St Joseph Moscati

Layman, Medical Doctor, (entered heaven on April 12, 1927)

Dear Joe,

I am very, very sorry to hear of your, well, your little “stumble”, as you euphemize it.  I must say, however, that I’m not completely surprised. Keeping on track requires God’s grace as well as our effort, and your college’s atmosphere of self-indulgent hedonism tends to exhaust your effort.  I trust, however, that you have resolved not to put yourself in such a compromising situation again, and I am sure the grace you received in the sacrament of Confession will give you enough strength for a fresh start.  The important thing now is simply to forge ahead, keeping your eyes on Christ, not the glamour and pleasure of the world. Today’s saint pulled a little prank that you may find helpful in this regard.

He was an intellectual giant and would have fit right in with your Linear Accelerator buddies – although his field was chemistry and medicine, not physics.  He grew up in southern Italy, in a devout family of seven kids. His dad was a successful judge, and the future saint inherited his father’s sense of justice and discernment.  Joseph spent much of his youth tending to one of his older brothers, who had suffered brain damage as the result of falling off a horse. Long hours at his brother’s bedside taught Joseph many lessons about human suffering, the limits of medical science, and the efficacy of faith in the face of trials.  He learned to see Christ in his suffering brothers and sisters, and it was this conviction that spurred him on to take up a career in medicine. And what a career it was! He graduated at the very top of his class at the renowned University of Naples, then began winning a series of academic and research competitions that awarded him positions of honor and responsibility centers of higher learning, in research laboratories, and in the greatest hospitals of his day.  He always wore four or five different professional hats, but he never neglected to give detailed, patient, and encouraging attention to both students and patients. And, what’s even more important, he never neglected his own friendship with Christ. That was the source of his interminable energy. It contributed to his remarkable success as well – he was even known to identify diagnose and prescribe without having seen the patient. Year after year he shocked his colleagues with the accomplishments of his scientific research and his series of victories in competitions held to search for the best doctors available to take up newly open positions.  His students used to follow him from bed to bed when he made his hospital rounds, trying to discover his secret.

Perhaps his most remarkable characteristic is that his success never obscured his sense of being a Christian.  When Vesuvius began rumbling in 1906, he organized an evacuation of patients in a branch hospital near the slopes of the volcano.  Hours later, the hospital’s roof collapsed. When World War I broke out, he renovated the Reuniti hospital to care for wounded soldiers – he being the busiest of all the doctors, offering ample medical assistance and even more spiritual and emotional support.  He didn’t wait for the poor to come looking for help; he went out to find them, using his own money to assure that they received the assistance they needed.

In short, St Joseph was what a Christian doctor ought to be, what every Christian professional ought to be, really.  The “little prank” I referred to occurred in his anatomy laboratory, where he performed autopsies, researched, and taught.  His predecessor there had installed a plaque reading in Latin, “This is where Death likes to help Life.” Joseph added a crucifix above the door and changed the plaque, putting a quote from the prophet Hosea, “Ero mors tue, o mors!” “I will be your death, O death!” (Hosea 13:14)

It’s a nice motto, isn’t it?  If you keep it in mind, it will help keep your perspective in line with the truth, that this life is only a precursor, a brief journey to the gates of eternal life.  And with that perspective, you ought to be courageous enough to flee from the kind of temptations that caught up you last week.

Your devoted uncle, Eddy


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