Catholic Medical Quarterly Volume 65(4) November 2015

Marriage and Family Life

Medical and Franciscan Thoughts on Family.

Dr Robert Hardie SFO, MB, FRCS

Robert HardieIn St Mark’s Gospel the Lord answers the message sent from His relatives outside who were asking for Him, “Who are my mother and my brothers?" And looking round at those sitting in a circle about Him, He said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. Anyone who does the will of God, that person is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mk 3:33-35)

St Francis in his Letter to All the Faithful, that makes up part of the Secular Franciscan Rule, says that those who persevere in loving God and their neighbours, “who hate their bodies with their vices and sins, who receive the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, and who produce worthy fruits of penance, are the children of the Heavenly Father whose works they do, and are spouses, bothers and mothers of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

He goes on, “We are spouses when the faithful soul is joined by the Holy Spirit to our Lord Jesus Christ. We are brothers to Him when we do the will of the Father who is in Heaven. We are mothers when we carry Him in our heart and body, through a divine love and a pure and sincere conscience and give birth to Him through a holy activity which must shine as an example before others.”

All through the Old Testament, especially in the words of the prophets, God presents Himself as loving husband within a marriage covenant with His people Israel, and right at the start of Genesis (Gn 2:23) (and re-affirmed by the Lord in His earthly ministry) we read how when God brought the Woman to the Man, ‘the Man exclaimed, “This is at last bone form my bone, and flesh from my flesh! This shall be called Woman, for this was taken from Man.” This is why a man leaves his father and mother and joins himself to his wife and they become one body.’

So it is in our nature to be family and to be united. Our ultimate destiny is Oneness with God in Christ (Ephesians 1:10). We are specifically made for it. It is what the word “Catholic” means (a coming together). It is in God’s nature too, in the plurality and unity of the Holy Trinity, as well as His appearance in the midst of a holy family unit.

It is in loving family bonds that we first learn self-sacrifice, real unconditional love, total tolerance and joyful security. These are the values that make human living worthwhile and underscore human dignity, which underpins all we do as doctors, nurses and healthcare professions. Human beings are seriously deficient if denied these essentials. I am at the moment seeing much of the damage due to lack of family love, wreaked upon poor souls attempting to undergo some sort of rehabilitation after their prison sentences have been completed. We have all seen how devastating divorce can be – not necessarily for all parties, as often the protagonist has something to gain from the break up in the short term, but the other parties (children included) do suffer long and hard.

Family is sacramental and a model and example of how the whole of society is designed to be. Society is built on these blocks of mini, organised living.

We seem to be at a crisis (there is a continuing stream of them!) both in our civilization and also in family life. One mirrors the other. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI painstakingly describes how the essential family is under attack from modern secular thinking. The elements involved are well known to all of us and have been extensively highlighted, debated and extensively expounded in the CMQ over many years. There is an excellent submission by Josephine Treloar and Beata Klepacka on behalf of the CMA to the Education Committee Enquiry into Personal, Social and Economic Education and Sex and Relationships Education in the Feb 2015 CMQ.

The attack is always aimed at the very core values that Christianity and Catholic Tradition have always sought to protect. After a particular temptation St Francis said, “Our enemy is very cunning and subtle; when he can’t harm you inside, in your soul, he at least gives you cause for complaint in your body (ie from the outside world on the Body of Christ of which we are all members, etc). (Thomas of Celano. Second Life of St Francis Ch XXXIV). Hence it is so important to offer thanks and praise for, with and through all things (Canticle of Brother Sun) and in all circumstances (though it often goes so much against the grain of our logic) (1Thess 5:18) where all things work together for good for those who love God (which is beyond our logic!) ( Romans 8:28))

Interestingly from a retired GP perspective, the parallel between the family and society is very evident in the assault we are subjected to. The obvious benefits of good doctor-patient relationships and the dangers of depersonalization in the wake of technological progress is demonstrated (also in the Feb 2015 CMQ) in an article by Vassilis Kouloulias et al from Attiko University Hospital in Athens.

In this country, no longer are general practitioners called “Family Doctors”. Following the GP contract of 2004 which marked the “point of no return” for me, patients can no longer register with a particular doctor but instead have to join a practice and see whoever is available (I have an understanding doctor who allows me to see him but appointments have to be made at least 2 weeks in advance and on the last occasion I was told that there were no appointment to see him full stop!) Generic referrals to specialists are also now the norm (and often intervened by other non-consultant staff) where once the family doctor advised which of his hospital colleagues would be best to see. However, I appreciate the problems in General Practice and the NHS with years of unwelcome interference by short sighted politicians, and I also appreciate that there are still some good practices which attempt to personalise their lists and activities, but still the ultimate responsibility for the deterioration in the service has to be with the profession and its tardiness to support such a foundation.

How do we give society, and the medical part of it in particular, a wake up call on the importance of Family in the dignity of the person and for the cohesion of society and the personalisation that stems form this? We have so much to offer as members of the CMA and such a wealth of wisdom in tradition, scripture and Catholic Social Teaching. My godson, an ex GP and now an A and E specialist in Canada, who is not Catholic but a devoutly practising Christian doctor, donated a generous sum to us two years ago as he recognized the important work we were doing. Perhaps the answer is just to do much more of it!! So well done to all those who are so active in the CMA with the CMQ, website, government representation, local branches and so on.

I have been so privileged to have been part of this very good family, the Guild, now CMA, for 30 years, as well as belonging to the family of the Church, the family of the Franciscan Secular (“Third”) Order, my parish family (which has changed as we have moved but has always provided us with friends and family chores!) and the family of the whole world - all of us brothers and sisters of Christ – to even those who do not realise it (how we see this at work in the frequent world disasters!). I also do not forget my own Anglican parents and the safe and secure family environment of my childhood that they provided, steeped in outgoing love and generosity to all and sundry around them, which so well set the scene for my later life.

Life would be and will be if the trend continues, very impoverished without Family.

Dr Hardie is the immediate past President of the Catholic Medical  Association.