Today, January 11, we celebrate the feast day of John the Gardener, Servant of God (died 1501). We don’t know much about John, with the exception that he was gracious, self-sacrificing, and served others without reserve. He truly labored in the garden of the Lord, converting many and leading them along the paths of love and Gospel truth.
John’s life was never easy. He was born into an extremely poor family in Portugal. While still a child, John was orphaned, and gathered enough food for himself to survive by begging from door to door. He eventually found work as a shepherd, having walked and begged into neighboring Spain. Even as a child, whatever he earned from his hard days in the fields, he shared with those more needy than himself.
In his young adulthood, John encountered two Franciscans while on a journey. Impressed by his simple kindness, charitable spirit, and joyous disposition (despite what had clearly been a hard life), the friars invited him to come and work at their friary in Salamanca. John readily accepted and upon arrival was assigned to the garden. There, he was instructed to assist the brother with gardening duties. No task was too menial or difficult for John. He never complained, and instead, found joy in each task.
Before long, John entered the Franciscan Order, committing himself to a rigorous schedule of prayer and meditation, near-constant fasting, and tireless service to the poor. In addition, he continued to tend the garden, growing the most beautiful flowers for the alter of the Lord, and earning himself the nickname, “the Gardener.”
John was sought out for advice, guidance, and spiritual direction by many, including businessmen, princes, and other important persons. He was gifted with the gift of prophecy and could read the hearts of men, and therefore offered loving and intimate guidance, leading all toward the goodness of the Lord. His most frequent advice was for those who sought his help to forgive—even when it was difficult-- as this was a pleasing penance to the Lord.