March 4, 2011

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

The wisdom of the saints: St. John of God

John F. FinkA soldier who reformed his life and became a saint. That could be the story of several saints, including St. Francis of Assisi and St. Ignatius of Loyola. In this case, though, it is the story of St. John of God, whose feast is observed on March 8.

John was born in Portugal in 1495, and lived a sinful life during his years as a soldier. He was 40 before he turned his life around and opened a religious goods store.

Then, under the influence of St. John of Avila—who also advised St. Teresa of Avila, St. Francis Borgia and St. Peter of Alcantara—he devoted himself to the care of the sick poor. St. John of Avila was canonized in 1970.

St. John of God founded a hospital in Granada, Spain, in 1540. After his death in 1550, his assistants formed the Brothers Hospitallers. He was canonized in 1690, and declared the patron of the sick and hospitals in 1886.

His wisdom was expressed in a letter that he wrote about service to the poor and sick. He wrote, “If we share with the poor, out of love for God, whatever he has given to us, we shall receive according to his promise a hundredfold in eternal happiness. What a fine profit, what a blessed reward!”

If this is true, he asked, who would not entrust his possessions to God, “who handles our affairs so well.”

He wrote, “With outstretched arms, he begs us to turn toward him, to weep for our sins, and to become the servants of love, first for ourselves, then for our neighbors. Just as water extinguishes a fire, so love wipes away sin.”

He noted that so many poor people came to his hospital that he often wondered how he and his helpers could care for them all. They came to the house of God, he said, because Granada was a large city and very cold in the winter. At the time, he wrote, 110 people were living there, some sick and some healthy, both servants and pilgrims.

His house was open to everyone, he said, and received the sick of every type and condition: “the crippled, the disabled, lepers, mutes, the insane, paralytics, those suffering from scurvy and those bearing the afflictions of old age, many children, and countless pilgrims and travelers.”

He cared for them all with borrowed money, asking for no payment from the poor. He called himself a prisoner for the sake of Jesus Christ because “often my debts are so pressing that I dare not go out of the house for fear of being seized by my creditors.”

He lamented the fact that he could not always alleviate all the physical or mental ills of so many poor brothers and neighbors. Nevertheless, he put his trust in Christ, and he said: “Woe to the man who trusts in men rather than in Christ. Whether you like it or not, you will grow apart from men, but Christ is faithful and always with you, for Christ provides all things. Let us always give thanks to him. Amen.” †

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