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Andrea ViciniMay 31, 2019

We all struggle with health and long for healing. Our faith is profoundly concerned with well-being and flourishing. And since its beginning, Christianity has made a special ministry of caring for the sick. In insightful ways, Incarnate Grace enriches our understanding of the ministry of Catholic health care practiced in the United States today.

The book articulates a theological approach to health care ministry, focuses on the person in health care contexts, explores the sacramental and liturgical aspects of this ministry and lays out its ecclesiological vision. I foresee Incarnate Grace becoming an important book for practitioners, staff, administrators, students and faculty, and interested believers, both in Catholic health care and elsewhere.

Incarnate Graceby R. Charles Bouchard, OP (Ed.)

Catholic Health Association of the United States, 296p $25

As Therese Lysaught stresses in her introduction, nearly five million people are admitted annually to Catholic health care’s diverse institutions and centers: “1 in 6 patients nationwide every day.” Continuing critical reflection on this ministry should assist institutions, practitioners and believers in appreciating the challenges and transformations that are taking place in Catholic health care and can provide them with theological resources that will nourish their engagement.

Holistic Liberation

The foundational theological contributions focus on the Trinity, Christology and Scripture. Neil Ormerod’s contribution on Trinitarian spirituality is grounded in grace. The three theological virtues allow us to experience God’s work (charity) and our response through Christ living in us (faith) with our hope of being united with the Triune God. Charity, faith and hope also help us to experience the Trinity’s presence and action in creation and, at the same time, they shape our lives as believers and our health care ministry addressing suffering and injustice.

In reaffirming the Christological foundation of the Catholic healing ministry, centered on the personal and social impact of the healing ministry of Jesus, Conor Kelly highlights how, for us today, the outcome is a “solidarity Christology” that, through accompaniment, promotes justice and aims at holistic liberation of people and societies.

Fr. Sean Charles Martin further expands this Christological focus by interpreting Jesus’ healings within the context of the healing rituals in ancient Israel and by providing the readers with a summary of the key principles of biblical interpretation described in the 1994 document of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church.

Personhood and Health Care

Daniel Daly opens Part 2, centered on the person, by reaffirming the theological understanding of personhood and its dignity that informs Catholic theology and care. Suffering is part of the human condition and it is also at the core of our faith centered on the crucified and risen Jesus, as Fr. Robin Ryan, C.P., stresses by revisiting biblical perspectives on suffering in both the Old and New Testaments. Considering the future of Catholic health care, Fr. Thomas O’Meara, O.P., examines the theological resources that shape our reflections on the future—eschatology and our understanding of life, death, and the resurrection—by situating health care practice within the larger framework of the history of humankind.

As an ecclesial ministry, Catholic health care relies on the transformative power of liturgy and sacraments. For Sr. Catherine Vincie, R.S.H.M., the liturgy helps us to meet God where we are and to engage ourselves in that encounter, including with its healing effects. Fr. David Gentry-Akin examines the defining elements of institutionalized sacramentality in Catholic ministry, its social and ecclesial witness, and its transformations due to the decline of women religious in the United States. He points to the need of forming the current and future generations of leaders and continuing to nourish the spiritual and liturgical life that is at the heart of Catholic health care. In particular, as Darren Henson emphasizes, the Eucharist is the source and summit of the healing ministry. James Schellman adds that the sacraments for the sick and dying are still an underappreciated and underused pastoral resource in health care settings.

The volume’s editor, Fr. Charles Bouchard, O.P., highlights the recent use of the term “ministry” to describe the commitment of Catholic health care by pointing out that “ministry” does not concern only the ministers but also institutions. Moreover, he examines the ecclesial character of this ministry, rooted in Jesus’ ministry, noting the challenging responsibilities of lay leaders and administrators as well as the demanding institutional dynamics that depend on market logic. Focused formation and appropriate ways to articulate sponsorships, mergers, collaborations and joint ventures can shape this ministerial governance and nourish hope in the future of this ministry.

Personal and Institutional Formation

Barbara Anne Cusack, Fr. Francis Morrisey, O.M.I., and Sr. Sharon Holland, I.H.M., examine the canonical dimension of health care ministry by examining complex institutional interactions: the role and responsibilities of the diocesan bishop and the status of health care institutions as “juridical persons” in canon law, as well as their accountability to and communion with the local bishop. The history of two hospitals (in New York and New Jersey) allows Zeni Fox to revisit the teaching of the Second Vatican Council on the role of the laity in the church and society and to reaffirm how the formation of lay leaders will empower them to fulfill their responsibilities in health care contexts.

Richard Gaillardetz examines how the institutional dimension of the church and the roles and responsibility of believers and communities are inseparable dimensions of an ecclesial sacramentality. In light of this approach, he addresses the challenge of non-Catholics participating in this ministry by answering that “it is possible for non-Catholics to affirm the central values and fundamental orientation of Catholic health care...insofar as the organization has as its primary orientation the furtherance of those practices and values we identify with God’s reign, which are deeply human practices and values.” Concretely, “specific offices and mechanisms in place” can help implement this vision. Hence, personal and institutional formation (human, spiritual and theological) are essential, as Celeste DeSchryver-Muller notes in a concluding essay.

Identity, Commitment and Mission

The volume aims to reach a broad audience within Catholic health care—from practitioners to believers, from staff to administrators. Its multiple insights can enrich conversations aimed at protecting and strengthening the identity, commitment and mission of Catholic health care. In higher education, the book can be a helpful resource for a critical theological study of this important ministerial field.

Images from the Saint John’s Bible of Saint John’s University in Collegeville, Minn., open each chapter of the volume. With their beauty, elegance and rich theological meaning, these images are icons of the incarnated grace that Catholic health care ministry is to the American society and church. Even beauty supports the commitment to enrich the quality of Catholic health care ministry to benefit so many persons in need.

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