It was just about a little over five years ago now that we were pursuing the library at Christ the King Church in Lafayette, Louisiana, as Father Francis Miller, O.F.M., and his brother and several other parishioners were most kindly donating their time to try to repair our long-since-departed motor home’s slideouts, which had not worked for fourteen months at that point. Lucy came upon a book, Brother Zero, written by Corville Newcomb, about the life of Saint John of God, whose feast we celebrate today. Sharon and Lucy did not think that the book would be interesting. I dissented. “No, I want to borrow this book. I pray to Saint John of God every day. I want to find out more about his life.”
Each of us was so enthralled by the book, a biographical novel, so much so that we read it out loud twice in the year 2009 on the occasions that we ate out when living in the motor home as it got to be a bit much to be in thing all day long. Those days are way behind us now. Deo gratias!
I think that you will be enthralled by the passages below as the life of Saint John of God reminds us that to serve God and Him alone as He has revealed Himself to us exclusively through His Catholic Church will cause us to be misunderstood and maligned by even our closest relatives and former associates.
We must keep uppermost in mind that nothing that anyone does to us or says about us or publishes about us is the equal of what one of our least Venial Sins caused Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ to suffer in His Sacred Humanity during His Passion and Death and caused His Most Blessed Mother’s Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart to suffer as It was pierced through and through with those Seven Swords of Sorrow. We must rejoice when we are humiliated and our motives questioned and our name is mocked and reviled. We must be grateful to those who provide us with the opportunity to practice patience in the midst of suffering and as we offer them unconditional forgiveness for judgments whose accuracy (or lack thereof) may only be revealed to them at the moment of their own Particular Judgments and to everyone else at the General Judgment of the Living and the Dead on the Last Day. Nothing else matters.
We must be content in being understood by God alone, which is why the life of Saint John of God speaks to us so clearly even though he died four hundred sixty-three years today, that is on March 8, 1550, the very day of his fifty-fifth birthday. The example of the life of Saint John of God is particularly apropos in light of the fact that so many families are torn apart by the damage done to the Church Militant on earth by the lords of Modernism, the men who masquerade as Catholics as they tear apart the Faith our fathers in the hearts and souls of so many hundreds of millions of Catholics around the world. Those who are suffering because they are rejected by their spouses and their children and their grandchildren and their once close friends and former associates have a true friend and intercessor in Saint John of God. Take him for your own. Learn from his humility and his willingness to suffer much in reparation for his own sins and those of the whole world. You will come to love him and to rely upon him as much as we do in the Droleskey household, and we love Saint John of God so very much.
The life of Saint John of God teaches us also that saints frequently do not understand the ways of other saints. Saint John of Avila, who had served initially as Saint John of God’s spiritual director, found it hard at times to understand the man who ran away from home when he was nine years old for reasons that he never fully understood, the man who had himself committed to an insane asylum so as to thought of as mad by others when in fact he was attempting to make reparation for his sins, a man who did not truly find the work that God had in store for him from all eternity until he came upon the fantastic idea, at least in the mind of Saint John of Avila, that he, without any money at all, was going to start a hospital for the poor in Granada, Spain. Saint John of Avila was truly mystified at the man who would not compromise, the man who did not care for human respect after the conversion of his life back to God effected by an apparition of Our Lady and his, Saint John of Avila’s, own preaching, the man who would raise funds for his hospital in Granada and then give away the funds to beggars before he could arrive back at the hospital!
Oh, yes, if you are misunderstood or hated by your spouse or your children or your grandchildren, if your worldly coworkers, steeped in the anti-Incarnational ravages of naturalism, think you daft, if your former parishioners in some Novus Ordo parish admonish you for “not fighting from within” when “within” is actually a false church that is but, to use the words that the late Father Vincent Bowes, O.C.D., told me came from Our Lord Himself (that the conciliar church is a counterfeit ape of the Catholic Church–see Bookended From Birth to Birth), then please order Brother Zero (we found our copy on AbeBooks Official Site – New & Used Books, New & Used Textbooks, Rare & Out of Print Books) and learn more about the life of today’s saint, Saint of God. Believe me, my friends, you will never want to leave home without invoking the intercession of Saint John of God.
What I would like to do, therefore, is to present a few passages from the book to illustrate the points made just above, starting with the nine-year old John Ciudad’s decision to run away from home, a decision that he himself did not understand and left his parents grief-stricken for the rest of their lives, which were shortened by the grief that their son caused them. His mother saw the hand of God in her son’s disappearance. She was still a mother. She missed her son. Years later, tending to sheep in Spain, John Ciudad, a native of Portugal, was still wondering why he had left home:
It was ever to seem an impossible thing for him to have done, an act completely out of harmony with his nature. An only child, he had lacked nether love nor care nor anything that his modestly, well-off parents could give him. A quiet, self-sufficient child, he enjoyed being and playing by himself. He was not lonely, not a boy to seek adventure beyond the gates of Montemor. Nor was there any need for his parents to be cross and reprimand him for he was naturally obedient. Scoldings and punishments which sometimes provoke a child to rebelliousness and spur him to run away from home were not within John Ciudad’s experience.
