Friday, July 5, 2013

Saint Joseph Moscati, saint, doctor, and miracle worker

One of the key teachings of the Catholic Church is the "dignity of the human person." The great news today that Pope John Paul II will be canonized is an exclamation point of this teaching. Travelling the world the Pope spoke about unjust work conditions, the poor, the unborn, the sick and the elderly. His epic work was "The Gospel of Life" in which he teaches that " the gospel of Jesus Christ is the Gospel of life." In today's mass readings we heard in the gospel, "Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do." It is all the more imperative, these days, that Catholic Christians bring their faith into the field of medicine. One of the signs of the times is that people are beginning to be treated as objects, not persons. What do I mean by this? At the big teaching hospitals you are likely to be visited by an intern. If you do happen to receive a visit from a doctor, they are probably under tremendous time constraints to visit a certain number of patients (quota). I saw this recently at a local hospital. As an outsider the situation appeared to be degrading. You had a patient in his 90's, people coming and going, and rarely making eye contact, just doing what they had to do. This is what makes Joseph Moscati so unique. He was born July 15, 1880 and died of a stroke in his armchair at home on April 12, 1927. He was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1987 during the synod of bishops on the laity. A booklet on Moscatti's life notes: "The life of St. Giuseppe Moscati illustrates how the Catholic faith and practical charity united a layman with God to such an extent that the power of God ultimately worked in and through him." Just as now, medical school was not a God friendly place to be a student. Michael J. Miller's booklet notes: "When Giuseppe Moscati enrolled in medical school in 1897, the University of Naples-with its openly agnostic, amoral, and anti-clerical atmosphere and its secret societies-was a perilous place for a young Catholic. Moscati avoided distractions, studied diligently, continued to practice the faith and took a doctoral degree with honors in 1903. Dr. Moscati then practiced medicine at the Hospital for the incurables in Naples and taught courses in general medicine at the university. Soon he became a hospital administrator. He demonstrated extraordinary skill in diagnosing his patients' ailments; some colleagues attributed this to his ability to synthesize traditional methods with the findings of the new science of biochemistry. In writing to a young doctor he once said: "Remember, that you must treat not only bodies, but also souls, with counsel that appeals to their minds and hearts rather than with cold prescriptions to be sent in to the pharmacist." Dr. Moscati would treat poor patients free of charge and when Mt. Vesuvius erupted in April, 1906, Dr. Moscati voluntarily helped to evacuate a nursing home in the endangered area, personally moving the frail and infirm patients to safety minutes before the roof of the building collapsed under the ash. Where did he get such strength of spirit? His faith. In the Ignatius press movie St.Giuseppe Moscati, Doctor to the poor, there is a powerful scene in which he prays "Lord, reveal yourself to me." He realizes that the Lord is in the souls of each of the patients he is treating. This is like Mother Teresa who would speak about seeing Jesus in "the distressing disguise of the poor." The seed of divine life is planted in us at baptism (grace-the Holy Spirit), but it needs to watered and nurtured to become the full image of Christ. Dr. Moscati's spirituality was uniquely Catholic and uniquely Eucharistic. His spirituality was Catholic because he could see the dignity of the human person beneath the illness. Whether the illness be AIDS, cancer, Alzheimer's, leprosy, Parkinson's, we all need to see Jesus hidden in our brothers and sisters who have these afflictions. The spirituality is Eucharistic because just as Jesus as hidden to the senses in the eucharist, so too, the presence of Jesus in the sick may only be seen through the eyes of faith. Let's pray for a Christian renewal of medicine and pray that God will send us more St. Joseph Moscati's-men and women of science and faith who will realize the God given dignity of every human being. The church of Gesu Nuovo has a website where you can learn more about St. Giuseppe Moscati. Go Online to:

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