Sunday, March 8, 2015

March 8 - John of God, Monastic, Friend of the Poor, Caretaker


John's family still heard the echos of great affluence in their heritage and way of life but they were by no means wealthy or influential in the world they knew. In fact, their family had been reduced to poverty. Further, John's mother died when he was only a very young child. John and his father were left alone in a world that had become increasingly unwelcoming to the two of them. John's father--now a widower--took up a life of spiritual devotion and became a monk. He was taken care of by a priest for some time before being hired by a farmer to tend his flocks. As far as shepherding went, John was very talented and gained the esteem of his employer. As John grew older and his faith became more his own and more apparent in the eyes of his employer he connected the task of shepherding with the task of ministry. John's employer wanted John to marry his daughter--as a way of rewarding John but, also, as a way of keeping a man of his talent and faith around--but John had already become convinced that his calling was to enter a spiritual order like his father had. He left his job as a shepherd and sought out another kind of flock to care for.

After moving to Spain and serving as a soldier in the military of the Holy Roman Empire, he became involved in a group of Christians who were printing religious books on their new printing press and distributing them to anyone who was able and willing to read them. This was a task that he enjoyed and felt was a part of his calling but it wasn't until one day in January--the day of the feast of Saint Sebastian--that he experienced the next step in his conversion. He heard the preaching of John of Avila and was struck by the truth of it in ways that he could not easily dismiss or deny. He felt convicted by John's insistence that the Church of God must care for the poor and the disenfranchised. Following the service he went into the streets to consider what he had heard when he was gripped by a holy madness. Though he tried to remain rational and sensible, he was soon seized by the people and committed to a local asylum having been judged mad. He struggled with this holy madness for some time until John of Avila visited him. When he laid eyes on John of Avila the madness was lifted and he was left with the memory of how he had been treated while on the streets, while poor, and while he had been considered the refuse of society. With John of Avila's encouragement, he devoted himself to taking care of the poor and the sick--those whom the world would prefer to forget about.

At first, John had more than enough work to do simply spending time with and loving the poor. Yet, as he continued to receive support and feel the confirmation of his calling deep within him he began providing medical help to those who could not afford any assistance from the world's doctors for hire. As he poured himself out for the people of Spain (particularly in Granada), he began to be joined by other men who were interested in giving their lives away for the poor and the sick. These men became John's disciples and learned to love others first as this was everyone's most fundamental need. The group eventually became known as the Order of Hospitallers, now better known as the Brothers Hospitallers of St. John of God. John served God by serving others until the day he died--his fifty-fifth birthday. Those whom he directed continued to serve in John's stead in a ministry that should not ever be forsaken by the People of God.

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