Jesus heals the paralytic at Capernaum, where the crowds surrounding Jesus were so thick that the paralyzed man’s friends had to lower his mat down to Jesus from the roof. (Galway City Museum, Ireland/Creative Commons)
Jesus heals the paralytic at Capernaum, where the crowds surrounding Jesus were so thick that the paralyzed man’s friends had to lower his mat down to Jesus from the roof. (Galway City Museum, Ireland/Creative Commons)
Jesus said to the paralyzed man in Capernaum, “I say to you, rise, pick up your mat, and go home.” (Mark 2:11)

Catholicism has always emphasized healing — from Jesus’ many miracles that healed people in the crowds flocking to him to the earliest hospitals in Rome and France to today. According to the Catholic Health Association, Catholic hospitals in the United States account for at least 13% of all U.S. hospitals. They care for one in six hospitalized patients.

It would be a scandal for the church to turn away from this legacy of health care.

The Archdiocese of Portland chose this quote, from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, to sum up Catholic teaching on health care on its website: “Every person has a right to adequate health care. This right flows from the sanctity of human life and the dignity that belongs to all human persons, who are made in the image and likeness of God.”

Holy Names Sister Lynda Thompson, who has served with the Catholic Health Corporation, Catholic Health Initiatives and currently works with Providence Health and Services as a member of the executive leadership team at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center in Portland, has a career’s worth of thinking about Catholic health care, and she thinks ongoing education about it is called for.

“Health care has been a privilege in this society,” said. “That’s not the Catholic view.”

She noted that health care has a long tradition in the church. “Catholic health care has a broad vision in that it’s the right of all individuals to be able to provide for one another out of our sense of human connection,” she said. “Jesus was sent as a healer.”

The U.S. bishops issued their latest Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services in 1994. It offers five Catholic values to help Catholic hospitals act with integrity. They are human dignity, care for the poor, common good, responsible stewardship and rights of conscience.

Sister Thompson said the Affordable Care Act (sometimes called Obamacare), signed into law in 2010, was a positive change in helping Americans “care for one another holistically.”

She urges people to look at health care beyond reproductive and end-of-life issues. Both are very important, she acknowledges, but they don’t begin to encompass what health care should be.

At Providence St. Vincent, she said, four lenses especially help guide decisions:

• Promoting and defending human dignity

• Attending to the whole person

• Caring for poor and vulnerable persons and

• Promoting the common good.

“This is thinking about what a community might need,” said Sister Thompson, who likes to use the Gospel story of Jesus healing a paralyzed man in Capernaum to show what health care means.

“They can’t get the man to Jesus because of the crowd,” said Sister Thompson.

The man’s friends managed to lower his stretcher down in front of Jesus, who heals him, telling the man to get up and walk.

“That’s the image we’re using to talk about Catholic health care,” Sister Thompson said. “Jesus restored him both as a human being and to become again a healthy, productive member of the community.”

She urges people to think of health care in terms of justice and the common good beyond a person’s unique circumstances.

Health care, she said, acts on behalf of justice and as a ministry of the church. It reaches into the healing of the earth and climate, because that also is part of caring for the poor and vulnerable, and promoting the common good.

“People don’t realize that all of this is part of Catholic health care,” Sister Thompson said. “The stories of Jesus are always about transforming people. And he never turned anyone away.”