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Catholic Heroes . . . St. John Of God

March 17, 2015 saints No Comments

By CAROLE BRESLIN

In our time, it is common to hear parents bemoan the fact that their child is impulsive, or strong-willed, or irresponsible. Even the Holy Family suffered when our Lord, at the age of twelve, stayed behind in the Temple. How Mary and Joseph must have agonized over the missing Child Jesus. How do you tell God you lost His Son?
Similarly, St. John of God caused his mother such grief that some historians claim she died of it. St. John of God was born on March 8, 1495 in Montemor-o-Novo, Portugal, located in the northwest section of the country. His parents, Andre Cidade and Teresa Duarte, were once prominent, but they had lost all their wealth.
Despite this, they remained faithful in the practice and love of their faith. Their son grew more impetuous as he grew older. When their parents entertained a cleric passing through their village, John listened with undivided attention to the exciting adventures of the missionary.
Whether he was kidnapped, secretly followed the priest, or was simply allowed to accompany him is not known; but the very next day, at the age of only nine, the boy disappeared. He evidently traveled with the cleric.
However, he soon found himself abandoned and alone in a far-away city where he had to rummage and beg for food. When he fell ill from such a lifestyle, he was nursed back to health by Francisco Mayoral, a successful farmer. When the boy recovered, the farmer hired John to care for his sheep.
John proved to be a strong and faithful laborer, endearing himself to the farmer. In fact, the farmer was so pleased with his work and his demeanor that in later years he tried to convince John to marry his daughter. As the farmer became more and more insistent that John marry her, John finally decided to leave his work in the mountains. He was 27 years old.
This time he joined the Spanish army to fight against the French. Like many of the men in this army, he gambled, looted, and drank as much as he wished. During one battle, as he charged on a stolen horse, he was thrown off it near the French lines.
Lying on the ground, fearing that he would be captured by the French, he impulsively made a vow to God that if he survived, he would change his way of living. Thus, as he finally returned to his regiment, he held to his vow. Immediately upon his return he instituted his new way of life.
First he went to Confession and received absolution. His firm resolution to amend his life continued as he stopped drinking, pillaging, and gambling. The other soldiers did not mind that John had changed so drastically, but they did mind that he was trying to get them to change as well.
The soldiers wanted to put a stop to his efforts to convert them so they tricked him. John had guard duty one night, the guarding of a pile of booty captured that day. While he was on duty, one of the soldiers ran up to John saying that he was needed right away to help another soldier who had been injured.
Without forethought, John acted impulsively again. He ran to the place where he was told the injured soldier was. In the meantime, the others raided the booty and John was blamed for the loss.
Although he was condemned to be hanged for the dereliction in duty, another officer intervened and he was reprieved. Saddened by the betrayal of his comrades, John left the army and went to the farm in Oropesa, where he lived a solitary life for four more years.
When he learned that the Count of Oropesa was leaving with a crusade to fight the Turks, John joined the troops and fought with them for another 18 years in various parts of Europe.
Returning to Spain, Oropesa and his troops, including John, landed in A Coruna in Galicia. Since this was near his hometown of Montemor-o-Novo, John decided to return to his hometown and try to find his parents.
After he learned that his parents had died, John decided he had no reason to stay in Portugal and returned to Spain, landing in Seville. Once again, John found a job as a shepherd, which gave him much time for contemplation.
He soon left for Morocco to give himself as a ransom for captured Christians, but spent most of his time caring for the family of a destitute knight. Eventually, he stopped at a Franciscan priory where he was advised to return to Spain.
He did so, wandering around Andalusia seeking God’s will. During this time he received a vision of the Infant Jesus who called him John of God and told him to go to Granada. When John arrived in Granada, he printed and sold spiritual books. People thought he was good, if eccentric.
Then he made another impulsive decision. When St. John of Avila (also known as John of the Cross) came to Granada, John of God went to hear his sermon on repentance. John of God reflected on his sins and became overwhelmed. He returned to his shop, destroyed all the secular books, and began acts of penance in reparation for his sins.
So extreme were his sacrifices and his sorrow for his sins, the townspeople ridiculed him, stoned him, and finally had him put in a hospital for the insane where he was tied down and whipped — the common treatment for lunatics at the time.
John of Avila visited John of God, having him moved to a better part of the hospital after convincing him to stop his harsh penitential acts. John of God began working in the hospital to do whatever he could to ease the suffering of the patients, though still a patient himself.
Witnessing the poor treatment of some of the patients, John decided, much to the dismay of the hospital administrators, to start his own hospital. He left the hospital and began selling wood to help the poor and homeless.
Again people thought he was mad but let him beg and continue his work in the streets of Granada. Soon he found a house he rented to which he would carry his patients of the street. He would dress their wounds and feed them with what he had been able to beg.
He made enemies by his passion to help the destitute by stealing pots of food and buying clothes for the naked children on credit.
When he learned the royal hospital was burning, he rushed to the site. While others stood watching the fire, John ran inside and brought out all the patients. Even when they were all safe, he ran inside and began throwing blankets and supplies out the windows, knowing how precious these items were.

Patron Saint Of Booksellers

After jumping into a river to save a little boy who was helping him, John, already ill, caught pneumonia and died in 1550 on March 8, the same day the Church celebrates his feast. John of God is the patron of booksellers, nurses, firefighters, and the sick.
His followers, the Brothers Hospitallers of St. John of God, now work in over 50 countries.
Dear St. John of God, pray for us. Help us also to passionately love those who suffer and are in need. Help us to see in them the face of Christ crucified, to see that they are our way to Heaven. Amen.

+ + +

(Carole Breslin home-schooled her four daughters and served as treasurer of the Michigan Catholic Home Educators for eight years. For over ten years, she was national coordinator for the Marian Catechists, founded by Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ.)

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