When the great Italian tenor Enrico Caruso was dying in 1921, the best doctors in Rome and Naples were summoned to attend to him. Among them was Dr. Giuseppe Moscati, a devout Catholic. Moscati said that the end was near for the famous singer, just 48 at the time, and advised Caruso to consult the greatest physician: Jesus Christ.
“Professor, please do whatever is necessary,” Caruso responded. Moscati immediately summoned a priest to administer the last sacraments. Caruso died a few days later.
In retrospect, we see how blessed Caruso was to have a saint attend to him, body and soul, just before he died. Most of Moscati's patients were not famous. He lived a routine life made remarkable only by his skills in medicine and his deep faith. Day after day saw him busy in his clinic, medical classrooms and scientific conferences. But he began each day in the chapel, attending Mass and receiving Communion, and he aimed everything else he did during the day toward bringing Christ to all he met.
Giuseppe Moscati was born into a pious family in Benevento, Italy, on July 25, 1880. When he was 4, his family moved close to a hospital for incurables in Naples. The young Giuseppe was a quiet boy, excelling in his studies and serious about his future. His exposure to the hospital made him sensitive to the plight of the sick and after much prayer, he enrolled at Naples University to study medicine.
By 22 Moscati had already distinguished himself in medicine. He became a lecturer in the medical school, conducted medical research and was appointed to senior administrative positions.
“Giuseppe Moscati's life was an example of harmony between science and faith,” Pope Paul VI declared when beatifying him during the Holy Year of 1975. The Holy Father noted that Moscati had been an expert scientist and medical practitioner, and never lost sight of the fact that his patients had souls as well as bodies. His treatment of their souls was the apostolic fruit of his deep life of prayer and generous service to the poor and the sick.
“Happy are we doctors,” Moscati said, “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.”
Moscati built an excellent reputation. He was not a miracle-worker, only a first-rate doctor dedicated to his patients. Often sought out by the wealthy, he preferred to treat the poor. He would frequently refuse to take money, sometimes secretly leaving donations for his indigent patients. At his office he kept a basket into which patients could put whatever they wished to pay, and from which those in need could draw.
Moscati was a skilled scientist and a devoted doctor who knew that, in order to treat a patient well, it was necessary to treat the patient as a person.
His deep love for his patients mirrored Christ's love for the poor and the sick, and nothing made him happier than when one of this patients was also close to the Lord. Often Moscati was the instrument by which a conversion or a return to the sacraments came.
Medical advances are among the finest achievements of the 20th century. Doctors today can do what Dr. Giuseppe Moscati could only dream about. But today's doctors — the new high priests of a culture devoted to the worship of the body — can learn much from St. Giuseppe Moscati.
For starters, there's the fundamental reality of their profession: Every patient will die. And every person has received life from the author of life, who came that all may have life, and have it in abundance (cf. John 10:10). That abundance extends to the fullness of life eternal — which no doctor, no surgeon, no medical machine can provide.
“A unique responsibility belongs to health-care personnel,” wrote Pope John Paul II, who canonized Moscati in 1987. “Their profession calls for them to be guardians and servants of human life. In today's cultural and social context, in which science and the practice of medicine risk losing sight of their inherent ethical dimension, health-care professionals can be strongly tempted at times to become manipulators of life or even agents of death. In the face of this temptation their responsibility is today greatly increased” (Evangelium Vitae, No. 89).
Moscati did not live to see 50, so completely did he pour himself out in the service of others. After intense prayer and spiritual direction as a young man, he decided neither to marry nor to enter religious life, but rather to devote himself entirely to his professional work and apostolic mission in the center of the world.
This did not mean any retreat from the demands of the world, as Moscati was a high achiever according to both scholarly and professional criteria for success.
Yet Giuseppe Moscati, saint and physician, did not let professional competence and worldly advancement crowd out ambition in the spiritual life. “Let us love the Lord to the limit that is without measure,” he wrote.
Many threats to life today result from a lack of love, an unwillingness or inability to love without measure. In the midst of the world, in a prestigious profession, St. Giuseppe Moscati taught us that only love without measure has a place in medicine.
Raymond de Souza writes from Rome.