Ordinary Time, 26th Sunday. Jesus talks about cutting off hands, feet and eyes. Is he serious? A malfunctioning gas flap on a car shows what Jesus really means: We cannot tolerate even a little sin in our lives. Even small sins begin to choke off the life of God that we desperately need. (27 Sep 2009)
Ordinary Time, 25th Sunday. Jesus predicts his passion a second time, and then catches his disciples trying to be the greatest. "Whoever wishes to be first must be the last of all and the servant of all." This is Downward Mobility, Jesus’ invitation to seek the good of others instead of satisfying our own selfish ambitions. Which wolf do feed? (20 Sep 2009)
Ord24 – Would you Rather…? (7:20)
Ordinary Time, 24th Sunday. Would you rather: A) live of comfortable but mediocre life that does very little good for anyone, or B) live an uncomfortable life with a lot of suffering, but which does great good for the world? Jesus chose the second, and history shows us what a profound effect we can have by making the same choice. Your works reveal which one you choose. (13 Sep 2009)
Ordinary Time, 23rd Sunday. Jesus touches the deaf man and says "Be Opened" — and he can hear Jesus’ voice and praise God. We too are deaf to the voice of God. We need to allow Jesus to heal us so that we can hear him clearly and bring others to him. (6 Sep 2009)
(The recording from Church didn’t appear so this was recorded later)
The news recently reported that Pfizer (maker of Viagra, Zoloft, Lipitor, and other commercials) and had been fined $2.3 billion. Apparently they were promoting drugs by inviting doctors to “consultant meetings” at resort locations, paying their expenses and providing perks, including free golf and massages. (Devlin Barrett, Green Bay Press Gazette, “Pfizer to pay record $2.3 billion penalty for drug promotions”, A-13, 3 Sep. 2009). Essentially, this means that when the TV commercial says, “Ask your doctor if Zoloft right for you,” they’ve gotten to your doctor first. He wrote out his first prescriptions in med school on a Zoloft clipboard, his office is littered with pens and other free Zoloft promotional materials, and he’s been to the Zoloft “consultant meeting”. Do you think he’ll find that an equivalent generic drug will work just as well, or that you don’t need a drug at at all? I think he’ll give you a prescription for Zoloft.
The worst part, of course, is that all this money comes from you. It is you, the patient, that ultimately pays for the drug that provides the money for them to run millions of dollars in commercials, hand out promotional materials and bribe doctors with great perks.
In other news, the Green Bay Press Gazette also noted that health care costs have more than tripled since 1990.(Ref) How could costs more than triple in 19 years? Is that even possible?
Ord22 – Better is a Clean Heart (7:50)
Ordinary Time, 22nd Sunday. We work hard to keep our bodies clean and free from germs. But Jesus reminds us that a clean heart is better than clean hands. We have to work just as hard to avoid Spiritual Contagion. Fortunately, Jesus provides us with antidotes: Prayer, Confession, and Penance. (30 Aug 2009)
Ord21 – Submit to Sacrificial Love (6:50)
Ordinary Time, 21st Sunday. Ephesians 5 is a notoriously unpopular reading. However, if we read it backwards it begins to make more sense. St. Paul calls husbands to love their wives with the same love of Christ — self-giving, sacrificial love. Wives must submit themselves to being loved. As they then submit themselves to each other, they create a community of mutual love and service. We too must submit ourselves to being sacrificially loved and served by Christ. (23 Aug 2009)
(This interpretation of St. Paul originates with Pope John Paul II as part of his Theology of the Body.)
The government is currently in the process of "fixing" health care. Before they fix health care, maybe we should look at what else they fixed recently, like the US financial system. Is anybody else worried? I recently read an excellent article, "U.S. regulators could learn from Canada’s banks." Even after the financial shake-up, Canada ranks #1 in financial stability in the world, compared to the US at #40. What makes them more stable is not so much the regulation as the mentality of the banks. Here are a couple quotes:
"Canadian bankers act less like Wall Street’s masters of the universe and more like sedate, green-eyeshade types. Regulators aren’t the enemy; they’re an early-warning system that signals financial problems before they blossom into catastrophe."
"In the U.S., some blame the financial debacle on the 1999 repeal of a Depression-era law that prohibited commercial banks from owning investment banks. But Canada notably allowed such mergers for more than a decade without incident before the U.S. scrapped its Glass-Steagall law. Conservative management made the difference."
The difference between Canadian stability and American financial market meltdown is not so much the set of regulations but the mentality with which they are applied. I believe that this is the key to understanding the health care crisis in America. The problems with the US system are not so much regulation or finances but a certain mentality. I think we make two fundamental mistakes: the Money Mentality, and the Unhealthy Society.
Problem #1 – The Money Mentality
In generations past, health care was considered a charity. Churches and communities funded hospitals and clinics for the good of their people and for the poor. This is why so many hospitals used to be named after a saint or something like Community General. In recent history, health care has morphed into a very powerful mega-industry. And now not only is the patient lost, but doctors and hospitals are existing for the wrong reasons.
I am skiing down a mountain and come upon a fellow skier who has cracked his head and is bleeding badly. So I take him quickly to the nearest clinic.
"Who’s going to pay?", they ask. They look for insurance cards or ID’s, but nothing. "Will you pay for his care?," they ask me.
"No, I only just met him."
