A contemporary of St. Ignatius of Loyola [July 31], the Portuguese St. John of God (1495-1550) was another soldier who underwent a profound conversion and later established a religious order. At the age of forty John wanted to give his life to God, perhaps by dying as a martyr; he was advised to seek God instead by the manner in which he lived his daily life.
While in Spain, John was profoundly moved by the preaching of Blessed John of Avila and in response spent a day publicly beating himself in repentance for his sins. John was thereupon committed to a lunatic asylum, where Blessed John visited him and advised him to be more active in caring for the needs of others, instead of enduring personal hardships. This advice had a calming effect, and John went on to establish a house where he cared for the poor and the sick. His love and devotion touched many people, and benefactors aided his efforts with money and provisions.
On one occasion the Archbishop of Granada summoned John because of a complaint that his hospital was open to prostitutes and tramps. John fell on his knees and said, “The Son of Man came for sinners, and we are bound to seek their conversion. I am unfaithful to my vocation because I neglect this, but I confess that I know of no bad person in my hospital except myself alone, who am indeed unworthy to eat the bread of the poor.” Profoundly moved by this, the Archbishop became one of John’s strongest supporters.
The saint continued his efforts for another ten years, and organized the Brothers Hospitallers when his health failed. St. John died on his knees before the altar on March 8, 1550, and is considered the patron of nurses and of the sick.
1. Dramatic acts of penance may have their place, but as St. John was taught by Blessed John of Avila, actively caring for the poor is more practical and often more valuable in the eyes of God.
2. Holiness and humility go hand-in-hand; St. John sincerely believed that the poor, the lowly, and even the outcasts whom he served in his hospital were worthier and more important than himself.