Brophy College Preparatory 2019 Summit on Human Dignity
The Search for Health: Dignifying the Mind, Body, and Spirit
A Forum to Examine and Address the Widespread Injustices Related to Public Health in Light of the Gospel’s Call to Respect and Promote the Human Dignity of Each Person.
Summits like this are frequent occurrences at universities and colleges around the world; often the goal of these summits is to bring influential voices together to effect change in policy, procedure and the world in which we live. These summits serve as an immersion experience through which students are asked to reflect on how their faith calls them to respond to a complicated world. While we realize the majority of our students are not yet of voting age, we nonetheless recognize their capacity for change as young people in formation. And so, it is Brophy’s hope that our annual summit might contribute to the formation of our students so that they become young men of conscience and conviction, willing to stand up against a culture that too often values individualism at the expense of human dignity and ignores the richness of diversity. Ultimately, Brophy hopes to graduate young men who will one day participate in summits at colleges and universities, young men with voices that can influence change in policy, procedure, and the world in which we live.
Modern Americans have many opportunities and face many challenges when it comes to maintaining their health. There are countless programs for nutrition and weight loss. Many online portals provide answers about troubling conditions of the body, from the common cold to treating diabetes and diagnosing cancer. Hospitals, clinics, and healthcare systems have an impressive array of treatments, pharmaceuticals, technologies, and procedures available to address diseases, addictions, and injuries human beings face. However, even with all of the know-how, data, and powerful advertising of how healthy we can be, Americans are not getting healthier. American culture often promotes lifestyles and habits or even encourages levels of work and stress that are unhealthy. Access to even the basic ways to prevent sickness and to heal the body, mind, and spirit is not equal. If everyone has a right to health, how can Americans address the injustices and obstacles that keep us from fully realizing it?
Evidence of worrying trends related to health is easy to find. According to a 2013 report by the National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, “For many years, Americans have been dying at younger ages than people in almost all other high income countries.” Rates of childhood obesity are at at all time high and vaping has replaced smoking as a habit for this generation. 1 in 3 motor vehicle deaths are caused by drunk driving. There are more gun deaths per year in the United States than in most countries in the Middle East. The recent opioid crisis has called into question everything from prescriptions, to the pharmaceutical industry, to addiction rehabilitation. These issues not only wreak havoc on our bodies, but create anxieties and wounds in the mind and spirit that affect our society as well. With each of these issues having political, social, and personal implications, it is hard to preserve human dignity and find solutions.
Since 1981, the Catholic bishops of the United States (USCCB) have offered guidance on how human dignity can best be upheld in the profession, systems, and challenges of health and health care. In their first pastoral letter on these issues, they stated, “One’s ability to live a fully human life and to reflect the unique dignity that belongs to each person is greatly affected by health.” The bishops provided a vision for health and healing that is based on biblical and theological principles, personal responsibility, formation of health professionals, and sound government policy.
In the early 1990s, even with a strong economy and more advancement than ever in pharmaceuticals, medical technology and procedures, the U.S. bishops took issue with the state of health care in our country. “Our nation’s health care system serves too few and costs too much. A major national debate on how to assure access for all, restrain costs, and increase quality is moving to the center of American public life.” And so it has. Health care has been at the center of major political battles and campaigns at the local and national level. It has created economic tensions in homes and workplaces, big and small, and there is strong complaint that a system that represents one-seventh of the national economy is inequitable, confusing, and inaccessible, especially to the poor.
One year before the Affordable Care Act was passed, the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development issued a statement asking for “serious dialogue” that would lead to comprehensive reform. Catholic hospitals were directly experiencing the dangers, costs, and injustice of uninsured patients in emergency rooms. Catholic institutions provided and purchased health care but were consistently strained in offering complete benefits to their employees. With eight criteria offered to frame any new policy, the USCCB proclaimed “the moral measure of any health care reform proposal is whether it offers affordable and accessible health to all.”
Besides itinerant preacher, teacher, and servant, Jesus was a healer. He restored the afflicted, blind, and lame during his earthly mission as a sign to the people that the Kingdom of God was at hand. He felt the real contagion was a lack of faith and spiritual blindness. Jesus’ most controversial healings involved his willingness to commune with and even touch lepers. In his times, sin was believed to the be the cause of illness and disability. Thus, Jesus believed his first job as physician was to restore the sick person’s human dignity, to emphasize their equality in sight of the community. He healed the mind, body and spirit together. With the same compassion and mercy, Christians are called to be healers; to destigmatize illnesses of every kind.
Indeed, the Society of Jesus was founded by a man whose first work after his spiritual conversion was serving and caring for the sick in a hospital in Manresa, Spain. St. Ignatius of Loyola’s own injuries and insight into the poverty of illness would lead him to send out missionaries who cared for souls but also healed the body. Today, institutions such as Georgetown and Creighton University reflect a rich history of how the Society of Jesus ministers to the sick, advances medical treatment, and influences health care policy.
On February 11, 2018, the Catholic Church observed the World Day of the Sick. Pope Francis, in his message to the faithful said, “Jesus bestowed upon the Church his healing power…The Church’s mission is a response to Jesus’ gift, for she knows that she must bring to the sick the Lord’s own gaze, full of tenderness and compassion.” Pointing to the Church’s long history of care for the sick, Francis warned that health care systems must not fall prey to the business mentality that seeks to turn health care “into a profit-making enterprise, which ends up discarding the poor.”
With all of these things considered, in the Catholic, Jesuit tradition, the Brophy community will be asked to consider four primary questions during this Summit on Human Dignity:
- What are the public health issues that should be of most concern to young people in the United States and how are they currently being experienced and addressed?
- Why is health a challenge, considering personal responsibility, economics, social structures, culture, and human rights?
- How can healthcare policy in the United States be shaped to deliver just, quality service to all people?
- How can we better embrace the role of healer of the mind, body, and spirit for ourselves and others?
 Luke 17, Matthew 8