The Life of Enzo Piccinini

As an introduction to July's Book of the Month, we present Jessica's witness to Enzo's help in her work in the medical field.

The Book of the Month for July is Everything I Did I Did for Happiness: The Life of Enzo Piccinini, by Marco Bardazzi. Here, we present Jessica’s witness to Enzo’s significant help in her work as an invitation to read the book.

Enzo Piccinini, an Italian surgeon who was a member of Communion and Liberation and is now a candidate for sainthood, would say in his professional talks that “It was a certain Fr. Giussani who taught me to be a surgeon.” He would acknowledge that Fr. Giussani didn’t teach him the techniques to use in the operating room, but Fr. Giussani did teach him a human position in his work of medicine.

Almost two years ago, I had the privilege of working on an exhibit about Enzo for the New York Encounter. I remain supremely struck by what Enzo said and lived regarding unity of life, companionship, risk, and offering. Since helping with the exhibit, what I’ve learned from Enzo has continued to accompany and help me.

I recently graduated from medical school, and I would echo Enzo in saying that it was a certain Fr. Giussani who taught me how to be a medical student (and now a physician). I’ve seen that my faith and my belonging to the Church in Communion and Liberation changes everything about how I engage with my work. In my experience, medicine becomes an occasion to encounter the Lord and learn from Him, especially through the people He gives me.

In these years of medical school, I’ve learned a lot from two exceptional physicians. I see in each of them what Enzo’s students and colleagues must have seen in him: someone full of life, interested in people, enthusiastic about work, passionate about the truth, and deeply human. I see that in many essential ways our hearts are the same. However, as with Enzo, I also differ from them, and so my clinical rotations with them have been occasions for great growth and conversion on the path to becoming more myself.

I’ve been struck by the passion and heart these two physicians bring to their work, just as Enzo did. They don’t hesitate to circle back to a patient’s room at the end of a long day or sit down and take time to explain something thoroughly to a family. By the way that they attend to and serve their patients, I’ve seen we are bound to and responsible for people in a serious and privileged way in the medical profession. What one of Enzo’s residents said about him reminded me of how these doctors practice medicine:

“Enzo used to demand that we have a special attention for the patient, that we always keep track of him, [even when] nothing more could be done…Enzo asked us for a total involvement and he motivated us toward this kind of behavior. He was a great communicator, and was able to establish a superb rapport with his patients. He would tell them the risks they were facing, but would add that the battle would be fought together. His involvement as a person gave a lot of courage to the sick and to their family members, who no longer felt alone.”

These physicians demand special attention for the patient by their inspiring example. The way they pour themselves out for their patients makes me also want to be all in, always. The patients and their families sense that these doctors really care, that we are all on the same team, and this makes all the difference. These physicians make countless (often hidden) sacrifices daily, from gracefully receiving misplaced harsh words to working whatever hours it takes to ensure that patients receive good care. They exemplify the fact that sacrifice is always primarily an affirmation (of love for the patient, of desire for good) before it is a renunciation.

I also see Enzo’s generous paternity in the lives of these physicians. Whether in coaching me to sharpen my oral presentation skills or in pushing me to go beyond my immediate, reductive reactions in responding to situations, these doctors helped me grow. They gave me responsibilities that I didn’t feel ready for (though I was), which often resulted in my being stretched and surprised. These doctors expected a lot of me because they knew I had a lot to give. They knew that my slow learning was not a lack of desire, and they continued to expect much from me even when I made repeated mistakes. Their tireless patience was truly an image of the Father’s patience.

The vocation to medicine is full of opportunities to learn how to offer. Fr. Giussani said, “to offer means that reality is not something in your control; it’s not yours. And inside every single thing we do is the question that asks the Lord, master of that reality, to reveal himself, because that is living.” In medicine, reality is often very obviously not under our dominion. The medication doesn’t always work like we expect and the patient continues to have inexplicable symptoms, or the patient has a full recovery and gets better more quickly than our best estimations. Reality rarely submits to our images of how things ought to be, which is difficult, but I’ve seen this become a beautiful education in offering and an opportunity to discover the gift of companionship.

As Enzo says: “We need something greater than ourselves in life to which we can respond. Otherwise, we end up weighing what we do or do not get, the outcome of our work, and this kills the desire for happiness...We need something greater in order to be free. Life is not in our hands. I do not make myself; I recognize that there is something greater and I begin to admit that I can maybe not understand, but that also what doesn't go my way has a meaning.”

It has been a great gift to put my feet in the footsteps of Enzo and these physicians, to watch them work and work with them, to ask them questions. When I do, I see that my relationship with Christ changes everything about how I work. It is His life in me that ignites my interest in everything, His compassion in me that leaves me aching for redemption in the sufferings I see, and His self-emptying love in me that makes sacrifice possible. I find that even with my relative inexperience in medicine, I still bring something valuable — the most valuable. I bring my desire to be with Him and be transparent to Him, the One who gives value to everything. This faith is a great gift that allows me to experience the hundredfold of reality with an intensity that would be otherwise impossible. So I often find myself spontaneously moved to pray for all those who do not yet know the Lord as Truth, Beauty, and Goodness Himself, that they may encounter Him in the flesh.

I am grateful and eager to continue my path in medicine with the accompaniment of these physicians and Enzo. I desire that what I see in them will continue to take root and bloom in me, and that, with Enzo, I can say that “It is gratitude that characterizes my life, so I am not afraid to give it away completely.”

Jessica, Pensacola, FL