The Charity of Saint John of God

“Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn, your vindication like the noonday sun.“ (Psalm 37:5-6)

St John of God

Today is the feast of St John of God (1495-1550). He was so totally overcome by love of God and neighbour that he became a shining beacon of charity for the poor and abandoned of Granada in Spain. He committed his way to the Lord, and he placed no limits on his own charity.

St. John of God was born in Portugal to poor and devout Christian parents. How he came to be separated from them and homeless at the age of 8 is uncertain, but he eventually found work as a shepherd until the age of 22. At that time he enlisted as a soldier in the Roman Emperor’s army to escape an offer of marriage to the shepherd’s daughter. There he led a wild and dissolute life; fond memories of his parents is all that kept the spark of faith alive in his heart. At the age of 40 he left the army and reformed himself, beginning with a penitential pilgrimage to St. James of Compostella (The Way of St. James) in Spain. Appalled at his sinful and wasted life, he was determined to spend his remaining days in good works. He was affirmed in this direction by a vision of the Infant Jesus and a sermon of St. John of Avila, who was to become his spiritual director. He later dedicated his life in service to the poor, homeless, and sick, especially the mentally ill, by starting a hospital and homeless shelter. Many people were attracted to him and his work, and he organised his followers into the Order of Hospitallers. They were approved by the Holy See as the Brothers Hospitallers of St. John of God, which still exists to this day. St. John of God is the patron saint of many causes, especially of hospitals, hospital workers, nurses, the sick, and the dying. He died from an illness he contracted after he jumped into a river to save a drowning boy. His feast day is 8th March.

At the foot of all our crosses stands Mary, our Mother. The Virgin Mary is patron of the Brothers Hospitallers of Saint John of God. Brother Jesús Etayo is currently the Superior General. He has this to say about the constant protection of the Virgin on the Order:

Since the time of Saint John of God, our founder, the Order has constantly experienced her presence and protection. Mary has always guided and accompanied the life and mission of the brothers and their collaborators wherever they are on the five continents … She learned from the merciful Christ the mercy and consolation of God and made them her own. Mother of the faithful, she is particularly merciful to those of her children who are more in need and for whom she prays and intercedes with God. She teaches us to be merciful because we are her children. None of us has the right to refuse mercy to one of his brothers.

At the foot of the cross she learned to console her son while he was dying (see Jn 19:25). She continues to be present at the foot of all the crosses that crucify her suffering children—the sick, the poor, and the forgotten. To all she offers her presence, her protection and her consolation.”

Pray to this martyr of charity, St John of God, that we may acquire such generosity as he had with our own fellow men, a generosity to which Christ calls us in a special way during Lent.

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