Project Canterbury

Locust Street Letters

By Frank Lawrence Vernon

Philadelphia: St. Mark's Church, Locust Street.




Saint Paul mentions Saint Luke as “the beloved physician.” A modern Commentator on Holy Scripture describes Saint Luke as being obviously “an educated man of literary habits,” and also supports the tradition of his having been educated as a physician. He became Saint Paul’s companion. He wrote the Gospel of Saint Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. The Commentary adds, “there is hardly a cynic to be found who would refuse to cry, ‘Thank God for Saint Luke.’ So we may consider Saint Luke as the patron saint of physicians. He was a man of letters; an artist; a physician. Above all this he was a Saint and Evangelist. Today we thank God for Saint Luke and we invoke him to pray for us.

The point that I emphasize today is the ideal of the beloved physician. As I write, my memory goes back over the thirty-five years of my life in Holy Orders. I value my association, and it has been a close one, with physicians and surgeons. I treasure names which I have never ceased to honor. I remember the industry, the integrity and the self-sacrifice of the doctors whom I have known and know today. I value the friendships which have been formed in homes and hospitals. I know why physicians are beloved. And so do you.

The New York Times this week reported a distinguished medical man as speaking in the Conference of the American College of Surgeons of “the half truths and misrepresentations and downright falsehoods” to which physicians not infrequently are compelled to submit. This physician “finds it hard to believe that an occasional grateful patient has not tried to say something in our favor.” We must always remember that the payment of fees by no means terminates our obligations to our doctors. We owe them for all time our gratitude and our loyalty. The Book of Ecclesiasticus gives instruction not to be forgotten. “Honour a physician with the honour due unto him for the uses which ye have of him; for the Lord hath created him. For of the most High cometh healing, and he shall receive honour from the King. The skill of the physician shall lift up his head; and in the sight of great men he shall be in admiration. The Lord hath created medicines out of the earth: and he that is wise will not abhor them.”

A few verses on we find instruction for the sick. “My son, in thy sickness be not negligent; but pray unto the Lord, and he will make thee whole. Leave off from sin, and order thine hands aright, and cleanse thy heart from all wickedness. Then give thyself to the physician, for the Lord hath created him: let him not go from thee, for thou hast need of him.”

It is at this stage that the priest appears. It is the priest’s business in the sick room to administer the medicines which heal the sicknesses of the soul. The priest will guide the sick person to make a satisfactory confession. The priest will absolve the penitent invalid. The priest will administer the most comfortable Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ. The priest at his discretion will administer the Sacrament of Unction. When the priest’s work is done, he will give place to the physician and he will hand over to the physician a patient who is possessed of a healthy soul, a quiet mind and a responsive body. That is precisely what the doctor wants.

Affectionately in Our Lord,

Project Canterbury