How explain it then? Human reasoning produced no answer. It never occurred to John to see it for what it was: God’s strange way of setting him on the long road that was to take him through thirty-three years of wandering before he was to find is true work and his cross, the one that was meant for him from all eternity. His mother, Teresa Ciudad, saw the hand of God in the odd event of his flight from home. The fugitive himself caught no glimpse of the Divine Will in this inscrutable design. A humble shepherd in Spain these many years, John pondered it over and over and became increasingly restless. But where this disquietude was to take him he did not know. Certainly he never imagined that his childhood escape from home and country was a painful preparation for the day when, as a layman supervising other laymen, he would lay the foundations of a great religious Order. Such an idea was as immeasurably remote from his thoughts as was the glow of his little fire on the slope from the diamond-blaze of the farthest star. (Corville Newcomb, Brother Zero: A Story of the Life of Saint John God, Dodd and Mead and Company, 1959, pp. 2-3; I will cite simply the page numbers in each of the references to this book provided in this reflection.)
Only God knows the story of each of our lives. Others judge the appearance, frequently taking it upon themselves to judge the interior dispositions of our souls. We must understand that everything happens to us is within the Providence of God, Who wants us to rely upon Him more humbly and submissively with every beat of our hearts, consecrated as they must be to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus through the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary. As Father Edward Leen noted in his In The Likeness of Christ, to complain about anything that happens to us, any humiliation that we might suffer at the hands of others, whether advertently or inadvertently, is rebel against the will of God:
In other words, it is the law of things as they actually are that we must continually suffer from others; it is the condition of our being that we shall be the victims of others’ abuse of their free wills; it belongs to our position that our desires and inclinations should be continually thwarted and that we should be at the mercy of circumstances. And it is our duty to bear that without resentment and without rebellion. To rebel is to assert practically that such things are not our due, that they do not belong to our position. It is to refuse to recognize that we are fallen members of a fallen race. The moment we feel resentment at anything painful that happens to us through the activity of men or things, at that moment we are resentful against God’s Providence.
We are in this really protesting against His eternal determination to create free beings; for these sufferings which we endure are a consequence of the carrying into effect of that free determination. If we expect or look for a mode of existence in which we shall not endure harshness, unkindness, misunderstanding, and injustice, we are actually rebelling against God’s Providence, we are claiming a position that does not belong to us as creatures. This is to sin against humility. It is pride. (Father Edward Leen, In The Likeness of Christ, Sheed and Ward, 1936, pp, 182-183.)
Oh, yes, we can seek justice without vengeance when it is necessary to do so. We do not have the luxury of nurturing resentment against anyone at any time for any reason whatsoever. Saint John of God saw in his persecutors his best friends. Do we? He did not rebel against the will of God as His Holy Providence manifested It over the course of his life. Do we?
John Ciudad, given to brooding at times, was given a glimpse of his future when a holy hermit in Spain said that he would be the glory of Portugal!:
When John wondered why the seminarian had had let him follow him from Portugal to Spain, instead of sending him straight back to the Rua Verde, he knew that, as far as hew as concerned, there was as little use in trying to solve this riddle as that of why he left home in the first place. That the seminarian was elected by Providence to participate in the curious drama did not suggest itself to John. At that, the seminarian played his part indifferently. Neither surprised nor pleased to find the boy at his side, he too him along as though it were his duty. John’s remorse at having run away, his homesickness, tears and weariness brought sharp words rather than comfort. Except for expressions of annoyance, the seminarian scarcely spoke to John during their long walk of a hundred and twenty miles. At the end of that distance, they came to Oropesa. The Spanish village and its outlying area were owned and controlled by Don Fernando Alvarez de Toledo, the Count of Oropesa. A square-towered castle was his home, and his extensive lands were covered with sheep. The Count owned hundred and hundreds of sheep and employed many shepherds who were under the supervision of a chief shepherd, or mayoral, whose name was Francisco Gonzales. The chief shepherd and his family also were to have major roles in the strange story of the runaway from Portugal, for it was at Oropesa that the seminarian disappeared from the scene. More than gladly he left the bewildered and worn-out John in the care of Francisco Gonzales, and then continued his journey alone.
Having reached the age of twelve, John was given a little flock of his own to watch over, and and as time passed, his foster father, Francisco Gonzales, made him the overseer of the estate which the Count of Oropesa had settled on the Gonzales family in recognition of devoted service. As supervisor of the mayoral’s farm and flocks, John showed exceptional astuteness. Under his careful eye, Francisco’s modest means waxed into a fortune. Seemingly without effort, John did the work of dozen men and still found time to groom the Count’s prize stallions and to tend a flock of sheep.
