Thursday, April 25, 2002

JPII, What Are Their Names?!

Reflections on CFL: More on Paragraph 17 and St. Joseph Moscati

In Paragraph 17, JPII writes:

"It is appropriate to recall here the solemn proclamation of beatification and canonization of lay men and women which took place during the month of the Synod. The entire People of God, and the lay faithful in particular, can find at this moment new models of holiness and new witnesses of heroic virtue lived in the ordinary everyday circumstances of human existence."
Written in the margin of my copy of CFL is the following: "What are their names?". Given my frustration at the time, it probably should have been, "What are their *%#$ names?!".

Stop checking the footnotes, my friend. They aren't listed there. I agree, it seems hard for the laity to look to them for example if they don't know who they are. This is my common complaint about the Church's approach to the saints. In reality, JPII has made incredible strides in raising to the glory of the altars many laity who have lived lives of heroic virtue. Still, take a look at any report of those to be beatified and canonized by the Church, and I will bet you that no less than eighty-five percent of them are priests, religious brothers or nuns. Seems odd given that most Catholics don't belong to one of those states of life.

Before I get flames, let me acknowledge again that I learn from all of the saints. But I can learn different things from a saint who shares my state in life. Again, a resounding theme of my posts is the need to give concrete examples of what it looks like to live the Gospel in the ordinary places of life.

A few years ago, I decided I couldn't stand it any longer. I did some investigation to find out the identity of the lay men and women whe were canonized during the Synod. It turns out there was only one: St. Joseph Moscati. He has become one of my favorite saints and I thought I would share a bit about him.

St. Joseph Moscati is our first modern medical doctor to be canonized. Born on July 25, 1880, in Benevento, Italy, he lived out the Gospel through his position as a teacher and physician. As he once wrote, "Remember that living is a mission, a duty, a grief! Everyone of us must have his own battle station." St. Joseph Moscati's station was in the medical field, and, by all accounts, he was a marvelously talented doctor.

One story tells of how St. Joseph Moscati placed a Crucifix high on the wall in the autopsy room of the hospital where he worked as a professor. It bore the inscription, "O death, I will be thy death." He invited his assistants into the room, pointed their attention to the Crucifix, and said, "We have been invited to render homage to Christ, to the Life which was returning, after too lengthy of an absence, to that place of death." Now, I'm not recommending that everyone race out and purchase a Crucifix for their office and draw their colleagues attention to it. I tell the story to show St. Moscati's awareness of the need to bring Christ into his daily work. His comments are deep and profound. This isn't a WWJD bracelet. He understood how intimately Christ was bound to his calling as a doctor. To quote him:
"Happy are we doctors, who are so often unable to alleviate sickness, happy if we remember that, as well as the body, we have before us the immortal soul, concerning which it is essential to remember the Gospel precept to love them as ourselves. The sick represent Christ for us.
...
Sick people are Jesus Christ's creatures. Many wicked people, criminals, swearers, find themselves in a hospital by God's mercy, he wants them to be saved! Nuns, doctors and nurses that work in a hospital have a mission: cooperating with this endless mercy, helping, forgiving and sacrificing themselves.
...
Remember that you have to deal not only with the bodies but also with the moaning souls coming to you. How many suffering people you will more easily soothe by advising and going straight to their souls, instead of giving cool prescriptions to be given to the chemist! Be joyful because great will be your reward; but you will have to set a good example of your elevation to God."
There are a number of stories of Dr. Moscati paying close attention to the state of his patient's soul as well as his body, sometimes even bringing the patient back to the sacraments. The Catholic understanding of body and soul clearly informed his understanding of illness and medicine. He saw Confession and Communion as the "first medicine".

To help the poor, St. Moscati often donated his medical services or paid for his patients' prescriptions.

He felt it was important to support priests and those in religious life with his prayers because, as he said, "they are easily forgotten by the living, since Christians often consider that they do not need prayers."

He carried a rosary in his pocket as a reminder throughout his day and as a way to draw him to Our Lady -- and through her, to Jesus -- when he needed to make important decisions.

Many suggest his skill as a doctor seemed at times to be divinely inspired. At the very least, he approached his work with a dedication and a sense of duty, which was clearly given meaning through his love of Christ. He tried to give his patients comfort and consolation.

No doubt, all of this stemmed from his belief in the need to give witness daily to God's love:
"Let us daily practice charity. God is love. He who loves is in God and God in him. Let us never forget to offer every day, nay, every moment, our actions to God, doing all things for love.
...
Love truth; show yourself as you are, without pretense, without fears and cares. And if the truth means your persecution, accept it; if it means your torment, bear it. And if for the truth's sake you should sacrifice yourself and your life, be strong in your sacrifice."
If you are in Naples, Italy, you can visit the holy doctor's body at the Church of Gesu Nuovo.

For more on St. Joseph Moscati, check out Il Gesu Nuovo or Joan Cruz's book, Secular Saints.

Coming Soon: Reflections on Paragraphs 18 through 20 of CFL

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