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Priestly Medicine

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on February 9, 2013

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 A talk on given to TED on the importance of priests to healthy living

Priestly Medicine Transcription

It's my pleasure to speak to you on the subject of priestly medicine. Now we ministers and priests, we have a supernatural power to really heal people by giving them so much peace in their hearts when we speak and something like this happens. But I have to share with you first before we talk about the subject my mixed feelings when I was told that my talk should be less or within fifteen minutes. I was happy and I was sad. I was happy because it goes very well with the saying of a man that I admire very much, Bishop Ambrose of Milan, who said that "what we ought to do the most is to speak less and to stop and be silent if we are to find anything to say." But I was sad because I thought someone was cutting my pulpit opportunity for preaching short. I've come to terms with that as I realize this isn't preaching and the second thing is when I came along the stats for the year 2012 for the average humans attention span. The average human attention span for 2012 is 8 seconds, which is 1 second less than a goldfish.

So I thought let's get right into the topic: priestly medicine. It's a combination of two words. Its a term that for some people is an archaic phenomenon, something very old. To other people it's an oxymoron. And to others, it is lucid and meaningful. So what is this priestly medicine? I read a little bit into ancient literature and I found that in the ancient Egyptian civilization, a man by the name of Emhotab, you have him on the screen there, is credited for being the first medical doctor ever spoken of and he happens to be a priest. And he is the first one, Emhotab, to have produced a treaty as a medical treaties that's put together information, diagnoses, cures, anatomical observations, and the like without any magical thinking. The so-called Edwin Swith papyrus is the treaties that this man put together and he has been referred to by William Osler as the father of medicine as we know it, and he happens to be a priest. So I thought maybe today I could be your Emhotab and especially you know I was born in Egypt. Education wise I am a health care medical professional and my vocation is a priest. Let me get right into the priest and medicine.

When you think of medicine what comes to your mind? People usually would tend to think of the western medicine and think of a team of people together: a doctor, a physician, a nurse, a physiotherapist, a pharmacist. But we don't see a priest in that scene. And yet when you look into civilization you look and into other cultures, anthropologists have found that shramon, priests, medicine man, these roles have actually being played by the same individual. When you think of this priestly role that we have, I looked up some modern books. I looked up some modern periodicals and I came across the Yale journal of biology and medicine and the author Daniel Hall authored a very interesting article and he wrote that humans need help. Well they need help too weave the experience of illness into a tapestry of meaning. He said that this is fundamentally a priestly role in that it puts the individuals experience of suffering and illness in the background of meaning and value and he highlighted the fact that this is a priestly role. At the hospital, you don't see a priest residing over life and death, you see mainly a physician. A chaplain may be invited in to help, but still it's the doctor that presides over life and death in our western current world well we see up there is one of the sacraments of the church. A priest is ordained mainly to be responsible to administer the sacraments of the church and the sacraments of the church, as Hall puts it "sacraments puts physical form to the theology". They put physical form to the hope and the promise of the gospel through things like the elements of the Eucharist, the waters of baptism, and the oil of unction. It is the understanding of the church that we are not spirits floating around that we're still in the physical body and there are physical things such as a touch or an oil or hands that can convey a touch of healing.

So if I had to define what priestly medicine is, I could think of so many things, I choose to speak of three things. First, priestly medicine is a constant reminder that God exists and that God cares and God hears and God listens. I tell you when I walk in the mall people do look at me and some people approach me and some people ask and some people stop me. But I tell you all the time as I'm walking anywhere it's a constant ambulatory reminder that God is not dead in the heart of people. That God loves you, cares for you, and hears you. On my way back from Montreal a few weeks back I was on the train (what I thought to be my off time). As I was going to the washroom at lady stops me. She didn't know I was going to the washroom but she stops me and says "Father bless me for I have cancer". And I stood, picked up my cross and prayed for her and with her. Even though people come to terms with the physical illness, something about a prayer said, something about a nice caring touch, and a prayer that is offered, goes a very long way.

The word priest in the biblical Greek word is presbyteros and the word actually means intercessor. That is what it a priest does first and foremost. Priests are people of prayer. They're a reminder that there is a channel that still connects us in this world with another world. That connects us here they don't who hears listens and camps and that goes a long way with people.