Now, and not the for the first time, John wondered whether this was the life that he wanted. Was he always to be with sheep? He would like to do something for his fellow men. But what? Musing, he fingered a twig, threw it into he fire before which he was sitting cross-legged. He stared at the flames as if to catch an answer in their thin hissing.
All was hushed. His sheep lay about the slope, motionless as stone. How still the night, how dark, except where the moon poured green-tinged light and other shepherds’ fires sprang up like clumps of poppies newburst into scarlet bloom. First like these would be reddening the countryside around Montemor-o-Novo, too. Home. Again he asked himself, as he had a thousand times before: “What made me do it? My mother. My father. Are they alive or dead? And my uncle? And the old hermit in his hut on Mount Occa? The things he imagined! The tales he made up!”
John, the bells of Santa Maria do Bispo rang of themselves when you were born. The robes hung slack. No mortal hand touched them. Yet the bells flew wildly.
“How he enchanted me! I wanted to stay and be a hermit with him. Her would not have me.”
You’d find it too lonely, John. You would miss the world and the world would miss you. Besides, if you are to become the glory of Portugal, you will have to work, work work, when you grow up.
“I, the glory of Portugal!” John smiled ruefully. “But of course he was only talking. He must have said the same thing to everybody that climbed his summit, for he knew well enough that all boys dream of being heroes and bringing glory to their country.” (pp. 4-6.)
If we want the glory of eternal life in Heaven, we must work, work, work, must we not. Are we willing to do so, especially this Lent, by quitting our sins once and for all and resolving to live more penitentially every day of our lives?
Although John Ciudad attached himself himself at the age of twelve to the family of Francisco Gonzales in Spain, he knew that he was not to stay there. He loved Francisco Gonzales’s daughter, Maria Paz, and she loved him with a purity and tenderness beyond description. John Ciudad just could not accept Francisco Gonzales’s offer of his daughter’s hand in marriage. He believed that his life’s mission was elsewhere. He did not want the things of this passing world. He did not want what most people at the time would have considered a “normal” life. His foster-father, Francisco Gonzales, found this hard to understand. Saint John of God was content to be understood by God alone:
“Oh, John!” Don Francisco sighed. “Sit down,” he said, “sit down.” The mayoral gathered his brown cloak about his short, plump figure and seated himself opposite the younger man near the fire. He laughed a little, half exasperated, half-amused. “Why, John?”
“What what, senor?”
“Why is it that you’ve but a single thought? Is someone hurt, is someone sick! You ought to be a physician.”
With a long an sensitive hand, a hand that was made to soothe and heal, John fanned the coals to a brighter glow and threw more faggots on the fire. “A physician must have knowledge of many things, and the brains to acquire it. I lack the requirements,” he said, honestly unaware that his whole towering aspect as animated by intelligence. His dark gaze fixed itself on the waving flames, as he added, “So it’s as well that I never let myself dream of being anything.” Making a circle in the air with his slim forefinger, he said, “That is what I am, senor. Zero. Nothing. Nothing.”
“What nonsense! I don’t always understand the things you think and say, but there isn’t anything that you can’t do, if you take it into your head that you want to do it. Zero! You! At twenty-six! You’re alone too much. Brooding has its dangers. It fills you with absurd ideas.”
“It fills me with feelings, one feeling in particular.” Again John’s face as dreaming as he stared down at the flames. “I have the oddest sense,” he said quietly, “that something is waiting for me, or I for something. I wish I knew what.” (p. 9.)
Don Francisco spoke suddenly and accusingly. “To look at you,” he said, “one might think that I had a hangman’s noose, not Maria Paz’s heart. Under God’s heaven, where is the man, except yourself, who would reject it? She has poise enough to be the mistress of a castle. She is generous, yet thrifty. When she speaks, she speaks to the point. Does she babble foolishly? Never. And, save when she has reason to be, she is quiet as a little flower, and as pretty as one.” (pp. 12-13)
Brother Zero. Fray Cero en Espanol. Do we have that humility to make a circle in the air with our forefinger and to recognize that we are zero. All of our supposed self-importance is but a delusion of the devil. We are sinners in need of seeking out Absolution in the Sacred Tribunal of Penance and of giving to all who offend us. Although we not, as Martin Luther believed, dung heaps covered with a few snow flakes of grace, we are to recognize our utter dependence upon God and that very few people, relatively speaking, know of our existence now, fewer still will remember us after we are dead. God knows us. God understands us. That is enough. That is all.
