Giuseppe Moscati: The lay bachelor who became a saint

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As we approach Valentine’s Day, brace yourself to inundated with condescending messages about how to “survive” or “navigate” the holidays as a single person. Is anyone getting sick of this? Vocation–whether it’s married life or consecrated–isn’t a prerequisite for sainthood.
I sometimes think that in our desire to make sure we all take vocation seriously, we give the impression that sanctity doesn’t start until the vows are made. This is ridiculous. To quote the very first line of the Catechism: “at every time and in every place, God draw close to man.” There is no vocational prerequisite.
Being single has its own unique opportunities for holiness. We can give ourselves to our neighbors the way our married friends just can’t, yet we have more connection to the world and power to evangelize than many consecrated.

 

Perhaps one of the best examples of this was Saint Giuseppe Moscati, an Italian physician who lived in the early 1900s. I made his life into a list so it’s easier to skim, but I’d really prefer if you read it.

  1. He made his career his ministry
Pg. 12 GuiseppeAsAChild

Photo portrait of Giuseppe as a child.

St. Giuseppe was born on Sept. 25, 1880 in Benevento, Italy. To put it delicately, he was hard-working and intelligent. To put it honestly, he was crazy stupid unbelievable-level smart.  Despite his family’s legal background, St. Giuseppe decided to study medicine. This was largely influenced by his older brother, Alberto, who suffered a head trauma when Giuseppe was 12. Giuseppe saw the care his brother received, and decided he would commit his life to alleviating both the spiritual and physical pain that afflict the ill.
He did it. He would often see patients free of charge, and would even sometimes send them home with a prescription and a 50-lire note.

  1. He lived as a disciple.

Before examining a patient or participating in research, Moscati would take the time to place himself in the Presence of God. He also practiced detachment in a way that made sense for his state in life. It wouldn’t make sense for him to sell everything and live on the streets, because that would inhibit his ability to give quality medical treatment to his patients. Instead, he turned down promotions that would have given him an illustruous academic career. He realized God’s plan for his gifts was to serve his patients and train his interns.

 

  1. He lived an integrated life

St. Giuseppe didn’t give long-winded speeches about why he was a “Catholic” doctor, or why his faith was the most important piece of his life. It was more like his faith was at the heart of his life, and everything else radiated out from it. He didn’t just study a singular brand of medicine; he made himself proficient in 20 different specialties so that he could better serve his suffering patients. One fellow doctor recalled that his knowledge was “so complete in all its ramifications that those who were studying to be specialists found themselves calling on him constantly to ask for clarifications. Amazing incidents often occured in which he, against his will, was compelled to point out the truth to experienced specialists.”

  1. He practiced the works of mercy
Pg 12 Grown Moscati

St. Giuseppe Moscati (NOT Mr. Feeney from Boy Meets World)

Obviously, he did many of the corporal works of mercy, such as visiting the sick and giving food to the hungry, through the course of his job. However, he also made a point of practicing the spiritual works of mercy. He seems to have been espeically devoted to teaching the ignorant, saying it is “an obligation in conscience to instruct the young, shunning the current fashion of jealously keeping secret the fruit of one’s own experience, but rather revealing it to them.”

  1. He was brave but humble

On April 22, 1906, shortly after Giuseppe graduated medical school, Mount Vesuvius erupted. Lava, ash and stones burst out of the crator and poured down the slopes of the mountain. The town was impossible to reach by rail. The people living in the ravaged towns were fighting to get their families to safety, but Giuseppe knew that many wounded lay in the hospitals. Since he didn’t have a family for which he was responsible, he went to the afflicted town of Torre del Greco and ordered the director to leave, as the building was about to collapse. He then began to help the most severely disabled to cars, aided only by an inspector and a handful of nurses. Just as they evacuated the last patient, the roof capsized.

Giuseppe could have demanded to be treated like a hero after that (I know I would), but instead he wrote a letter asking for a reward for the inspector and nurses.

“I am certain that anyone of my station would have done the same and better,” he said.
GuiseppeBookYou can learn more about Giuseppe by reading this book or watching this movie (in Italian, with subtitles) by Ignatius Press.

COMING UP: Five tips for reading the Word of God

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Sunday, Jan. 24 marks “The Sunday of the Word of God,” instituted by Pope Francis last year and to be held every year on the third Sunday of Ordinary Time. This may strike us as odd, as we might think to ourselves, “but isn’t the Bible read at every Sunday Mass?” Certainly so. Not only that, but every daily celebration of the Mass proclaims the Word of God.

