The story of this saint’s life has got to be the story of one of the most impulsive men ever to have lived. John was this way from a very young age. When he was only eight, an itinerant priest came to his village in Portugal. He was so impressed by the teaching that he ran away from home to follow the man. This lasted until the child got sick. The priest left the child with a farmer who nursed him back to health then hired him as a shepherd. until he was 27. At that point, the farmer was pressing John to marry his daughter, which John was unwilling to do. So, hearing of a war Spain was fighting with France, he joined the army. He was not an innocent and gambled and pillaged with the rest of the men.
Coming to terms with his sins, most likely because of his fear of being captured, John changed his life, but wanted his companions to do so, also. They were not ready. To get rid of their friend, the persuaded him to leave his post, for which he was beaten and dismissed from the army. Then he went back to his adopted family to work on the farm. He did not stay for long. He heard about another war with the Muslims and joined up. Eventually, his fighting days were over and he went once again back to the farm.
He had learned to pray and meditate while tending sheep. He needed to help people, he decided, Off he went to Africa to ransom Christian captives. He only got as far as Gibraltar where he found a noble family being exiled. He offered to be their servant. He ended up saving them from starvation by working at building fortifications. The “Catholic” overseers were cruel people and he had to struggle with his faith in accepting them. But he stayed on until the family was pardoned and could return to Spain.
Once back in Spain, he became a longshoreman by day and visited churches and read religious books by night. So he decided that he should sell books, as a peddler. Soon, he opened a book store in Granada. But, after hearing a talk on sin by John of Avila, he got rid of the books and tried to do public penance. That was not seen as normal and the populace had him incarcerated into a lunatic asylum where he was tied down and beaten daily. John of Avila heard about this and went to visit the bookseller. That was when he was told to stop the self penance. And he did.
Gradually, John took care of the other inmates and then left to start his own hospital. He worked ten years at helping any and all who were in need, getting him into trouble with government and Church. He begged, borrowed and bought whatever was needed for his hospital. His heroics knew no end. His last act was to try to collect driftwood from a flooding stream. A companion fell in the rushing water and John went after him. The companion’s life was not saved and John caught pneumonia. His companions eventually established the Brothers Hospitallers of St. John of God to continue his work.
St. John of God is the patron of book sellers and publishers, hospitals, nurses, the mentally ill and the dying. St. John, pray for our health care workers.
“”The Son of Man came for sinners, and we are bound to seek their conversion.”
St. John of God