Not every saint won every battle against the world, the flesh, and the devil. John Ciudad, who had joined the military after he left the Gonzales estate, lost his way in order to curry favor with his fellow soldiers, who mocked his piety and his moral rectitude. They enticed him to join them, and join them he did, something that he would seek to repair for the rest of his life, considering all of the sufferings, all of the slanders, all of the calumnies, all of the beatings he took in the insane asylum–in a word, everything he ever suffered thereafter–as but just punishments for his sins. It was Our Lady herself who brought John Ciudad to his Catholic senses:
The battle ground was one thing, the campaign tent quite another. An uncommon man among common men, John’s presence made itself felt. The response to his rectitude and piety was more hostile than friendly. Amiable and shy beneath his look of austerity, his serious manner discouraged rather than invited the fellow feeling of his tent companions. His sobriety spoiled their fun, which consisted chiefly in guzzling cheap wine and brandy and gambling at cards and dice. John would sit on his cot, quietly watching. His eyes bored into the others, not with reproach but with longing. Until now, solitude had been his friend. Suddenly he wanted the companionship of coarse-grained soldiers. Stifling his hurt at their coldness toward him, his sighs finally gave way to prayers. But because of the soldiers’ disgust, he began to conceal his rosary in his hand and he barely more than whispered the Ave Marias.
Then on a certain night, one of the number unexpectedly picked up the leather brandy flask, stumbled to his feet, flung an arm around John in a mock embrace and dared him, mumbling, “Put away your beads, Praying is for women. Here, drink up!”
John drank. He was accepted. A new devil-may-care attitude replaced the ruefulness of the man who had brooded on the pain he had caused those who were dear to him. Temporarily, his grief-laden heart was freed of its burden. In talk and fiery brandy, his loneliness burned away like snow before the sun.
John could handle any battle strategy. Off-duty, he could not handle himself. He needed a stiff jolt to jar him back to his senses, and he was to get it, on the boulder strewn plain of Fontarabia. Camp rations were low, almost depleted. John was ordered to scour the countryside for provisions. Time was of the essence. There wasn’t enough of it to allow him to arm himself or to saddle the white mare which had been taken from the French. The Lieutenant in command singled John out for this errand because he understood horses, he was cold sober, indefatigable, and he could be relied upon to return with food and linen for bandages.
Calmly, John mounted the nervous mare, spurred her flanks with his heels, and they were off, the mare like a white banner flying in the gilded light of early sunset. Always able to master a horse, John soon admitted defeat. This obstinate animal was not to be governed. She went her way, not his, and headed for the French encampment at the extreme opposite end of the unpopulated plain. Appearing to know the trail by instinct, the horse would be swerved. Angered by John’s attempt to bring her under control, she reared suddenly, rising on her hind legs to an erect position that unseated him and flung him against a boulder. In the stillness . . . galloping hoofbeats. Gradually, the sound and the horse receded in the distance.
When John regained consciousness, the horse was gone, the sun was gone, the plain was a vast blur of dark shadow, although the moon’s light was spreading. His brain spun. The burning, the ache in his head! The fierce pain in his leg! He could not straighten up or stand. Supporting himself against the rock, he look skyward, bewildered. Coppery-pink reflections of fires in the distance told him that he was dangerously near the enemy camp. Unable to walk, he might easily be taken prisoner. How was he to get away? What was he to do? He did what he’d always done in the past: he cried out to the Blessed Virgin to help him.
Soon a soft footstep hushed his pleading. His heart fluttered. Turning his head, he saw a young woman close by. She wore the multicolored triple skirts, the full-sleeved waist, tight bodice and starched square headdress of a Basque shepherdess. How beautiful she was in the moonlight! He hadn’t the faintest inking as to who she was or where she had come from. Was she real? Obviously, for she was kneeling beside him now, and in the enveloping silence of the plain she laved the blood from his head and face with water which she carried in a small jug. Then, with hands as cool and soothing as balm, she lightly touched his injured leg.
She did not speak.
John could only gaze at her wonderingly, as if at a vision. At least, in a faltering voice he asked, Senorita, who told you that I needed help?”
“You,” she murmured, and continued to minister to his wounds.
“I?” John looked at her through astonished eyes. “I couldn’t have. I don’t know you.” Trying not to peer too intently at the exquisite profile, he mustered the courage to ask a question. “Who are you?” he whispered huskily. “Tell me, who are you?
She stood. “I am she to whom you called for help. In future, my son, be more faithful in your prayers.” Still holding the water jar, she smiled an irresistible smile and vanished.
Now to the anguish of remorse was added that of confusion. It had all seemed quite real at first. No longer was he sure. Had the Mother of God attended him in the guise of a shepherdess of the region? Or was it a true Basque shepherdess who had just happened along with a jug of water? She looked very young. Would so young a woman have called him “my son”? And how could an ordinary shepherdess know that, in deference to human respect, he had exchanged good habits for bad and neglected his prayers? It was hard to give credence to either possibility. He must have imagined it. No, he hadn’t. The memory of her beauty, her touch, was vivid. The mild rebuke seared his conscience. These remained. But his pain had disappeared. A baffling recovery, mysterious as the shepherdess who, apparently, had brought it about. The throbbing ache in his head was gone, so was the buzzing. His leg did not hurt. He could stand, he could move, stride, run. His injured body was healed, and his spirit, too. The tumble had shocked him back to his senses. This he knew; but he did not know that the temperamental horse had thrown him headlong into the path of sanctity. Yet even now he was seeing things in a new way, or rather in the way he saw them before he tried to make himself over, after the pattern of other men. What had seemed pleasant, even necessary to him but a few hours ago did not seem so any more. The past he could not undo. But he could try to make reparation for it.
