"The healing intention has taken many forms throughout history. It has been voiced in the prayers and invocations of countless generations of priests and shamans. It has been carried by the men and women who sought out the substances present in nature and those produced by human ingenuity that help to ease the pain of sickness and hasten the return of health. It continues to find expression in the skill and precision of those dedicated surgeons who daily exercise their art."Introduction: Holism and Complementary Medicine. Origins and Principles
I have in recent days had cause to accompany a family member on a visit to a specialist clinic at Saint Vincent's Hospital, one of Melbourne's larger public hospitals. This experience has brought me into deep and intimate contact with the invisible pain that fills both the world and the lives of so many throughout the world.
Even before arriving at the hospital, the journey itself became a revelation. I had spent the previous night in one of the outer-flung suburbs of Melbourne and travelled into the city along the Eastern Freeway, a heavily trafficked tollway very different to the narrow winding roads around the Victorian coastal community where my wife and I live.
that carries over one billion motor vehicles, with hundreds of millions of cars undertaking the same daily pilgrimage from home to workplace and back. Seeing smoke pouring from the exhaust of one of the numerous heavy trucks that muscled its way along the freeway, I reflected further on the inexorable thickening of an already-burdened atmosphere whose carbon dioxide levels have steadily risen over the past three years from 397 parts per million in July 2013 to over 401 parts per million in July 2015. So sad. So silly. So much for the increasingly desperate calls of James Hansen and Bill McKibben over the past 7 years.
While such notions were gently coursing through my mind, the eTag sitting on the windscreen gave an audible beep - the first in over a year - as I drove under a toll point situated above the freeway. I imagined a symphony of such beeps sounding in the cabins of every vehicle on that tollway and every other tollway operating in the world, and of the automatic siphoning of a dollar or two from bank accounts everywhere with each beep. It brought to mind the old saying, money makes the world go round - yet another of the many lies that help prop up dying empires.
The road then began to descend as the lines of cars on the freeway snaked towards the entrance of the Melba tunnel, a massive one and a half kilometre long marvel of engineering built in 2008. And I wondered: Is this what we came here for? To move at high speed along bitumen corridors? To pride ourselves on marvellously wrought feats of engineering? To spend our days travelling to and from the maze of towering citadels that canyon the business districts of cities throughout the world?
|St. Vincent's Hospital Melbourne|
|Medieval Hospital Ward|
On arrival at the reception desk, we were surprised to see so many people in the waiting area. Virtually all of the 70 or 80 seats were occupied while many other people were standing along the walls and in the corridor. A nurse with a clipboard was working her way through the room occasionally announcing in a loud voice that it was an unusually busy morning and that there could be some very long waits. Many were visibly disappointed and frustrated. It seemed that this was not the first time they had experienced such delays. One woman approached the nurse directly and was told that her appointment would probably be three to three and a half hours later than the scheduled time. The woman said she had another appointment in the afternoon that could not be put off and asked if she could book another time. The nurse informed her that the next available appointment would be in mid-October - some 8 weeks away.
I realised then how thin was the veneer of efficiency and sufficiency of the public hospital system in Melbourne - and probably most cities in the developed world. And this at a time of relative steadiness and stability. So if one is unwell or suffering from a disease, how is life to be lived out in the Sudan or the Congo? Or in Gaza, or Syria or other places afflicted by war and oppression? The certainties within which we live are all wafer thin. Yet we build our dreams and empires upon them.
|Inside an MRI machine|
I began to understand how deeply the technological project had permeated virtually every aspect of biomedicine, the practice of which is now fully locked into technological civilisation beginning from the manufacture of drugs, to the analysis of blood samples, to the many visualisation technologies from fibre optiscopes to PET scanners, and the altogether extraordinary armamentaria routinely used in surgical procedures. Such a long, long way from the original vision of five prayerful women of action, the five Sisters of Charity who first opened the doors of Saint Vincent's Hospital in 1893.
Of Finer Fields and Gentler Ways
Yet there are some things that will never change.
As has been suggestively voiced so many times before, we do not live by bread alone. In the same way that the body has its sources of nourishment, so too do the soul and the spirit. This understanding would have been central to the mission of both the nuns and the small group of honorary physicians and surgeons who helped to staff St. Vincent's, the first Catholic hospital to be established in Melbourne. Apart from providing for the medical needs of patients, the hospital was also a place of prayer, a place where the transience of human life was consciously acknowledged, a place where the interpenetration of birth, life and death was experienced, a place where healing was sought not only from the administration of drugs and surgical procedures but from the power that invests the invisible world in which we live and move and have our being. We sit comfortably with the notion that the world is charged with invisible energies that connect us through our mobile phones and direct us through GPS devices. Yet there are many who would demur at the notion that intelligent, intentional energy in the form of spirit plays any part in the story of being human, that we participate in an entire nexus of influence of which the material world with all its man-made fields and man-made powers are only a small part.
|Casa Sollievo Della Sofferenza|
Illuminate our intelligence in the pursuit of an understanding of the pain and difficulties caused by the numerous afflictions that can assail our bodies until, by skilfully availing ourselves of the findings of science, the causes of sickness no longer remain hidden to us. By your grace, may we be neither deceived nor mistaken regarding the nature of our patients' symptoms, but with sure judgement, select the best remedies or treatments that have been made available through your Divine Providence.But there are times when powers other than those carried in the best remedies and treatments manifest in human reality.
Healings at Medjugorje
The video clip below offers an extraordinary personal account of two dramatic healings that have occurred at Medjugorje in Bosnia. The testimony offered by Polish priest Fr. Peter Glas challenges to the core the world-view that systematically denies the existence of divine power or of a miraculous dimension capable of acting upon human reality. It also offers considerable insight into the charism that can be made manifest when priests truly become priests. Try not to be put off by the first couple of minutes with its American style talk-show introduction. A remarkable tale from which much can be drawn is told by Fr. Peter Glas in the 25 minutes that follow.
Vincent Di Stefano D.O., N.D., M.H.Sc.
Inverloch, August 2015