Guild hosts first gathering for health professionals in diocese

Catholic Medical Association presents retreat on the Eucharist at diocesan Chancery

By Gabrielle Nolan

Sister Mary Lisa Renfer had been considering starting a local Catholic Medical Association guild for some time.

“As I’ve gotten to know different people in the medical community, I’ve been asking them about it,” said the Religious Sister of Mercy of Alma, Mich., who also serves as the medical director for the St. Mary’s Legacy Clinic. “I found there were more and more Catholic physicians that were kind of disconnected from each other that wanted to come together.”

Father Gerald Dennis Gill and Sister Mary Lisa Renfer, RSM, at the Chancery.

“We thought it’d be a good time to start a guild in Knoxville because there’s a lot of Catholic health-care professionals here, and there’s a lot of interest, it seems, in starting a local guild,” she continued. “The Catholic Medical Association is for any Catholics in health care who want to be part of this group to really help grow together in the faith.”

The new guild now makes the Catholic Medical Association active across Tennessee, with other guilds in the dioceses of Nashville and Memphis.

The guild allows medical professionals to have fellowship with likeminded individuals, grow in their knowledge of the faith, and support upcoming medical professionals such as medical and nursing students going through training.

After a time of prayer and an initial meeting with a few physicians, the first event was planned for Nov. 5 at the Diocese of Knoxville Chancery.

“The Eucharist is the center of who we are, and it is how who we as Catholics form our medical practice, so it seemed having a retreat on the Eucharist would be a great way to start that guild and to offer that beginning for our group,” Sister Mary Lisa said.

Father Gerald Dennis Gill of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, a longtime friend of the Sisters of Mercy, was the visiting speaker for the event. He currently serves as rector of the Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul in Philadelphia and also as director of the archdiocese’s Office of Divine Worship.

In addition to providing holy Mass, the opportunity for confession, and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament for the retreat, Father Gill gave two presentations on the Eucharist as a healing remedy for the mind, body, and soul.

“I’m here today to help you deepen your grasp of the Eucharist,” Father Gill said. “I’d like to emphasize today our approaching the holy Eucharist as a sacrament of healing. The Church understands, believe it or not, that the primary sacrament of healing is the Eucharist, although we have the official category of the sacraments of healing, the sacrament of penance and reconciliation, and the anointing of the sick.”

Father Gill spoke of his own brother, a medical doctor who died 10 years ago from pancreatic cancer.

“I know from my brother one of his greatest frustrations was that when people were ill, they wanted him to fix it right away, no matter what,” he said. “And [my brother] would say, you know that’s not possible. We’re going to work together, we’re going to cooperate with medicine, with God’s grace, so that healing can happen, but healing doesn’t always happen as I see it or on my terms. You probably run into that frustration, as well. People want the quick fix.”

“The one thing we want to keep in mind is the ultimate healing that Jesus offers to every Christian, to the whole world, is our redemption and our salvation,” Father Gill continued. “It’s the promise of belonging to him now and in eternity.”

Father Gill spoke of the three-year campaign of the Eucharistic Revival that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops currently is leading within the country.

“If something has to be revived, it suggests it was lifeless, right? And so this Eucharistic Revival is suggesting something really true; that our faith, our understanding, our grasp of the mystery of the Eucharist, isn’t what it should be,” he said.

“This lack of truly understanding what the Eucharist is affects all of us,” Father Gill pointed out. “It’s been part of the air we’ve been breathing as Catholics over the last several years, especially when we see the disconnect between what the Church teaches and how people live. All of that has a very serious, mitigating impact as far as what the Eucharist is.”

As members of the medical community and as baptized Christians, Father Gill noted that those in attendance at the retreat needed “this grasp of the Eucharist for your own benefit and also to see how it extends your healing mission and ministry to those you serve.”

A large portion of the presentations focused on the difference between the Eucharist and Holy Communion.

Father Gill leads the guild program at the Chancery for health-care professionals in the diocese. Organizing the guild is Sister Mary Lisa Renfer, RSM, medical director for the St. Mary’s Legacy Clinic.

“When we talk about the Eucharist, we are talking about an event, a divine event,” Father Gill explained. “And there’s a biblical way that the Eucharist is referred to, and that biblical way is the hour, the hour of Christ on the cross and risen from the dead.”