All in an instant, John resumed his former ways and habits. When he was not fighting, he was praying, assisting the camp surgeon, nursing the stricken with a patience and manly tenderness that never failed to encourage and comfort the sick and the wounded. He asked nothing of anyone, he desired neither praise nor rewards. (pp. 30-33)
Have we given into bad habits? Have we fallen prey to human respect? There is a way out. Our Lady will help us to reform our lives just as surely as she helped John Ciudad. Will we trust her to do so? Will we take seriously our total consecration to Our Lord through Our Lady to give her all of the merits of our prayers and sufferings and penances and trials and every other suffering that is visited upon us by the very loving and merciful hand of God Himself?
The path of reform, the path of penance, the path of the rocky road that leads to the narrow gate of Life Himself is not easy. The graces won for us by Our Lord by the shedding of His Most Precious Blood on the wood of the Holy Cross and that flow into our hearts and souls through the loving hands of Our Lady, she who is the Mediatrix of All Graces, are sufficient for us. Saint John of God knew this. He lived it. He gained Heaven by means of his perseverance in humility and penance as he performed the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy in Granada, Spain, as he saw Christ the King in everyone he served, no matter how wretched they appeared to everyone else.
The road to Granada was a long one. John Ciudad was a vagabond. A soldier. A bookseller whose prayers onboard a ship saved it from a catastrophe. A man in search of God’s mission for him. A man who was always content to do penance and to thought as mad by others after the appearance of Our Lady and the influence of Saint John of Avila:
Ever since the day he ran away from home John had been wandering through life along a road as vague as the future. With each successive bend, a crisis passed or a new course pursued, he looked for its end, hoping that somewhere he would find his place and the work he was born to do. Could it be that he had come upon it in the need of six exiled Portuguese?
It could be–but it wasn’t. His wandering were not over. The road he was destined to travel had not ended suddenly, or even shortened. He had a way to go yet on this path that was trackless as the skies. (p. 36.)
Each of us is on a journey. The final destination is either Heaven or Hell. Like the Jews who wandered in the desert for forty years, it is sometimes the case that we must wander, either figuratively (seeking out the truth of our ecclesiastical situation) or literally, to find our way home to Heaven in this time of apostasy and betrayal. We might go here for Mass. When then might go there. We might do things that don’t look “good” or “normal” to our spouses or our other relatives. We must have the courage of Saint John of God, who sought the permission of Saint John of Avila to enter the madhouse so as to do penance for his past sins:
“Why? You see this penance as obligatory. You implore my consent. You suffer at the thought that I may not give it. Until you came here, you were free to do as you pleased. If, as you claim, you know that this penance is required of you, why did you not spare yourself this further anguish? You have free will.”
“I have, yes. But I have not the freedom to use it. I am governed by impulses and confessors.”
“Was there ever anything that you very much wanted?”
John’s eyes went again to his crucifix. He said nothing.
To suffer, only to suffer, thought the priest. He knows joy in suffering as others know it only in the absence of suffering. The more he suffers, the greater becomes his love and his charity. Perhaps suffering is his vocation. (page 97-98)
Do we know joy in suffering? Do we understand that there is no crown of eternal glory without the crown of thorns here in this passing, mortal vale of tears to beat down our pride and our disordered self-love? Saint John of God, pray for us to love suffering, to truly love and embrace and to be grateful for each pain, each ache, each humiliation that is sent our way to convert us and to set us on the path to a life of penance offered joyfully to God through the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
Many, many people found it hard to understand Saint John of God. Some wanted to flee from him altogether. Indeed, he was imprisoned by one town when he built a fire in the town square and a mob took to beating him with clubs!
One of the many who wanted to flee from Saint John of God entirely was a young man by the name of Andres who was in a hermitage that had been established by Saint John of Avila. Andres simply could not understand the strange giant who kept weeping over his sins:
“I don’t know his name. He doesn’t talk; he only prays and sobs and groans, as if he’d been thrown back to earth out of Heaven. His cell is to the right of mine.”
“Oh-h.” Father John nodded. The smile that flickered on his lips annoyed Andre’s the more.
