August 28, 2009


Health care reform: A stewardship perspective

The Gospel of St. Luke presents Jesus healing 10 lepers, of whom only one, a Samaritan and therefore a foreigner, returned to thank him. The Lord said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well” (Lk 17:19 quoted by Pope Benedict XVI during his Angelus meditation on Oct. 14, 2007).

Life is a gift from God. Good health is the physical expression of that gift.

In the Gospel, Jesus connects wellness (or wholeness) with faith. He teaches us—sometimes dramatically—that physical health and spiritual health are interrelated.

Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that there are two levels of healing.

First, there is physical healing, which concerns the proper functioning of the body and all its various systems.

Secondly, there is the much-needed healing of the mind and heart (or soul), which concerns the whole person.

Another term for this second, more profound, level of healing is salvation. The healing power of Jesus brings salvation as well as physical health because he touches our hearts and revives our souls. “Rise and go your way; your faith has saved you,” the Lord says to the grateful leper and to us (Lk 17:19).

In this familiar Gospel story, only one of the 10 lepers (a foreigner) returned to say thank you to Jesus.

“Those who, like the healed Samaritan, know how to say thank you,” the Holy Father says, “show that they do not consider everything as their due but as a gift that comes ultimately from God, even when it arrives through men and women or through nature.”

Gratitude is the gateway to healing. It opens our hearts to the recognition that everything is a gift. And, as the pope says, “What a treasure is hidden in two small words: thank you!”

What has this to do with health care reform? Everything. Health is a gift, but health care is a responsibility.

As Christian stewards, we are called to say thank you for God’s gift of life by accepting responsibility for the health and human dignity of all our sisters and brothers. We are called to share generously with others, especially the poor and the sick, out of gratitude to God.

And the Lord tells us, quite forcefully, that what we do to assist the poor and the sick, the hungry and the homeless, and all who are in emotional or spiritual need, we do to him, for him and with him.

With this in mind, the Catholic bishops of the United States have given us the following guidelines for health care reform that are consistent with Catholic social teaching:

  • No health care reform legislation or policy will be truly effective unless it deals with the whole person in all his or her human dignity. That is why access to quality health care must be truly universal, and not selective, and why it must respect life wholly and completely from the moment of conception to the experience of natural death.
  • No health care legislation or policy will succeed in transforming our current broken system unless it provides for the needs of the poor and of legal immigrants (the lepers and Samaritans of our day).
  • No reform measures will provide for the common good and the diversity of our society unless they provide for the freedom of conscience of health care workers (allowing them to say “no” to immoral or unethical procedures without impunity).
  • No private or public options for insuring health care coverage can succeed in the long run unless costs are controlled and shared equitably.

Health care reform is a stewardship issue. It challenges us to take care of the gifts of life and health; to share the costly burden of care especially on behalf of the poor; and to manage wisely and well the resources available to us through medical and health care personnel, through private insurers and government agencies, and through hospitals and other organizations dedicated to the healing arts.

Whatever we do, as disciples of Jesus Christ and as stewards of all his gifts, we must work to ensure respect for life and dignity, and universal access for all.

This is what Jesus did during his life among us. This is what he calls us to do if we wish to follow him—and make his saving grace available to the men and women of our day.

—Daniel Conway

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