by William Van Ornum, Ph.D. on
Successes of all kinds—academic, vocational, monetary, and material—are highly valued and obsessively pursued. But even those who “have it all” may find themselves spiritually adrift and existentially empty. Paul Wright, M.D., a cardiologist, found himself in this position after having made it to the top in a demanding medical specialty. On November 9, 2012, I heard him present his book Mother Teresa’s Prescription: Finding Happiness and Peace in Service, published by Ave Maria Press, at the annual Medical Committee meeting of the Knights of Malta. They are a lay religious order which strives to serve the poor and the sick.
The book’s jacket gives an excellent overview:
“Cardiologist Paul Wright had it all–wealth, prestige, a fulfilling career, a loving family. But despite his success, he felt empty, depressed, and adrift. He longed to know what purpose God had for him. Seeking direction, Wright sought out Mother Teresa, the person he considered the expert on living the Christian life. Wright’s life was forever changed when Mother Teresa shared her message–that his purpose in life, indeed the purpose of each of us, is to serve others with compassion.”
In his talk, Wright further developed his theme as “What does it mean to be a Christian Health Care Provider?” This has become especially difficult with mandates and pressures to provide services in the most “efficient” and shortest time possible. Bringing this into greater focus, he cited the admonition of the Knights of Malta to “Serve Our Lords–the Sick and the Poor.”
Wright’s journey included some incongruous and even humorous aspects. After flying from Cleveland, unscheduled and at the last minute, to meet Mother Teresa in Mexico, he stayed for three weeks–and worried his family so much that they called the FBI to check on him and make sure that he was safe.
During these three weeks, Mother Teresa gave him spiritual tutorials in the form of Socratic questioning: “Dr. Paul, how do you pray every day? “Why do you do angioplasties?” Later she made “simple” requests: “I need a medical clinic built for Jesus.” “Can you help, Dr. Paul, in obtaining free drugs from pharmaceutical companies?”
After returning to the USA, Wright streamlined his life by giving up various endeavors so he could concentrate on the main goal of being more present with understanding and spiritually to those he was treating for heart conditions. His productivity in his medical practice dropped 20%, garnering the attention of his fellow physicians. In his book he notes the following ways in which his life has changed:
“I continue to practice cardiology in Youngstown and Warren, Ohio, but my focus is now on alleviating the suffering of my patients. I am called simply to do that. I still work twelve- to fourteen-hour days. I am on call every third night and every other weekend. These are demanding hours, but now that I am older, I find great satisfaction in dedicating myself to my patients rather than to professional or material rewards.
“In 2004 I developed a medical ethics program that will be held every semester for one weekend for Nortre Dame students who are interested in health careers. We speak about issues such as the purpose of our profession, compassion, and how to maintain a sense of inner peace. This is a way to serve my profession and help future physicians and others in the medical arts learn about Mother Teresa’s message and prescription for peace and happiness.”
Beyond the satisfaction that comes from altruism and helping others, there is a spiritual dimension to Dr. Wright’s work. Joseph Metz, Ph.D., Regent of the Knights of Malta, noted: “The beauty of Dr. Wright’s message is the need for a spiritual communion to do all things to serve God.”