If your cell were next to his, you’d be too tire to lift your mouth in a smile, to say nothing of lifting your mind in prayer. Since he came to Montilla I haven’t had a night’s sleep.” Andres waited hopefully, got no reply. “By my life, Father, can I help it if I’m not the marvel he is? He scarcely touches food. A few olives, a handful of grapes, a dry crust. That’s all he eats, when he eats. Three days together every week he fasts from all food. And none knows better than I that he doesn’t sleep. And yet, he’s never tired.” Andres admitted grudgingly. “How does he do it? I am younger that he, but look at me! He called the priest’s attention to the puffiness and dark shadows under his eyes. “All because I’ve had no sleep,” he said.
There was no sound in the room except the tinkle of glowing charcoal burning in the great brass brazier that stood on a tripod set upon the blue tiled floor.”Never before have I complained, Father,” Andres continued, “but this is too much. He doesn’t go to bed so why can’t he spend the nights where he spends the days, and let other people rest?”
“Where is that? In the chapel?”
“Yes, and why not in the chapel? For hours he lies prostrate before the Holy Sacrament. For hours he keeps his forehead pressed to the nailed feet of Our Lord on the big crucifix, and for more hours yet he kneels at the altar of Our Lady of Sorrows. I mean not irreverence, Father, but that is where he belongs. He mourns his sins, he mourns with the Blessed Virgin. He is all eyes for her, like a man in love. I’ve seen him myself, lingering before her image, always looking, always gazing at the crystal tears on her cheeks, as though they and she were real. It gives on an odd feeling to watch him, and when he prays the Rosary, the Sorrowful Mysteries are the ones he repeatedly meditates. How do I know? I hear him. In the chapel, in his cell, he meditates aloud. Does he have to make such a disturbance? Andres demanded.
The priest replied, “You disturb yourself. Why are you all keyed up?”
“I’ve said why. Oh, I don’t doubt that he need to pray and sob as he does, but- ” Andres brown cheeks went red under the other’s hard gaze, and he squirmed uneasily when Father John said, “You don’t doubt that he needs to pray! What’s the meaning of that smug remark?” His glance was not paternal now. “Answer me,” he said coldly.
” I mean,” Andres began uncertainly, “well, I mean that he must have some guilt of his soul. By the looks of his back, half the men in Spain have taken a whip to him. And the welts I mean are not the new ones that he gives himself every night.” Unnerved by Father John’s grim silence, he stammered, “It – was wrong of me, I know, but night before last when- when that queer whizzing sound cam from his cell again, I left mine and went to his door, I looked in through a crack in the wood. He was scourging himself with a discipline made of slim pomegranate wands. They’re pliant as reeds and sting like fire. But it isn’t this that discipline that gave him the scars I saw.”
Dark brows meeting over his eyes and oddly shaken, John of Avila said, “So you assume that he merited those scars for misdeeds and got them dishonorable? Just you listen to me, Andres. He got them honorably and gloriously.”
“How? Where? In battle?
“Yes, in battle with himself.”
“With himself, with an army, it’s one and the same to me. All I ask is that he be isolated.”
“That is enough, Andres. Sit down. You aren’t leaving yet.” On guard against hotter anger in himself, John of Avila looked away from the peevish youth to the brazier that burned the November chill off the room. He stared at the fiery coals as though he saw the devil and his ways with the minds of men. He thought, he is in each one of us; in my anger, in Andres selfishness and insolence. John alone would have welcomed the barbed words. He would justify the “complaint.” (pp. 101-102)
This describes the divide that exists in many families today. There are those who have sense of the horror of personal sin and are plunged headlong into the spirit of naturalism abroad in the world. There are those who are lukewarm in their interior lives, believing that a “loving” God would never send anyone to Hell (obviously, we choose where to go as God pronounces the sentence we deserve; God will not imposed Himself upon us in death if we have not chosen from Him by life by persisting in a state of Sanctifying Grace until the moment of our deaths). There are utter indifferentists who do not believe that God has revealed anything definitively that binds our consciences. And there are those shaped by Modernism who believe that what was once true can be made irrelevant, if not “untrue” with the passage of time. Suffer for one’s sins? Take upon oneself the debt of the sins of others? No, a believing Catholic who loves God despite his own sins and desires to make reparation for them will be as little understood frequently by his own relatives as Saint John of God was by many even until the day he died despite all of the miracles he wrought in Granada, Spain, as the founder of the Hospitallers.
As noted earlier, Saint John of Avila just could not bring himself to accept Saint John of God’s plan to build a hospital in Granada to serve the needs of the poor as he would serve Our Lord Himself:
John of Avila straightened from his stooped position, and fixed look was more anguished than astonished. “John, John,” he said, as to a child who insists upon following a fancy, “I wish I needn’t,” but you force me to answer your impassioned dream in the language of common sense.” He sighed heavily. “You had better face it,” he said, “for it is a dream.”
If this was a blow to John, he didn’t show it, only waited patiently for his confessor to say his say.