“What happened when Jesus went to the cross and was raised from the dead?” he continued. “This was the moment Jesus perfectly glorified his Father and the Holy Spirit. It is the saving and redeeming action of the Son of God in time and for all people. This divine event of Jesus on the cross and risen from the dead is at once eternal, cosmic, temporal, and immediate.

“What is remarkable, though, for us sitting around this table and for every Christian, is as I’ve described this hour, this time in and outside of time of Jesus going to the cross and raised from the dead, we have the possibility of actually entering into it, stepping into this hour.”

As for receiving Holy Communion, Father Gill noted how commonplace it is for that exchange to be taken for granted.

“It happens so often, unfortunately it can become routine,” he said. “Not only can the ritual become routine, but so can the dialogue between the communion minister and the person receiving.”

“Every time we enter this communion procession, it is a rehearsal from the time when we will pass from this life to the next,” Father Gill said. “Every time we enter this communion procession, we’re invited to eat and drink of the Supper of the Lamb, which happens in heaven and here in the Eucharist, the very same Supper of the Lamb.”

Father Gill noted that the “experience of receiving Holy Communion is layered,” with the reception and “amen” encompassing many beliefs of the Catholic who is receiving.

“We really should consider responding ‘amen’ even before we leave our seat,” he said. “Because it means so much, it’s content is so deep, and it’s a word that has so many other words behind it. It means amen, I truly do believe that this is the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, amen. That my life as a Christian is in moral communion with Jesus and all that His Church teaches, amen. … I am willing to be in communion with Jesus and everyone else who receives Holy Communion, amen.”

“With our reception of Holy Communion comes then, in this conformity with Jesus, not only a new intimacy with Him, but a desire to be His hands and especially for you who are in the medical profession, His hands of healing, His hands of comfort, His hands of peace,” he added.

Sister Mary Lisa described the presentations as “a needed understanding of the reality of what the Eucharist really is.”

“The Eucharist becomes this place of refuge, this place where I can receive healing from Jesus Christ through that holy sacrifice, through uniting my offering with His in that holy Mass. And the more I realize that, the more I enter into that, I think the better physician I become because when you get caught up in what only you can offer, it’s easy to get defeated in medicine because there’s so many things you can’t cure, there’s so many things you can’t fix,” she said.

“When you embrace the reality that the healing ministry of Jesus Christ is just continuing through your hands and you receive that in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, it transforms what you do,” Sister Mary Lisa continued. “So, it gives you the strength to keep moving forward and it helps you realize that you can always provide care, even when you can’t cure.”

Drs. Julius and Patricia von Clef, parishioners at All Saints Parish in Knoxville, attended the retreat.

“I’m a retired family physician, and I’m concerned about what’s happening medically, especially in our country,” Dr. Patricia von Clef said. “So, I’m very interested in the Catholic Medical Association being formed.”

“I love the Eucharist; I love going to daily Mass,” she continued. “This talk was one of the most beautiful, powerful talks I’ve ever heard, and I learned things that I hadn’t learned in over 30 years of going to daily Mass. … [Father] exudes this beautiful respect and love that just is incredible, and I’m tremendously happy that I came.”

Dr. Julius von Clef is a family medicine physician who has been in active practice for 37 years.

“The interesting thing is, living in the Bible Belt, most of my patients are Christians, they’re not Catholics,” he said. “I have very few Catholic patients, but just the idea of getting together with other Catholics in the medical field is something that’s important, that we can live out our faith together.”

“I go to Mass every Sunday and actively pray with my staff before I start every day, so we get together and pray and pray for our patients,” Dr. von Clef continued. “And patients will ask me for prayers, so I will pray for individual patients.”

Dr. Philip Hanneman, a parishioner at the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, is a pulmonary and critical care physician.

“I think it’s a great value, obviously, to be able to congregate with people who have very similar lived experiences to what you experience day in and day out,” he said. “I think the opportunity today in terms of what we’ve taken from it is just the importance of keeping the Mass at the center of our lives and recognizing that we can use that as an extension of what we do within the hospitals and clinics.”

“I hope that this has been personally enriching for each of them,” Sister Mary Lisa said. “It can be very full in the practice of medicine, and sometimes we don’t take the time to really receive the graces that the Lord is waiting to pour out for us.”

For those interested in joining the local Knoxville guild, please contact Sister Mary Lisa Renfer at srmarylisa@smlcares.com. For more information about the Catholic Medical Association, visit www.cathmed.org.

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