White Mass: a blessing for health care professionals and students

Barb Arland-Fye
Father Jeff Belger, priest director at the Newman Catholic Student Center in Iowa City, center, processes in with Bishop Thomas Zinkula for the White Mass Oct. 23. Following Mass, Dr. Tim Millea spoke on conscience protection for health care professionals.

By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger

IOWA CITY — Participants in the first White Mass at the Newman Catholic Student Center wore street clothes, not white lab coats, the color of the symbol that gives the Mass its name. Among the 450 Mass-goers were health care professionals and students studying for careers in health care. They received a special blessing from Bishop Thomas Zinkula who presided at the 6 p.m. Mass Oct. 23. Dr. Tim Millea, president of the St. Thomas Aquinas Guild of the Quad Cities and a member of the Catholic Medical Asso­cia­tion Board, spoke afterwards on conscience protection for health care professionals.

On Nov. 15, the Newman Center will celebrate a Gold Mass for people engaged in the science field. “Our hope is that these White and Gold Masses will help foster the development of local communities and networks of Catholics who are involved in healthcare and science,” said Father Jeff Belger, the Newman Center’s priest director.

“It’s always good to come home,” Bishop Zinkula said at the beginning of the White Mass, referring to the Newman Center. He studied law at the nearby University of Iowa 40 years ago. Much has changed in the intervening years, including his journey from law student to lawyer to ordained ministry.


Bishop Zinkula’s homily served as a reminder to health care professionals and students that God is a key player in their lives of faith and service. He began the homily examining the parable from Luke’s Gospel (18:9-14) in which the Pharisee is portrayed as the “bad guy” for his self-righteous, proud attitude while the tax collector is portrayed as the “good guy” for his humble, penitential attitude.

“But it is a bit more complicated than that,” the bishop said. Both the Pharisee and the tax collector demonstrate a mix of good and negative behaviors, like the rest of humanity. Their failing is in focusing on themselves rather than on God.

“There is something of each of these two characters in each of us,” the bishop said. “Sometimes we get way too caught up in our accomplishments, way too focused on ourselves. At other times, we get way too down on ourselves, way too focused on our failures. In each case, it’s all about ‘me,’ whereas it should be all about God. In each case, we separate ourselves from God, becoming too self-focused and too self-centered. We forget that God gives us gifts that enable us to do what we are able to do or we forget that God is bigger than us.”

Addressing health care professionals, Bishop Zinkula said, “God has given each of you the talents and the gifts, the education and the training, the medicine and the technology that you use to heal people who are sick and injured. God heals through you.” With that acknowledgment, “it is imperative that you thank God for giving you the ability to be caring, compassionate and competent.”

“It is also important to recognize that when your use of God’s gifts isn’t up to par, when on occasion you mess up, you aren’t total failures and it isn’t the end of the world. You are human and our loving and merciful God is always at your side. Health care isn’t all about you, it is all about God and it is all about the patient.”

“The best and most effective kind of health care assistance is animated by love,” the bishop said. “When we remember that God showers us with his grace and loves us unconditionally, we will draw closer to God. God will bridge the gap that separates us from him and from one another, which includes the gap that separates patients from healthcare professionals. As we experience God’s healing love in our own lives, may we share it with those we encounter along the way.”

Twin brothers Ethan and Tyler Stallman, both health and human physiology pre-med majors, served at Mass and shared with The Catholic Messenger their thoughts about the Mass and Dr. Millea’s talk.

“What stood out to me from the homily and talk was affirmation that there are a lot of resources in the health care field to serve others, as a Catholic, to truly care for patients’ mind, body and soul,” Ethan said. “There are many who are more than willing to support me to model a future health care career after the Divine Physician, Jesus, who brings healing.”

Barb Arland-Fye
Bishop Thomas Zinkula prays the eucharistic prayer during the White Mass at the Newman Catholic Student Center in Iowa City Oct. 23.

Dr. Millea’s talk was “very inspiring for me as someone who is Catholic and discerning how to live out the faith in the health care field,” Tyler said. “I like how Dr. Millea touched on the importance of the youth and the new generation of Catholics in medicine. Having Bishop Zinkula bless a strong community of health care workers was encouraging for me. In general, celebrating the sacrament of Mass is a beautiful way to encourage health care workers to live out their faith.”

Something that stood out for medical student Daniel Pape in Bishop Zinkula’s homily was the observation that “All our gifts and talents come from God. We can do nothing without him. I took a similar message from Dr. Millea’s talk. He reminded me to place God at the center of my work. As a future health care professional, God gave me this vocation in order to draw others to him. I hope to do this through caring for patients.”

Medical student Sawyer Goetz appreciated the example Dr. Millea sets. “He’s living the faith in his profession and I hope to do the same someday.” “I think it is really important to talk about the ability to care for patients in a way that aligns with Catholic ideals,” medical student Peter Eckard said. He views his Catholic faith as a source of strength in his studies and future profession.

“I am thankful that Bishop Zinkula could come celebrate Mass with us and show his support to the medical community,” said Christine Wissink, the Newman Center’s director of outreach and education. She appreciated the bishop’s emphasis to health care professionals and students “to acknowledge God’s role in their healing ministry…. Health care is all about God and the patient.”

“This is a big medical community and there are a lot of ethical issues in modern medicine and we want to pray for, encourage and support all those who work in health care,” Wissink said. She was glad that many stayed for the reception and listened to Dr. Millea’s talk, who impressed on his audience that “our young doctors can make a difference with their faith in health care.”

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