John, the oldest of seven children, was born in 1419 in Sahagún, León, Spain. His parents, the pious and respected John Gonzalez de Castrillo and Sancia Martinez, had him educated by the Benedictine monks of San Fagondez Monastery in their town. According to the custom of the times, his father procured for him the benefice (an ecclesiastical post guaranteeing a fixed income) of a neighboring parish, but this caused John many qualms of conscience.
When John was 20 years old, he was introduced to the bishop of Burgos who took a liking to him and not only had him educated at his own residence, but also gave him several more benefices, and, after ordaining him priest in 1445, made him canon at the cathedral. Out of conscientious respect for the laws of the Church, John soon resigned all his benefices except for the chaplaincy of St. Agatha in Burgos, where he worked zealously for the salvation of souls.
John later sought permission to study theology at the University of Salamanca, and after four years received his degree in divinity and began to preach. In the next decade he achieved a great reputation as a preacher and spiritual director, but after recovering from a serious illness, he applied for admission to the Order of Hermits of St. Augustine and made his solemn profession in 1464.
Because of his swift progress in the way of spiritual perfection, John was appointed master of novices, and in 1471 prior of the community. He held a great devotion for the Blessed Sacrament, and at Mass was privileged to see the bodily form of Christ at the moment of consecration. He also had the gift of reading souls, so that it was impossible to deceive him, and sinners were almost forced to make good confessions.
John fearlessly preached the word of God and spoke harshly against the crimes and vices of the day, despite the fact that this greatly offended many who were rich and powerful. He soon made many enemies who went so far as to hire assassins to kill him, but the would-be murderers lost courage when confronted with John’s serenity and angelic sweetness. Some women of Salamanca, outraged by his strong denunciation of extravagance in dress, openly insulted him in the streets and pelted him with stones until stopped by a patrol of guards.
Like John the Baptist, John’s fearless speech against sin and corruption may have brought about his own death: He died at Sahagún in 1479, possibly poisoned by the mistress of a man he had convinced to leave her.
1. John could have lead a very comfortable, somewhat protected life if he had kept the benefices given him by his father and the bishop. But John knew that this was not right and sought not only to be obedient to the laws of the Church, but also to live in Christ-like poverty. May we too always seek to be more like Jesus, even if it means having to give up a comfortable existence.
2. John also spoke against evil and vice despite the fact that he made dangerous enemies in the process. Let us strive to be courageous as he was, for as our Lord tells us, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:10).
Other Saints We Remember Today
Sts. Basildes, Cyrinus, Nabor, & Nazarius (3rd Century), Martyrs
St. Guy (Vignotelli) of Cortona (303), Priest