“Ethical Catholic Health Care: The Art of Healing and Integrity”

Homily, Saturday of the Third Week of Lent
Mass for the Converging Roads Conference
March 9, 2024, St. Patrick’s Seminary & University


“[T]hose who are convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else.”  More literally, this phrase can be translated as “those who trusted in themselves as being righteous.”  The picture Jesus paints of the Pharisee in today’s Gospel reading is certainly not unfamiliar to us in our own time.  In fact, unfortunately, it is not unfamiliar in any time.

However, as if this were not enough, the personality type painted here is that of one who also scorns others, who holds others in contempt and rejects them.  This is the old, classic “us-them” mentality: we are the righteous ones and everyone else is wrong.  Or maybe better yet, we are right and everyone else is wrong. 

The Pharisaical Attitude Today

As Jesus goes on with this parable, notice what he further says about this Pharisee: he prayed to himself.  That is, he was not focused on God; he was so focused in on himself that he even directed his prayer to himself and not to God.  The only outward focus he has is in comparing himself to others, and as being superior to them.  This is the attitude of seeking to justify oneself to the point of despising others, in order to attain for oneself human praise.  There are, I believe, few things that our Lord detested more than this.  In fact, a little before this in the same Gospel of St. Luke Jesus says to the Pharisees, “you justify yourselves in the sight of others, but God knows your hearts; for what is of human esteem is an abomination in the sight of God.”  An abomination in the sight of God!

This sort of thing may sound familiar to you!  It demonstrates the point we hear in the book of Ecclesiastes: there is nothing new under the sun.  Or, as we might say more colloquially nowadays, the more things change the more they stay the same.  Do we not see the same attitude around us nowadays?  That attitude which seeks to cancel out all those who disagree with one’s point of view, a refusal even to listen to another point of view let alone try to understand it.  Instead, the other is scorned, disparaged, ostracized and cancelled out.  Thus, what we call nowadays “cancel culture.”

Which leads to a question that always comes up when we hear these kinds of passages in the Gospels: who are the Pharisees nowadays?  The answers may sometimes surprise us if we look closely.  We hear a lot of people decry nowadays in the Church the sin of “clericalism.”  This, of course, refers to the sin of those priests who use their position of authority in the Church to force their own will upon others, all for their own selfish gain or praise from the popular culture rather than that which truly serves the good of the salvation of souls.  I would imagine that there are some priests who decry such unbecoming behavior of a priest, and yet, will take liberties with the Mass whenever they celebrate it, violating the liturgical norms simply because they want to or people might find it pleasing.  Is this not perhaps the worst form of clericalism, as it violates what is most sacred in the life of the Church, her worship of the one, true God?

I would hasten to add though, that this sin of clericalism is not unique to priests.  It is simply a manifestation in the clergy of the more universal sin of one using one’s position of superiority to take advantage of another, something one is enabled to do because of the power imbalance.  I can think, for example, of an incident recounted to me by a brother bishop when he was conducting listening sessions for the Synod on Synodality in his diocese.  He tried to set up small groups consisting of people with a diversity of backgrounds.  He said that those who took advantage of the opportunity to force the usual issues that people object to on Church teaching were very adamant about it, and not open to hearing other points of view.  He said that these were mostly older white people.  The people who came from an Hispanic background were not in agreement, but they felt that they had no influence in the conversation.  I see in this an example of what some people now call the “clericalization of the laity.”

As you all know better than I, your profession is one in which one can be very easily tempted into this trap.  People approach you in their most vulnerable situations, and you have enormous power over them.  I am reminded of a story I recently heard of a couple struggling with infertility.  Being faithful Catholics, the wife went to a hospital attached to a Catholic university to seek out solutions, and the doctor urged her to opt for IVF.  He even reprimanded her when she objected.  I don’t think there can be any clearer example of how this principle can apply to the medical profession.

The Right and Wrong Way

Why is this so wrong?  I would put it simply by saying: it doesn’t work.  That is, it does not make us happy, including those who manipulate their position of power to wield their will over others.  Such people are not happy people.  Living this way makes everyone miserable, not only the victims but also the perpetrators.

We hear Hosea preaching to a people who had turned their backs on God, consistently violating the covenant, but he also preached a word of hope.  “He will revive us after two days; on the third day He will raise us up, to live in His presence.”  “To live in His presence”: that is, to live.  In the ancient Jewish biblical mind, death is definitive separation from God.  This is what makes us miserable, and living the way of the Pharisee in today’s parable separates us from God, which is why there is so much misery in the world today.

