On Wednesday 3 May, more than 200 Catholic professionals gathered at the Park Hyatt for the second ever Melbourne Catholic Professionals (MCP) luncheon. The guest speaker for the event was Associate Professor Natasha Michael, Director of Palliative Care at Cabrini Health, who encouraged those gathered to surround themselves with ‘greatness of mind, greatness of heart, greatness of spirit’.

Melbourne Catholic Professionals is about creating opportunities for Catholic professional men and women to network and support the life and mission of the Church in Melbourne. This was the first of three luncheons planned for this year, all of which will focus on current issues and trends in the life of the Church in a friendly atmosphere with food and fellowship.

Dr Michael has rich experience in medicine and academia, and was an important voice in raising concerns about Victoria’s Voluntary Assisted Dying (VAD) program. Her address reflected on her life journey to this point, on growing up in Malaysia in a devoted Catholic family and eventually moving to Leeds in the United Kingdom to study medicine.

This move was particularly jarring for her, as she moved away from a homeland rich with ‘devotional Catholicism’, while England offered ‘churches [that] were cold and empty’ and where ‘fellowship was non-existent’. But it also ‘exposed a significant gap in my formation, which was formation in the intellectual tradition of the Church.’

‘The devotional Catholicism of the East did not service the intellectual challenges that we face in the West, particularly in the absence of culture and societal cohesion,’ she said. Growing in knowledge of the Church’s intellectual tradition became a central part of her journey, alongside studying and practising medicine.

In England, she also met many medical practitioners who brought their Catholicism into their work, and their witness left a lasting impression on her. She had encouraging words for the professionals attending the event.

‘Work for me has always been a mode of prayer,’ she said. ‘Work gives us dignity of life. In order to live well the norm of work, we need to work well, with an intensity and supernatural awareness.

This means we must avoid sloppiness, laziness, meanness and pietistic pretence … Each person ought to work at what interests them, and at what they’re naturally suited to do, striving always to be a good professional.

Working in palliative care and spending so much time with people in their final hours has given Dr Michael this ‘supernatural awareness’.

‘My constant exposure to dying is a reminder to me of our divine filiation: the fact that we are daughters and sons of God,’ she said. ‘In a single moment, with the drawing of the last breath, life gives way to death. It is quite a privilege to witness this moment as a family member or a clinician. To consider our divine filiation is to become aware of the reality of our situation and to live in the light of God our Father.’

‘Life is too short,’ she went on. ‘Surround yourself with greatness—greatness of mind, greatness of heart, greatness of spirit, kindness and kinship. Foster the virtues of courage, fortitude, hope and love within you. Demonstrate magnanimity and humility in your workplace … Put your hand up. Be doers and not talkers. Share your faith with others.’

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