“A hospital of his own, any little house anywhere in Granada! Don’t you realize that you’re nothing? You haven’t a room, let alone a house. You don’t own a stick of furniture, or even a wooden bowl and spoon such as pilgrims and paupers carry on their persons. You’re poorer than those to whom you gave your savings that day in Granada. Other men give the crust, you give the whole loaf.” He did not look at John, but at the strong supple fingers that caressed Our Lady’s Rosary. “You thought of everything,” said the priest with a sudden ring of despair in his voice, “except how to acquire the means to realize this idea. God knows, if I had anything, I would put it at your disposal. But we both committed that which in the eyes of the world is folly. We gave away our all. My inheritance was considerable,” he said frankly. “Had I but a fraction of it, I could provide you with a hospital. Neither of us attracts persons of wealth. Tramps and beggars dog your steps’ solitaries dog mine. If they aren’t poor to begin with, they cast off their wealth, as the cast off the world, for love of God.”
“Other men have been poor and–” John began then stopped, as the priest said, “They have, indeed. But I don’t know of another who provoked abuse from a whole citizenry and let himself be drive off the streets with clubs and stones in order to suffer the cruelty accorded to madmen.”
“It wasn’t cruel enough,” said John, soberly. “The harshest cruelty, the most burning illumination that a man can receive from other men is a comfort compared to what Our Lord endured.” John’s shining eyes suddenly dimmed with pain.” (pp. 117-118)
With the sound of the thunder, Father John’s uneasiness returned. “You’ll be running into storms all along the way, and the cold is more penetrating in Guadalupe than here. You’ll be drenched and you’ll freeze.” Immediately he had spoken, he was contrite. “I’m sorry. I ought to know better. For you, discomforts are but stars in your heaven of penances.” Looking up at the pure, still face, it seemed to him that John’s head was encompassed by light as white as the soft glimmer of stars.
Suddenly, the grave expression softened. John eyed him with fondness. “Please do not worry. It is nothing to me to be out in all weather. I was a shepherd.” He brooded a moment, staring down down at the cold blue floor. “The Divine Shepherd had no place to lay His head.,” John said, meditatively, “but I, who am nothing, I will be taken in.” (p. 125.)
There is no shame in relying upon God if one is seeking earnestly to do His Holy Will. And what do we need to protect ourselves? Listen to the answer given by Saint John of God to Saint John of Avila in a continuation of this discussion that so puzzled Saint John of Avila, who asked his spiritual directee the following question:
“What if doors are slammed in your face?”
“Then they are, although I can’t think they will be. That was never my experience in the past.”
“In the past, you presented a quite different appearance. Not that you went about in shining garments, but at least you were a conventionally attired giant. Now you’re a giant in fustian girt with rope. Head bare. Feet bare. Your height, your flesh pared down to the bone by penances, your garb may well arouse doubts and questions. Don’t forget that the Castilian peasant has something of the gypsy in his make-up. He is changeable of mind and often superstitious. Other pilgrims don cloaks, carry long staffs and have cockleshells on their hats. These externals identify them and readily gain them food and lodging. You’ve no cloak nor rod scallop shell, that ancient emblem of the pilgrim. Who will believe you are going to Guadalupe?
“I don’t know, replied John,” “and I cannot see that it matters. In the end, it is not what I wear that will determine whether I find shelter or not, but the mysterious will of God. As for cloak, staff and shell, what use are they?” Touching his rosary, he said, “Our Lady’s beads are greater protection than any cloak.” (p. 126.)
Isn’t it time to get rid of the television once and for all and to turn off the blathering of the naturalists on “talk radio” in order to pray more and more Rosaries each day? Our Lady wants to protect us. We need to beg for her intercession as we meditate upon the sacred mysteries of our salvation contained in her Most Holy Rosary.
Those who have any doubt that the Americas and every person and every nation in it are meant to be under the sweet yoke of Christ the King and His Catholic Church ought to consider this passage from Brother Zero that discusses Saint John of God’s pilgrimage to the Virgin of Guadalupe in Spain. The fact that the miraculous image of Our Lady was crowned on October 12, 1492, a little over thirty-nine years before Our Lady’s apparitions to Juan Diego, ought to teach us, as the late Father John A. Hardon, S.J., noted frequently, that there are no coincidences with God:
A simple youth, he didn’t know that the priceless thing he sought had once belonged to Pope St. Gregory the Great, and that when the Moors invaded our land this small object was buried, for safekeeping, where the great shrine now stands. Ah, but when he lifted the bell, there it was! The miraculous image of the Virgin of Guadalupe.” Miguel paused before going on in a reminiscent tone. “My father, who was also a shepherd, made the pilgrimage to her coronation. She was crowned the very same day that Columbus discovered America. King Don Ferdinand and the Cardinal Primate of Spain placed the precious crown on the head of the little statue, and then the Cardinal’s voice rang through the church like a great wind blowing. ‘The Virgin of Guadalupe is our Mother!’ he called out. ‘The Virgin of Guadalupe is our Queen.” (pp. 155-156.)
