During a time of stress and isolation for many, the ongoing pandemic is prompting guilds to think outside the box in order to build community and support each other. To that end, the Catholic Medical Association Guilds of Columbus, Cincinnati, Dayton, Cleveland and Toledo gathered virtually for an evening of prayer Thursday, January 28. The night also included a panel discussion on the “Pearls and Pitfalls of Nourishing the Spiritual Life in Medicine.”

Fifty members joined the Zoom meeting, where they heard advice and personal testimonies about the importance of prayer from Cincinnati Family Physician Dave Rahner, Columbus Internal Medicine and Palliative Care Physician Nicole Shirilla, and Cleveland medical student Joe Rall.

Dr. Rahner shared his own journey from self-sufficiency to deep reliance on God after a major professional set back, during which he realized that the only identity that matters is that of being a child of God.

“God hit me with a 2×4 and broke me like some of my patients. I became completely dependent on God,” he shared. “It helped me change my priorities. I can’t go a day without prayer.”

Daily Mass coupled with Eucharistic adoration are the foundation of his prayer life. His advice is to start the day in prayer, to acknowledge “our needs and remember that prior to being a doctor, we are a child of God.”

Dr. Shirilla discovered her vocation to medicine late but knew that it was God’s will for her life. She spent three months working for the Casa Sollievo della Suffrerenza (Home for the Relief of Suffering) in San Giovani Rotondo, Italy. Working at the state-of-the art research hospital on the hill founded by St. Padre Pio of Pietrelcina, Dr. Shirilla learned to integrate work as prayer.

She still recalls the saying found on the hospital walls: “Lord bless the mind, hearts and hands of all who work in your name.” Padre Pio noted that the Casa “patients, doctors, priests shall be reserves of love and when it abounds in one, so it shall be passed to all.”

She took that truth into her profession and personal life and today she prays with and through the lives of the saints and their intercession, chooses a yearly patron saint and does a yearly novena in which she asks her colleagues and friends to send her their prayer intentions, she shared.

Medical student Joe Rall shared how daily Mass and spiritual direction get him through the hardships of medical school. If he is not centered on prayer, he feels anxiety, he said. For that reason, he takes his prayer life seriously. Like Drs. Rahner and Shirilla, daily morning prayer is a vital component of his spiritual life. He begins the day with 20 minutes of Lectio Divina, a contemplative prayer form of meditating on Scripture. He recommends the Hallow Catholic Prayer app for others wishing to get started with this devotion.

Rall acknowledges that medicine is a long, challenging vocation that requires heroic virtue. And for that reason, “I don’t see how we can practice medicine without prayer.”

Following the panel discussion, along with the presidents of the participating guilds, CMA President Dr. Michael Parker, who is also a member of the Catholic Medical Association of Central Ohio in Columbus, led members in praying the Rosary.

“Medicine truly is a Catholic vocation,” Dr. Parker told those gathered virtually. “As physicians, we see the suffering of Christ and give His healing. Let us pray that as physicians we can be the hands of Christ doing what is best for each patient.”