You are all here because you are not Pharisees!  Thank you for your commitment to living by and building up ethical healthcare.  Our good Catholic people need to know that there are medical professionals in whose hands they can be safe, professionals who have their best interests at heart and will follow the sound ethical teachings of the Church, teachings which we received from our Lord himself. 

I therefore want to thank all of those who made this Converging Roads conference possible – the organizers, the sponsors, the benefactors, and all of you who are participating in it and have given of your time, talent and treasure to make it possible.  Coming together with a shared concern and commitment is certainly an essential ingredient to preserving ethical Catholic healthcare in our society.  But above all, to do so means living in the presence of God, which is to say, a life of prayer.  Prayer is our lifeline with God.

The Centrality of Prayer

We hear today from a chapter in St. Luke’s Gospel where our Lord is teaching parables about prayer.  Right before the parable for today’s Gospel Jesus delivers the parable about the persistent widow asking the judge for justice.  It is a lesson in perseverance in prayer.  Today we hear a parable about the right and proper disposition in prayer.  Notice what the Pharisee says about himself: his exterior behavior is all quite noble and good – fasting twice a week, paying generous tithes, and so forth.  That is not the problem.  The problem is the interior attitude.  The tax collector, on the other hand, has indeed lived a life marked by evil deeds – collaborating with his fellow countrymen’s occupying Roman oppressors by collecting their taxes for them, and swindling his co-nationals out of their money in the process by charging them far beyond the tax itself and pocketing the difference for himself.  This is what tax collectors did then, and so they were understandably the most despised people in the society of the time.  But conversion and salvation is always possible, as it was for this tax collector, because of the way he approached with humility, recognizing who he was before God and focusing his prayer on God and beseeching God’s mercy.

As Jesus says, this one “went home justified,” because only God can justify, and the tax collector had the proper disposition before God to allow that to happen.  Not so the Pharisee, who thought he could justify himself.  This is essentially what is meant here when Jesus speaks of those who are “convinced” of their own righteousness – again, meaning those who trust in themselves as being righteous, as if it were something they could do themselves.  The point of it all, then, is to be properly and firmly rooted in prayer.  We have to avoid the old attitude of giving to get, or making ourselves feel good and maybe even superior to others who don’t even try to pray.  It is not even simply a way we show our relationship with God.  Yes, it is a spiritual exercise, but one which is the essence of our relationship with God.  If it were simply a matter of asserting ourselves before God, expecting Him to act because we are doing our part, then we close ourselves off to the working of God’s grace. 

Rather, prayer is disposing ourselves to letting God work when He wants and as He wants.  It is letting go rather than possessing, so that our hearts can be open to the gift that God wants to give us.  And whether we have a moving, spiritual experience or not, it is consistency that matters.  With consistency in our prayer God works in us even imperceptibly; we develop the instincts and intuitive sense we need to do what God calls us to do.  And how important this is for medical professionals in the life and death decisions you have to make all the time.  


Yes, there will be a price to be paid for being faithful to your profession as agents of true healing, and not simply getting rid of a problem as expediently as possible.  I am well aware of how often medical professionals (and people in other professions, as well, although I think it is especially sharp in the medical profession) are ostracized and excluded, judged by others who do not understand and think things through, even those who should know better.  But if so, take heart.  You’re in good company!  Think about it: an innocent man who did only good being ejected from influence because he posed a threat to the worldly power of the governing authorities and the leaders of his own people; judged by his peers who did not think things through, and even the experts who should have known better; the target of a growing mob mentality that erupts in violence against him, ending by him being put to a humiliating and agonizingly violent death as the worst of criminals; and all to the jeers of those who hold the reins of political power over him.

Yes, we will soon be recalling this central event of our eternal salvation, as the Church reminds us every year on Good Friday.  Jesus was the quintessential victim of the cancel culture.  But we know the story doesn’t end there.  He subjected himself to being cancelled out for a time so that through his Passion and death he would accomplish the cancel culture he came for: cancelling out sin.  And yes, we know that he wins in the end and all will be worked out in God’s time when we pass from this life to the next.  But we also begin to experience that here, the freedom and peace that comes from peace of conscience, that interior peace that no one can take from us.

Thank you for your faithful witness, and may God grant you the grace to bring His healing light to those for whom you care and with whom you work.