Secondly priestly medicine is about the remedy for broken relationships. Now the universal disease of humanity is not cancer, not everyone gets cancer, not everyone gets a heart disease, not everyone gets a certain particular communicable disease. But tell you every person, every human is sickened with the broken relationships. Every person has an unmet desire for someone to connect with them significantly. We get this as we were very little when we cry. They're calling for attachments. We want to be held and then as life goes on even at that moment when people are still little they may get an injury of that attachment. You may be familiar with author Susan Johnson who is one of the founders and and the main proponent of emotionally focused therapy. She says and highlights that seeking and nourishing contacts with significant others is an innate, primary principal for all of us throughout our life span.  We all need to be held, to be connected, to be loved to be secure with other human beings.

Aladdin, the character Aladdin, all what he was supposed to do was rub the lamp and get a distant alien genie who was a wish fulfillment service provider. But what does he get? He gets a genie with whom he forms a real friendship. Well you know what the real life time genie of the land is? A priest. When in trouble you rub.. you call the priest. That response when you're sick traditionally people would call the priest. You have a new infant newborn - you call a priest. When someone dies - you call a priest. When you're in love and you want to get engaged and get married - you call the priests. Tradition i wanted to reunite and at time that still exist within churches today where people do call the priest. 

I have the privilege of serving predominantly immigrant population congregation in our church and I tell you many of them call the priest before they call 911. Without going any further analyzing this, it just goes to show that they trust the priest. That they rely on the priest did they have icici or relationship with this call on and get help. Priestly medicine is about the security shinshin I and I want to share with you a story that happened in my one of my visits to the hospital. I went and visited them and I was visiting and it was quite late at night so I went out and there was this big men with his hair down and his beard. He looked very scary (look who's talking) and I said you know what, I'd better get out of this place quickly because he was roaming with his patient gown on and I heard overheard the head nurse calling security to hold this man down because you want to leave the hospital and I said if I don't hear him then he doesn't exist. Let me just get to the elevator and it worked well until all of a sudden from the back he says, "You, father". I continued walking and I went to the elevator and when I turned around to lifted up my eyes just to see where he was and he was picking up pace and coming towards me and my finger just went to the close the door button and I went close close close but Murphy's law was in effect that day and the door wouldn't close. Just three feet before this man was right by the elevator the door closed and I went phew. Then I went uh-oh. This man called for a priest. This man called for help and I wasn't there. Next day I was out with my spiritual mentor who's a senior priest in our church, and we went visiting the hospital and all the way to the person we were visiting my spiritual mentor kept tapping on people's shoulders all around saying "hi, how are you", "good morning" and I said "Father, do you all these people?" He said no. "What is this?" He said "That is what priestly medicine is".  Priestly medicine is about looking at someone and saying you matter to me even though I don't know you. Priestly medicine is able holding an attachment secure what people need the most.

Thirdly priestly medicine is physical, psychological, and spiritual healing. You say physical? A priest always walks with something very important in his pocket oil we pray for the sick we used oil we and knowing people with oil in the book of James and the new testament there is reference to the oil where it says if someone is among you sick let them call for the presbyters, the priest of the church, and lead them on the link them with oil and it's fixable dot healing but also priestly medicine is psychological healing. Patience and compassion, something very important in the spiritual formation of priests, we're taught to listen we're taught to be that we've got to have empathy and a lot of people nowadays as they go in and out a physician's office and that's needed but they'd say i want someone to hear me i want someone to listen to me, I want someone to show more patience and compassion and that's what we're trained that's what would be being brought up in the church to do to listen to people. I think is the status quo listens to the physical beating of a heart within patients and compassion are the priest tools to listening to the psychological cry the goes within a person. And finally also the psychology of confession. I don't have to preach about this, you can Google it and read all of the articles scientific article scholarly work on psychology of confession confession and how people compound out of the safe confession feeling a lot better. Feeling that they have off-loaded their problems Andersen's suspicious-looking because it's McMahon puts it best citizen original part of our character sin is our sickness and a priest what he does, he reminds the people that got forgave that god legal and that therefore we should let go as well each others faults a priest reminds people that there is peace to be made with god, with themselves definitely, and with others. So that is what priestly medicine is about. This has been my talk on priestly medicine. Reinvent.