Recently while in Assisi, we watched a film called “St. Giuseppe Moscati: Doctor to the Poor,” which was written and directed by a good friend and fellow disciple, Giacomo Campiotti. Watching the film some years earlier, Swami Kriyananda had said it was the best spiritual movie he’d ever seen. We certainly agree.
The movie opens in 1903 in Naples, Italy, where Giuseppe Moscati begins his career as a brilliant young doctor and medical researcher. But he is also a man of great compassion, and unceasingly gives of himself to alleviate the suffering of others, especially the struggling poor. Then miracles begin to happen: People are healed of incurable diseases, sometimes just by thinking of him; or someone who was pronounced dead by the other doctors returns to life through his help.
After working long hours in the noisy, overcrowded “Hospital for the Incurable,” he returns home each evening to the comfortable family home he shares with his sister. One day as he makes his rounds, a dying, abandoned woman grasps his hand and begs, “I’m afraid. Please don’t let me die here.”
Without hesitation, he carries her to his own home, where she quietly dies at peace. The word begins to get out among the poor, and the next morning his home is filled with penniless people begging for his medical help. From then on, every evening after he finishes his rounds, he returns home to treat all those who are waiting there.
He takes no money from these patients, but instead often gives a few lira to pay for their prescription. Eventually he is left penniless and is forced to sell even his own possessions in order to serve others. Giuseppe Moscati died peacefully in 1927 at the age of forty-seven, and in 1987 was declared a saint by the Catholic Church. Without sentimentality, the movie portrays the increasing beauty of a soul who continued to give everything of himself until all that was left was God’s love.
His story reminded me (in a very small and humble way) of an episode with Swami Kriyananda that took place in my own life. In the early 1970s, I was on the staff at Ananda’s Meditation Retreat in Northern California. In those days (brace yourself) not only did we not have computers to register guests, we didn’t even have a phone. As you can imagine, we never really knew who was coming or when.
Sometimes guests would arrive with their own tents and sleeping bags, but often we would need to find an unused tent for them, or a sleeping bag from the small supply of extras we kept on hand.
On this particular Friday evening, I had already registered an unusually large number of guests, and had given out all the tents and sleeping bags we had. Since it was getting late, I was preparing to lock the office and go home to my small camper. At that moment another guest arrived, empty-handed. Not knowing what else to do, I asked him to wait a few minutes, and ran home to collect my own sleeping bag and foam pad for him. I spent a chilly night on a hard, wooden bed covered only by a thin sheet.
The next morning, as I was opening up the office, Swami Kriyananda walked in and, presumably not knowing what had happened the night before, said with a big smile, “Now you’re getting the idea.” No preamble, no explanation, just those words.
The other day we were talking with some friends about what we can do to dissolve the ego. Swamiji described the ego as a “bundle of self-definitions”: definitions such as, “This is my home, my time, my space, my body, my ideas, my sleeping bag. . . .” As, thread by thread, we cut through the thick rope of limited self-awareness which binds this bundle together—a rope consisting of innumerable thoughts of “mine, mine, mine”—we can eventually release all the little attachments from which it’s formed. Then what’s left? God alone.
After our discussion a friend of ours, Sabine, in Assisi wrote this beautiful poem:
You write, but the page
You paint and the paper
The pen does not cooperate,
because the colors
dance in the Light.
With divine friendship,
Rules of Conduct of Saint Joseph Moscati:
Be a lover of truth:
Show yourself the man you are,
Without fear of favors.
And if truth costs you persecution,
Do welcome it.
If it costs you torments,
Do endure them.
And if for truth’s sake
You must sacrifice yourself,
And even your life,
Be steadfast in your sacrifice.