It is practically the missionary slogan that is held by every single baptized person in the Catholic Church that strives for sainthood. We can appreciate then the difficulty that follows us as we enter into the midterm of Lent. This challenge that we face is to see whether or not we’ve made any spiritual progress. If you are unsure, or even if you have a feeling that you have made some progress. I dedicate this post for those like you who are in need of a moment of inspiration or feel spiritual stagnation. There is always hope for progress and always hope for success. If the history of the Church has taught us anything, it is that there is failure before success. So as a special treat I will provide two posts back to back for fruitful inspiration and practical advice. In the hope, these readings can strengthen your resolve as we move closer toward the end of the Lenten season. With this kept in mind, I think it would be a good time to introduce a Saint whose feast is celebrated today. On March 8th, 2016
His name is Saint John of God, and he brings the difficulty of going from a sinner to a saint into a whole new level. He was born in Portugal 1495 the son of André Cidade and Teresa Duarte, and given the name João Duarte Cidade (Juan or John Ciudad for a more helpful pronunciation). There is not a whole lot has known about his early life. He did come from economically impoverished family that was very religious. Supposedly as a young boy, named John disappeared which resulted in his mother dying of grief and his father Joining the Franciscan order.When or why he disappeared is uncertain. He ended up Spain alone, as an orphan and was taken up by a farmer named Francisco Mayoral. Who brought John to the countryside where he would Shepherd flocks for many years.
By the time John was 22, he had quit his job as a shepherd to avoid an arranged marriage to Francisco’s daughter and signed himself up to join ranks in the army. He would be in the military service for the next 18 years of his life. Participating in various campaigns fighting first against the French and then the Turks. During that time as a soldier, he gave up on the idea of exercising a faithful and morally virtuous life. As a consequence, he submitted to the false promise of the goods that came about in the pleasures of thing such as gambling, drinking, pillaging and the like. For years, he did this until his folly brought him to the French lines, where he was nearly captured and killed. The moment led him to make a promise of amending his life for the better, which for him started from the confessional.
However, his comrades in arms did not appreciate the dispelling of his old lifestyles with them. Knowing how badly he desired to do good as a penitent man. They tricked him into leaving his post to help someone else. It resulted in him being nearly executed, beaten and thrown out of the army.
Upon his coming back to his foster family, he begged for them to take him back in. Only a short time afterward he went right back into the army to fight in a new war against the Moslems that were coming to invade Europe. Once his enlistment time was up, he returned to Spain. However, he had an uneasiness which had grown in his heart and so he sought to fill by reconnecting his familial ties in Portugal. Only for him to discover through one his remaining relatives the grief of what had become of his parents, whom he had a scarce memory of.
He then returned to life as a shepherd contemplating what God could have planned for him. Part of his impulsive yet very compassionate nature to help the suffering. He decided at 38 years old, set a course for Africa to free the Christian slaves and possibly become a martyr. Thankfully this was not well thought out plan thus did not come to fruition. He did encounter a noble family there who not only adopted him but in turn, he became the caretaker during a period of sickness. Unfortunately, he also came to the realization that not only Muslims prove to commit terrible mistreatment of people but also those who called themselves Christian or Catholic. It heavily disturb his faith and in seeking the advice from the local priest as to how he should act. The father could only advise him not to blame the church. After he had known that his adoptive family was taken care of, he returned once again back to Spain.
As a very unusual turn of events, on John’s venture back to Spain. He found much pleasure in reading various religious books that came from the churches he went too. What became of him was his newfound career as a book peddler. He went from town to town selling religious books and holy cards. When he was 41 years old, he had a vision that brought him to establish a little bookshop in Granada.
One day at Mass a powerful sermon on the repentance of sin was given by St. John of Avila (not yet a saint at that point). Juan/John became very unsettled overwhelmed with the grief for his many sins past and present. That he was brought to madness rushing back into his bookshop tearing apart all nonreligious books, and giving away what was left over. His clothing in shreds and he was in tears that resulted in his complete humiliation.
His friends concerned for his safety brought him over to the hospital for mentally unstable. But John still went through many daily torments and beatings. Until St. John of Avila came to visit him in the hospital, explaining to him that his penance had to come to an end. Denoting that 40 days of his suffering was long enough span of time for Christ spends in the desert.
The visit helps John in a large way. He discovered with the increase of health, his desire to help those in suffering and began by volunteer nursing around the hospital. Which heavily influenced his decision to announce his new vocation to start a hospital of his own.
Not helping his Mad image in any way, shape, or form, people continued to think he was mad but to make matters worse the way in which he thought he could finance his new hospital was by selling firewood.
This was not to be like any other hospital it would not start as a physical structure that you could see or touch. It would first and foremost begin on the streets where he would take the money that he earned from selling firewood and use it to treat those who were sick homeless and poor.
He eventually rented out a room in a building. His problem was a lack of staff, medicine, and money. He utilized his talents as a peddler to obtain money through means of mostly begging or odd jobs. As a way to better move the sick into the house. In addition to the fact he was alone, his work became active prayer as he mended wounds or treated illnesses.
He exercised much of his energy and effort into lovingly embracing anyone who asked for help. These impulsive acts made people very uneasy mostly due to the fact he did not seek any moral testament to those he served. His response was that if he was to judge them on their moral background he first would have to start with himself.
His work increased as he established more hospices in various locations. His experience brought about new necessary skills, in becoming a great organizer. The success of his hospices led a need for a larger location which he then moved his homeless, poor, sick people to the old Carmelite monastery. Despite John instituting a hospital, he did not stop there but continue to establish new charitable institutions throughout the providence of Granada.
What is then, going to be key to understanding this is the main point emphasized his story. That God does not overlook our biggest weaknesses but rather turns them into our greatest strengths. Case and point John was very impulsive but with love, he was able to act in ways that made those actions fruitful. Even at times when he could have gotten in trouble, such would be the case in his stealing a pot for some deathly starving people in the streets. At the other times, those very same impulsive acts led him to run into the Royal Hospital of Granada while it was inflamed. He Rescued all the patients from the top floor to the bottom with no hesitation or restraint. Even after the roof collapsed on itself, all thought it was the end of their mad hero, yet miraculously he came out of the smoke to live another day. All his actions points to human beings can fail but with love can raise to success.
It got the attention of the Bishop of Tuy who called him “John of God”, and asking him to establish an order of brother nurses. Which still exists today, the Order known as “Hospitallers of St. John of God”.
His new name was proper attributed to his character. He fought hard with rigor, but it took much anguish madness sadness and regret before he was even close to being able to exercise any heroic virtue. His last valiant act would come while he was sick. Habitually ready to move in response to the coming flood near town. He went to go collect the wood that was drifting down the incoming water. Meanwhile, one of the young boys helping him fell into the rapid waters. John did not hesitate for a second and jumped right in after the boy saving his life but it also resulting in John catching pneumonia. So on March 8, 1571, on his fifty-fifth Birthday he died.
St. John of God teaches us to be practical with our urge to do good. That even when we cannot see any remedying in our weaknesses God will make it one of our biggest strengths. So do not ponder over any bleak circumstances and fall into despair. For if we embrace the virtues of hope, faith, and love we shall be wearing the armor of God to enables our ready fighting spirit to righteous action.
So to end on a happy note if a Madman in box become a saint it is surely possible for us to be saints as well.