A few days ago we celebrated the optional memorial of St. John of God. Our pastor gave a marvelous homily that day, which inspired this post. One of the key connection points the pastor made was the connection St. John of God had with other Saints with whom I was more familiar. To be quite honest, I knew next to nothing about St. John of God. So I began to investigate his life, and what an amazing man of God, St. John of God was! I thought his life–as well as his spiritual connection to other Saints–made this a very appropriate topic for a post during Lent….especially as we approach the end of Lent.
St. John of God is best known for his many followers who eventually founded the Hospitallers, a religious institution focused on aiding the sick, suffering, and dying, among other services they now provide. They are still in existence today.
What I didn’t know was St. John of God’s late conversion in life. In many ways he was a prodigal of the Church. A baptized Catholic, like virtually all his family and friends, he was a public sinner, who sinned in countless ways. He wasn’t just known for one particular sin, but many. He was a soldier, but was particularly known for leading a life best described as completely “wild.” He was around 40 years old, or so, when he had his conversion. He found mercy rather late in life.
For me, one of the most interesting facts about St. John of God was the Saint so influential in his conversion, and in helping provide him with the necessary spiritual guidance which we all need: St. John of Avila. St. John of Avila (pictured right) was known especially for his preaching. I know of him, however, primarily for his role as providing inspiration and spiritual guidance to a number of other canonized Saints, three especially significant and well known Saints in particular: St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila, and St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits. A Doctor of the Church, St. John of Avila became an ardent supporter of the newly formed Jesuits, early in his life, and many of his own followers, at his instigation, joined the Jesuits.
It is this spiritual friendship, among Saints, that I think so important. In this sense, holiness can be contagious. Saints don’t usually become Saints by themselves, but, in a way, take others with them. Saints have a way of inspiring and helping sanctify those around them, in turn aiding their friends and relations to become Saints as well. Through St. John of Avila’s guidance, St. John of God left his life of public sin, and devoted himself to helping the sick and dying.
As we approach the end of Lent, we should be inspired to finish Lent strong, living prayer, fasting, and alms giving (including the works of mercy, like St. John of God) especially well. Even if we haven’t lived Lent very well up to now, now is the time to press forward, knowing that we too can find mercy late in the game. Even if we haven’t been very faithful up to now, in the game of our life…it’s never too late to begin again and find mercy. And of course, this task is urgent. The holiness of so many, including St. John of God, depended very much in the holiness of St. John of Avila. The same is true for us. How many are waiting for us–without even realizing it themselves–to commit to struggle to be holy. If we strive to cooperate with God and struggle to become saints, how many of our friends and relations will be able to embark upon that path as well. We may have St. John of Avilas in our lives…we certainly of St. John of Gods in our lives. Let’s strive to become the saints God calls us to be.