What’s different about “The Sunday of the Word of God,” however, is that it’s not just about hearing the Bible read on Sundays. As the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith notes, it “reminds us, pastors and faithful alike, of the importance and value of Sacred Scripture for the Christian life, as well as the relationship between the word of God and the liturgy: ‘As Christians, we are one people, making our pilgrim way through history, sustained by the Lord, present in our midst, who speaks to us and nourishes us. A day devoted to the Bible should not be seen as a yearly event but rather a year-long event, for we urgently need to grow in our knowledge and love of the Scriptures and of the Risen Lord, who continues to speak his word and to break bread in the community of believers. For this reason, we need to develop a closer relationship with Sacred Scripture; otherwise, our hearts will remain cold and our eyes shut, inflicted as we are by so many forms of blindness.’” This gives us a wonderful opportunity to pause and reflect on the Sacred Scriptures. 

There are two means by which God Divinely reveals truths to us: Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. As such, the Bible is not merely a human document, nor simply a collection of amazing stories that call us to do heroic things, or a collection of wise sayings. Rather, the Scriptures are “inspired.” St. Paul has a beautiful teaching about this in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 – “All scripture, inspired of God, is profitable to teach, to reprove, to correct, to instruct in justice, That the man of God may be perfect, furnished to every good work.” By “inspired” we mean that God is the principle author of the Bible.

Certainly there were different men who physically wrote the words on the papyrus. Yet these men were influenced by the grace of inspiration to write, not just their own words, but God’s. And so the Scriptures are a mysterious congruence of Divine and human authorship – the human writers capably made full use of language, literary forms, creativity, and writing style to communicate their message, yet they did so under the grace of Divine inspiration. This means that while they wrote in such a way that they had full freedom to write as they wanted, what they wrote was also, “to a tee,” exactly as God wanted written. God is the principle author of the Bible, the human author its secondary writer. Such inspiration is how, despite the various human authors, events, and historical and cultural contexts behind the 73 Biblical texts, we’re still left with only one story since they all have the same one primary author. 

Given that the Bible is the written word of God, I’d like to offer a few “tips” for reading the Bible, since it certainly cannot be read like any other text. 

1. Pray! We must pray before opening the Scriptures for enlightenment from God. We must pray after reading in thanksgiving to God. And we must pray throughout reading in order to encounter God in Scripture and apply it to our life. Of course, the tried and trusted practice of praying the Scriptures is Lectio DivinaThe Ladder of Monks by Guigo II is the ancient resource for Lectio Divina, while a helpful book to get you started is Dr. Tim Gray’s Praying Scripture for a Change: An Introduction to Lectio Divina

2. Remember that you are in no rush. The important point is encountering Christ in the Scriptures, not racing through them. Speed reading isn’t reading, after all, much less when applied to the Word of God. It’s not about getting through the Bible, but encountering Christ therein. That may be a few chapters at a time or may actually be only one verse that you pray with. Whatever the case, slow and steady wins the race, as Aesop reminds us. 

3. We have to read the Scriptures regularly, daily if possible. We read in Psalm 1, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” Meditating day and night. A good way to start would be to read one Psalm a night as a part of your nightly prayer. Ever better would be praying that one Psalm with your spouse, if married. 

4. Do not worry about starting on page one and reading from cover to cover. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and lost in the text. We all know about Adam and Eve, Noah and the Flood, Moses and the Plagues. But how many understand animal sacrifices in the Book of Leviticus or its purity laws? It’s very easy, starting from page one and flipping straight through, to lose sight of the story of salvation history. Start from page one if you’d like, but don’t feel like you can’t start with whatever book (especially the Gospels) that you find yourself drawn to. 

5. Come take classes with the Denver Catholic Biblical School! In chapter eight of the Book of Acts, we read of an Ethiopian Eunuch reading from the Prophet Isaiah. When the Deacon Philip asks him if he understands what he’s reading, the Eunuch responds, “How can I, unless some one guides me?” This is what we at the Biblical School are here for – to guide you in your encounter with Christ in the Sacred Scriptures. We’re in the middle of our Scripture classes already for this year, but we always start new classes in the fall every September. And in the meantime, we have plenty of things still coming for this year – a class on Catholic Social Teaching that begins on Jan. 27 a lecture series for Lent that starts on March 1, a conference on the Sacred Heart being offered on May 15 and Aug. 28, and a six-week class on St. Joseph in the summer starting in July. We have something for everybody – just reach out to us!