Rest in peace!

 

       + Donald J. Hying