Saint John of God (1495-1550). John of God would today be called impulsive—he would likely be medicated for it! But during his lifetime, he followed the innermost longing of his heart, oftentimes to the glory of the Lord, and sometimes to the detriment of the man. He was willful, quick to action, and committed to those in need. By the end of his life, Saint John of God had established an order of religious servants to the sick and poor, and through his model, had opened the doors of Christian charity and love to those in need. But his early life was marked by wandering and impetuousness, all of which eventually led him to Granada, Spain.
Saint John was born in Portugal, the child of devout Catholic parents. At age eight, after hearing a priest touring through the area deliver a homily, John left his parents in the middle of the night, following the priest, and becoming his servant. They lived an austere live, begging, and surviving on the kindness of strangers, until the lifestyle left John sick and weak. The priest, continuing his travels, left John in the care of a wealthy family with a large estate, and John eventually became the herder for their animals. He worked at this post for nearly 20 years, until the age of 27, his time in the mountains with only the sheep creating a broad space for him to pray and contemplate the glories of the Lord. He grew in faith, the Holy Spirit moving within in.
Returning to his shepherding job, he again listened to his heart and was moved to sail to Africa to assist Christian martyrs and those being held in captivity there. Joining himself to an exiled family, he sailed from Gibraltar. Upon arriving in Africa, he was appalled by the treatment of local peoples by the Christians, who worked them mercilessly, relying on the whip and beatings to increase performance. John spoke out against such injustices, and was encouraged, for his own safety to return to Spain.
"John of God," He said, "Granada shall be your cross," and immediately disappeared.
Those who knew him assumed he was mad, and had him institutionalized at the Royal Hospital asylum. There he spent forty days, tied to his bed (as was the custom at the time), and receiving daily whippings as treatment. On the fortieth day, Saint John of Avila visited, informing him that he had suffered enough, completed enough penance (like the time of Jesus in the desert), and had him released to a more favorable part of the hospital.
It was here, in the Royal Hospital, that John of God declared his intention to start his own hospital, after seeing the way in which patients were treated. Returning to the streets, he again sold firewood and worked menial jobs, giving all that he had to the homeless poor and sick. Eventually, he acquired a small home for the lodging of these forgotten members of society, and a few years later was able to move into a larger space, an abandoned convent. During this time, he established the Order of the Brothers Hospitallers of St. John of God, dedicated to medical service of the poor and indigent.
"John," the Holy Mother said, "it is by thorns and sufferings that you must win the crown my Son has waiting for you in heaven." Although Saint John could feel the thorns piercing his brain, he replied, "From your hand, Lady, thorns and sufferings are welcome. They are my flowers and my roses."
Returning to Granada, Saint John of God worked tirelessly for the poor and sick. He is reported to have worked miracles, including rescuing many from the Royal Hospital when it caught fire. Remembering that patients were tied to their beds, and witnessing others standing and watching them burn from a safe distance, John ran into the burning building, carrying and leading the patients to safety. He then climbed to the roof, removing the burning portions by hand with an axe, so as to prevent having to destroy the entire building to prevent the fire from spreading. Despite falling through the burning room, he emerged unscathed, having saved both the hospital and the lives of countless patients.
"There are three things that make me uneasy," he said. "The first is that I have received so many graces from God, and have not recognized them, and have repaid them with so little of my own. The second is that after I am dead, I fear lest the poor women I have rescued, and the poor sinners I have reclaimed, may be treated badly. The third is that those who have trusted me with money, and whom I have not fully repaid, may suffer loss on my account."
The life of Saint John of God is inspirational in so many ways. His service to those in need reminds us of our Christian call to serve—those who are hungry, thirsty, homeless, unclothed. More than that, his willingness to listen to the Holy Spirit, to let it fill his heart, and to follow those yearnings with abandon serve as a model for us. All too often we live in our heads, rather than our hearts. How many times have we been moved to help others in our hearts, but then listened to the thoughts of our head—it will be too hard, it won’t make any difference, what will people think?, or it’s not practical. How might we better serve our communities, like Saint John of God, if we opened ourselves to the call of the Holy Spirit—a loving and charitable force already residing within us!
Year 2: Day 67 of 365
Prayer Intentions: Equity and Justice.
Requested Intentions: Healing (E); For a son struggling with depression (B); Successful conception (M); Freedom from social anxiety; confidence in the Lord (J); Improved success in employment and studies (D); Freedom from illness (T); For a wife’s employment (E); Healing of a husband’s knee (M); Freedom from sickness (R); Healing (C); Restoration of marriage (F); Freedom from medical difficulties, employment, successful relationship (D); End to suffering for sick brother; reconciliation of estranged family (E); End to husband’s addiction; Improved relationship; strength (M); Successful God-centered marriage; Sacramental life (M); Healing, successful relationship (S); For successful marriage (A); For a husband’s freedom from addiction (C); Freedom from pain and illness for a friend (M); Financial freedom (J); Successful passing of occupational examination (S); Healing and conversion, sale of house (L); Occupational success for employee and colleagues (J); Employment for a son (C); Successful attainment of an important appointed position (J); Recovery from cancer for a friend (Z); For a family’s freedom from sin (M); For a daughter with Diabetes (A); Healing of a father following stroke (S).
Why pray the Rosary every day for a year?
Each time the Blessed Virgin has appeared-- whether it be to Saint Bernadette Soubirous at Lourdes; to Lucia, Jacinta, and Francisco at Fatima; or to Mariette Beco at Banneux-- she has asserted the importance, saving grace, and power of praying the Holy Rosary on a daily basis. Based upon her words, the Rosary is penance and conversion for sinners, a pathway to peace, an end to war, and a powerful act of faith in Jesus Christ. Pope Paul VI presented the Rosary as a powerful means to reach Christ "not merely with Mary but indeed, insofar as this is possible to us, in the same way as Mary, who is certainly the one who thought about Him more than anyone else has ever done."
To show us how this is done, perhaps no one has been more eloquent than the great Cardinal Newman, who wrote: "The great power of the Rosary consists in the fact that it translates the Creed into Prayer. Of course, the Creed is already in a certain sense a prayer and a great act of homage towards God, but the Rosary brings us to meditate again on the great truth of His life and death, and brings this truth close to our hearts. Even Christians, although they know God, usually fear rather than love Him. The strength of the Rosary lies in the particular manner in which it considers these mysteries, since all our thinking about Christ is intertwined with the thought of His Mother, in the relations between Mother and Son; the Holy Family is presented to us, the home in which God lived His infinite love."
As Mary said at Fatima, "Jesus wants to use you to make Me known and loved. He wishes to establish the devotion to My Immaculate Heart throughout the world. I promise salvation to whoever embraces it; these souls will be dear to God, like flowers put by Me to adorn his throne."