Jesuit Gardens: Healing Through Medicine and Faith

Healing Through Medicine and Faith

By Eugene Curtin

The desire to heal was Kevin Embach’s constant companion since way back, since he was a child growing up in Detroit as a practicing Catholic in a practicing Catholic family, since those long-ago days when he admired two physician uncles, since he saw his younger Down syndrome brother deal with severe disabilities — since, as he puts it, “the Lord first put it into my heart that the priesthood might be my vocation.”

He was enrolled in a pre-med program at the University of Notre Dame when he first felt the call to priestly service, a call that grew louder as he remained after Mass to pray alone in the crypt beneath the Basilica of the Sacred Heart at Notre Dame.

After almost 30 years practicing medicine, he has united the vocations of Jesuit priest and physician, having been ordained earlier this year. He was subsequently assigned to teach in Creighton’s Department of Medicine at CHI Health Creighton University Medical Center-Bergan Mercy.

It has long been evident to him, Fr. Embach says, that there is a spiritual dimension to healing. People want and need more than the medicines and surgeries that help restore health.

There is, he says, “a hunger to know God better.”

“Oftentimes patients would want to talk about God or spirituality,” he says. “It would just come up naturally.”

It took a while — he first had to grow confident in his basic ability as a physician to diagnose illness and prescribe appropriate treatment — but he eventually embraced the spiritual yearnings of his patients.

“A relationship with God puts our lives — its joys and challenges — in a different light, and maybe in a different context,” Fr. Embach says.

“When you look at science and medicine, there’s so much complexity in one human being. Look at the central nervous system, the cardiovascular system, the gastrointestinal system, the human reproductive system, the blood-clotting system. Just how our blood clots is vastly complex and ordered.

“Each individual human being is a profoundly beautiful creation with so much beauty and order.”

And yet, he says, that complex creation eventually fails, raising the question of the point of it all.

“It makes absolutely no sense for God to create such a beautifully ordered system for us to live in for 70, 80, 90 years, and then let it die into nothingness,” Fr. Embach says. “It makes no sense unless it points to something else, to something beyond, to another life.

“To me, it points right to Jesus Christ, and to a God who loves us very much and desires a relationship with us.”

Faith fathers resilience, he says, and resilience is a key factor in overcoming illness.

“Connecting with God gives us the perseverance to press on despite difficulties,” he says. “Through that relationship with God, you begin to realize how God loves you, how God loves each person, how He brought each of us into existence from nothingness and that He will not abandon us.”

Having experienced a lifelong commitment to the spiritual dimension of medicine, Fr. Embach says he is encouraged to note a similar light of understanding in Creighton medical students.

“It’s wonderful to see how God is at work in the students I encounter,” he says. “You can just see the spirit working. They work so hard to prepare themselves to be involved in health care. What drives that?

“I don’t see money and profit as significant factors. It’s something deeper and more profound  — the spirit. You can see the great desire they have to follow Christ, to accompany people in their illness.

“It’s a very beautiful thing.”