The Catholic Defender: Saint John of God
Prayer of Saint John of God "Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation, and with Thy governing Spirit establish me. I shall teach transgressors Thy ways, and the ungodly shall turn back unto Thee. Deliver me from blood-guiltiness, O God, Thou God of my salvation; my tongue shall rejoice in Thy righteousness."
Having given up active Christian belief while a soldier, John was 40 before the depth of his sinfulness began to dawn on him. He decided to give the rest of his life to God's service, and headed at once for Africa where he hoped to free captive Christians and, possibly, be martyred.
It was during this period of his life that Cidade is said to have had a vision of the Infant Jesus, who bestowed on him the name by which he was later known, John of God, also directing him to go to Granada.
Having given up active Christian belief while a soldier, John was 40 before the depth of his sinfulness began to dawn on him. He decided to give the rest of his life to God’s service, and headed at once for Africa where he hoped to free captive Christians and, possibly, be martyred.
From the time he was eight to the day he died, John followed every impulse of his heart. The challenge for him was to rush to follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit gave him, not his own human temptations. But unlike many who act impulsively, when John made a decision, no matter how quickly, he stuck with it, no matter what the hardship.
At eight years old, John heard a visiting priest speak of adventures that were waiting in the age of 1503 with new worlds being opened up. That very night he ran away from home to travel with the priest and never saw his parents again.
John worked as a shepherd in the mountains until he was 27.
He joined the army of the Holy Roman Emperor and battled the French. During his service, he was assigned to guard some captured clothing that went missing. John was accused of theft and condemned to death, but others intervened and he was released. Frustrated with military life, John returned to El Mayoral’s farm where he worked for another four years before entering the army once again to fight the Turks for the next eighteen years.
He was soon advised that his desire for martyrdom was not spiritually well based, and returned to Spain and the relatively prosaic activity of a religious goods store. Yet he was still not settled. Moved initially by a sermon of Saint John of Avila, he one day engaged in a public beating of himself, begging mercy and wildly repenting for his past life.
Committed to a mental hospital for these actions, John was visited by Saint John, who advised him to be more actively involved in tending to the needs of others rather than in enduring personal hardships. John gained peace of heart, and shortly after left the hospital to begin work among the poor.
John of God could never see suffering without trying to do something about it. And now that he was free to move, although still a patient, he immediately got up and began to help the other sick people around him. The hospital was glad to have his unpaid nursing help and were not happy to release him when one day he walked in to announce he was going to start his own hospital.
Lord be blessed for in your great kindness to me who am such a great sinner having done so many wicked things, yet you see fit to set me free from such a tremendous temptation and deception which I fell into through my own sinfulness. You have brought me into a safe harbor where I shall endeavor to serve you with all my strength. My Lord, I beg you with all my might, give me the strength of your grace and always let me see your clemency. I want to be your slave, so kindly show me what I should do. Give peace and quiet to my soul which greatly desires this. O most worthy Lord, may this creature of yours serve and praise you. May I give my whole heart and mind to you. ~Prayed by Saint John of God at the time of his final conversion
He established a house where he wisely tended to the needs of the sick poor, at first doing his own begging. But, excited by the saint’s great work and inspired by his devotion, many people began to back him up with money and provisions. Among them were the archbishop and marquis of Tarifa.
Billed as the greatest healer since Jesus Christ, João treated more people in one day than a large hospital did in a month. He could make paraplegics walk and the blind see, and he took on all comers: the incurable and the untreatable, the bereft and the neglected, the cases modern medicine had discarded.
Behind John’s outward acts of total concern and love for Christ’s sick poor was a deep interior prayer life which was reflected in his spirit of humility. These qualities attracted helpers who, 20 years after John’s death, formed the Brothers Hospitallers, now a worldwide religious order.
John became ill after 10 years of service, but tried to disguise his ill health. He began to put the hospital’s administrative work into order and appointed a leader for his helpers. He died under the care of a spiritual friend and admirer, Lady Ana Ossorio.
John began an interior search for the best way he could serve God and decided to journey to Africa, to ransom himself to the Muslims in exchange for their prisoners. On the journey, he met a knight and his family who were destitute and unable to care for themselves. The knight begged for John’s help that John gladly gave by working and giving them his earnings. When one of John’s fellow workers fled to Muslim territory and converted to Islam, John began to despair, thinking he should have done more for his friend. After seeking counsel from a Franciscan monastery, he decided to return to the mainland of Spain for the good of his soul.
Upon his arrival, John threw himself into a life of prayer, made a general confession, and tearfully went from church to church begging God for the forgiveness of his sins. To support himself, he began to buy and sell religious pictures and books as a traveling salesman. He found this to be spiritually rewarding and fruitful for the salvation of souls. Eventually, at the age of forty-six, he set up a small shop of religious items at Granada’s city gate.
St. John of God believed in his heart and acted on his feelings no matter what the cost. Patron saint of those with heart ailments and of booksellers with a feast day on March 8, he was born in Portugal in 1495. He took care of sheep in Castile, Spain although most of his energy was devoted to leading a dissolute life.
Soon after, the great preacher Saint John of Ávila came to town to preach a mission. John was in attendance and was so moved by John of Ávila’s sermons, and so keenly aware of his own sins, that he started running through the streets like a madman, shouting for mercy. He returned to his shop and destroyed every book that was not religious, gave every other religious book and picture away to those passing by, gave away the rest of his possessions, and continued crying out in the streets that he was a sinner. “Mercy! Mercy, Lord God, on this tremendous sinner who has so offended you!” Many thought John was a lunatic. Some good men brought him to Saint John of Ávila who heard his confession, counseled him, consoled him, and offered his continued guidance. But John was so deeply touched by the priest’s holy help that he wanted everyone in the town to know how sinful he was, so he ran through the streets crying out again and rolled in mud as a sign of his sinfulness. Eventually, two compassionate men took John to the local insane asylum for treatment.
John of God is patron saint of booksellers, printers, heart patients, hospitals, nurses, the sick, and firefighters and is considered the founder of the Brothers Hospitallers.
Saint John of God is a shining example of God’s power. He was a sinner and was thought to be mentally ill, but God did incredible things through him. If you ever feel as though you have nothing to offer God, think of Saint John and know that the weaker you may feel, the more God can use you.
John was canonized by Pope Alexander VIII on October 16, 1690, and later named the patron saint of hospitals and the sick. His feast day is celebrated on March 8. A church was erected in 1757 to house his remains. On October 26, 1757, they were transferred to that church, now protected by the Knights of Saint John of God. The church has been raised to the rank of a basilica.
Patron Saint of hospitals, nurses, firefighters, booksellers, alcoholics, and the sick
Canonized October 16, 1690 by Pope Alexander VIII
Liturgical Color: White (Purple if Lenten Weekday)
True Friendship and Devotion. First of all, St. John is a model of true friendship and devotion to Our Lord. ...
True Humility. We can also learn humility from St. John. ...
Holy Confidence. Finally, we can learn holy confidence from St.