In spite of all the terrible, boring and misleading things that one sees on TV, sometimes a program comes through with a great deal of truth in a way that would not be possible if it was just read about.
Such a program was a Public Television documentary on the famous Mayo Clinic. It said something profound about the salutary and beneficial interdependence between Religion and Science, and between Agnostics and Believers. It is a lesson in opposing groups working together out of a spirit of mutual respect. You can still respect a person whose opinions you oppose! This seems like a self-evident lesson, but look at how we tear each other apart on the news and even in our own lives.
Dr. Mayo was a physician who was an agnostic in regards to religion, but who followed the development of medical science and technology very carefully from the wilds of Rochester, Minnesota. He was very patient-centered and would do anything he could, with the help of his two sons who were also Medical Doctors, to heal a patient and bring them back to health. Nearby, there was a convent and a school run by the Sisters of St. Francis.
One day, a devastating cyclone hit the town of Rochester; the destruction and the loss of life was overwhelming. In dealing with the wounded, Dr. Mayo asked if they could use the school dormitories to house the broken people of the town. The Reverend Mother had a dream that night and in that dream she was told to have a hospital built in Rochester. She revealed this to Dr. Mayo who at first thought it an unrealistic idea. But the Revered Mother and the Sisters opened the school to the wounded and began to raise the huge amount of funds that a hospital required. Dr. Mayo and his sons provided the expert and rigorous criteria for this hospital where doctors would work together, where they would be paid by salary and not by case, and where the most modern means of care and technology would be used. St. Mary’s Hospital opened its doors and the rest is history. No contracts have ever been signed between the medical administration and the Sisters of St. Francis, but they still work together at the Mayo Clinic to provide the best medical care in the world. People come from every state of the Union and every nation on Earth to receive that care.
I remember passing through Rochester, Minnesota to give a talk at a nearby institution. In the lobby of the hotel were 40 or so white luggage bags. I asked the meaning of this strange sight. I was told that the King of Jordan was there to have his cancer treatment at the Mayo Clinic!
This all came about because of the Medical commitment of the Mayo family and the faith of the Sisters. These religious Sisters were trained as teachers, but began to take care of the sick and wounded and learned medicine ‘on the job’!
There is a lesson here in the importance of looking past apparent differences, even of a fundamental nature, to work together for the common good. Dr. Mayo and his sons were not Catholics, or even believers in God. The Sisters had nurtured a great Catholic Faith. Yet they laid aside their differences to work together for the benefit of others. They still were true to their individual spiritual outlooks, but that did not stop them from working toward a common goal.
What linked them was a mutual respect and an acceptance of differences that in action was not decisive. Obviously there are many modern parallels both in religion and in politics.
What united them is their common desire to relieve the pains of the sick. Whether this desire was fueled by a belief in God or a belief in science is not immediately contradictory. Settling and accepting this ambiguity is at the heart of the tolerance and mutual respect that must characterize our work in our beautiful and diverse country.
There has always been a tendency to be tribal about our differences: “The other becomes the enemy.” We feel like partisans of the truth, and we cast those that disagree with us as evil and completely untrustworthy. But life is very different than this polarized perspective. There is a grain of truth and falsehood in every proposition. We have to approach our arguments in an objective and humble way, always respecting the other, even while disagreeing with them on much of their positions.
We must learn from the Agnostic Doctor and the Believing Sisters!