Now, of course they are going to fix him up; it would be shocking if they turned away a bleeding man because he didn’t have money. So how come we consider them obligated to care for him even if he cannot pay? It is because health care is closely tied to the right to life. It saves lives, which are priceless.
The problem with modern health care is that it will give you anything, provided that you foot the bill. A pregnant mother gives birth and they present her with the baby and a bill for $25,000. But the hospital wants to seem caring, and no one feels cared for when the bill collector follows them out the door. So we have invented health insurance agencies, where the parents get the baby and the insurance man gets the bill. But health insurance only makes the problem worse. First, it adds a second layer of bureaucracy. Because they are paying they get to say what they will pay for. It intrudes into the doctor-patient relationship. Second, it adds an extra layer of cost. A whole company stays afloat shuffling money around between patients and doctors. Third, the insurance company eliminates free choice. Now I can’t go to a doctor I choose if he isn’t in the plan. Boardroom negotiations limit the choices of individual patients.
The whole payment structure is the problem. An article on the loss of primary-care doctors said: "The biggest problem is the payment model," says Sameer Badlani, an instructor at the University of Chicago’s school of medicine. "The more procedures you do, the more money you make. That is why, in a procedure-based specialty, a physician can make about four to five times the annual salary a primary-care physician can earn." (USA Today, "Doctor shortage looms")
Doctors are necessary for a healthy society. Being necessary is the ticket to making lots of money. But at its essence, health care is CARE for the sick and vulnerable. These are people whose health has been damaged beyond their ability to fix it. They are not in a position to shop and negotiate. What if someone called the parish and said, "I need to talk to a priest. I am really struggling", and the priest responded, "I would love to sit and talk but that will cost you $50 per hour." Imagine how shocked you would be to hear that story. Well, that is what the health-care mega-industry does to patients every single day.
When pharmaceutical companies advertise on TV, are they looking to improve the lives of patients or make money off them?
When hospitals refuse to settle malpractice claims until they are served with a lawsuit, do they have the patient’s best interest in mind?
When lawyers rake in millions with a tear-jerker of a story about little Johnny who can’t walk, even though the doctor could not have done anything better, is the patient truly served?
When doctors order extra tests so that the hospital can make ends meet, who is being served?
Doctors deserve to be compensated, but no one can really pay you enough to give your life to make the lives of others better. Where a mentality of service is lacking, the money will never be enough. The problem is the mentality of money, and Congress isn’t going to fix it.
Problem #2 – An Unhealthy Society
Health care does not exist only in hospitals and clinics. Health care is something we do every day. Clean water, clean air, and good healthy food contribute to health. Exercise, diet, lifestyle choices and jobs all affect health care. We as Americans tend to eat too much and exercise too little. Grocery stores are filled with bad-tasting vegetables bred so they would look good on the shelf. So instead we turn to processed foods and frozen pizzas. We pay little attention to our body’s need to sleep, relax and rejuvenate. Until something goes tragically wrong and we expect the doctor to fix us. The doctor cannot undo years of bad choices.
The second problem with health care is that it cannot save us from ourselves. We are fragile and mortal, prone to injury and death. So much money is spent at the end of life simply because people cannot accept the natural role of death. Just as our health will eventually give out if we fail to protect it, so the whole industry cannot survive under the crushing weight of an unhealthy society.
As much as Congress has tried to get America active, we have clung to our TV remotes and stubbornly resisted. So now that you have read this incredibly long post, you must realize that it isn’t just the industry that is at fault. You and I are part of the problem, and we could be part of the solution too. So get off your duff and do something active for 5 minutes and then go eat a healthy meal. Your body will thank you, and so will your doctor, and so will your country.
Aug15 – The Assumption and a Wedding (10:13)
Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Our Wedding Mass today falls on a beautiful Feast of Mary. What can Mary teach us about married life? First, she shows us how to give ourselves completely to God and one another. Secondly, she shows us the importance of constant communication. Third, she reminds us to protect our own purity and that of our spouse. If you follow Mary’s example, you too will be able to sing, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord…” (15 Aug 2009)
This weekend we had guest preachers doing a missionary appeal, so they took most of the Masses and all the homilies. This homily I recorded at my Saturday wedding. The Solemnity of the Assupmtion takes precedence over the wedding Mass, which means that we could take one reading from the wedding liturgy and the remaining readings and prayers were from the holy day. It was a unique challenge for a preacher. I have included a picture of the vestment that I mention in the homily. It was a gift from parishioners of my last parish.
This charming picture of one of our leaders was taken at our 7am breakfast stop. At that time we had been on the trail for almost 3 hours and had traveled about half the distance to our destination, Flattop Mountain. We were also just below the treeline.
Here we are now above the treeline (about 11,000 ft.). Bathroom facilities become more and more scarce the higher you climb.
We were hiking in two “Platoons”, one from Wisconsin and one from Iowa. Here is the Wisconsin Platoon pausing at a scenic overlook. You could see California and parts of mainland China from this particular spot, that’s how high we were.
This is the barren wasteland above the treeline. Scoured by winds and freezing temperatures, it was teeming with life. Marmots, pikas, ptarmigans and spiders were everywhere.
Here we are milling about taking pictures from the top of the mountain and scaring one another because we all look so close to death. Really the mountain slopes slowly down, so people only look close to death. But 12,713 feet high makes dizzy just thinking about it. Of course, it took us most of the afternoon to get down again but we were all tired and happy and proud of one another.
Praised be Jesus Christ…
now and Forever!