Saint John of God was favored with apparitions from Our Lord on at least two occasions in his life. One of these occurred when he was walking back to his hospital in Granada, distributing lams and looking for the poor who were in need of care:
On his way home late one night, John was brought to a halt by the one sound that claimed his attention before any other–the moan or cry of one in pain. The street was narrow and dark, without any light, except at the entrance, where a single lantern glimmered dimly. All at once, the cloud that veiled the moon drifted on and a flow of silvery radiance spilled over a figure crouched against a wall of a house. A glance told John that the man was poor. He was dressed in a frayed tunic, his feet were bare and he wore no cloak or hood.
John leaned over him and asked quietly, “What is it, brother?”
“I am wounded,” came the whispered answer.
Wounded? John’s practiced eye studies him. No wound was visible, no blood. But the grayish pallor, the look of utter exhaustion were sufficient to cause John anxiety. To this short-breathed, waytorn pauper, as to all others, he immediately offered his help and his strength. Deftly, he took him in his arms and carried him to his hospital.
Once there, John pursued his usual ritual. Seating the man on a chair in a ward, he knelt before him and bathed his feet. Gently he dried them, then kissed the arch of each foot. Just as he raised his head a little, he gasped and drew back with a start. Impossible! He closed his eyes for an instant, opened them and stared once again. His eyes had not deceived him. Each foot was marked with the sacred wound of the single nail that had fixed them to the Cross. From both blood-colored spots there suddenly issued prismed rays of dazzling light. John’s body trembled with his heart’s wild pounding. Prostrating himself before Him, he heard the Wounded One say:
“John, John, My faithful servant, be not afraid. I came to thank you for the care you take of My poor. All that you do for them in My Name, you do for Me. I keep count of all your steps and all your journeys in their behalf. I am clothed in the garments with which you cover the needy. It is My feet that you wash, My wounds you dress when you do this to a poor or a sick person. I will be your reward.”
Overcome, John might have remained prone on the floor, had not his patients seemed in panic. “Father John, Father John, the ward is on fire! Help us out!” He got up hastily. The chair was empty. The ward was ablaze with a gleaming that was not from the moon which shone in through the windows. Rather was it drenched in a glorious fiery gold. Washed in its radiance, John of God calmly soothed his startled sick, saying, “This fire, my children, is not to consume your bodies nor to destroy our home. All this wonderful brightness is meant to set our hearts aglow with flames of charity. Our Lord Himself visited you under the guise of a poor and wounded beggar.”
Word of this miracle spread far and fast. People who had never gone near John’s hospital poured into it now to question the patients, who told and retold the marvel they had seen. Many Granadinos went merely out of curiosity, hoping to catch sight of the impressively humble man who once had chosen to feign madness in order to atone for his sins by the mockery, insults and floggings that inevitably were poured upon such unfortunates, and who now consorted with angels and had bathed the feet of God! People came. People gave. Material assistance grew like smoke from the flame of John’s charity. The miracle that supplied him with many needed things for his poor, brought something to John as well: his first experience of spiritual martyrdom.” (pp. 206-208.)
We must see in the suffering the very image of Our Lord Himself as He underwent His fearful Passion and Death. We must minister to their needs as best we can. And we must realize that we do not need an extraordinary visit from Him as was given to Saint John of God to be inspired to do so. Those of us who are blessed enough to have access to a true offering of Holy Mass and His Real Presence in the Most Blessed Sacrament can pay Him a visit any time we choose. Why do we tarry?
As noted earlier, Saint John of God suffered from slanders and calumnies until the day he died. Not even the miracle recounted above or the work that he did to save the sick and infirmed during a fire at his hospital or the fact that angels fed his patients after he had given away all of the food in the hospital stopped the slanders against him, something that his confessor in his later years, Father Portillo, made clear to him:
“Go on, Father Portillo, said John sadly to his confessor. “What more do they have to say against me?”
“Nothing against you personally. Your benefactors deplore your lack of judgment. Your make no distinction between one beggar and another.”
“How can I? Hunger is hunger. Sickness is sickness.”
“Yes, admitted the priest, “but not all who come to you are unable to help themselves. Do you question their sincerity? Never. Do you question them at all? You do not. You merely respond to whatever is wanted.” Father Portillo watched the thin, tormented face opposite him. He knew that John could not help responding to the needs of others. Virtuous himself, he saw good in all men. He did not choose from among the many who appealed to him, but gave to each and all, and in this lay the reason for the outcry against him.
His face drawn with anxiety, his hands clasped together, he asked, “What am I supposed to do, Father? Close my hospital? Give up my work?”
“You’re being more emotional than sensible, John. To some extent, you will have to compromise.”
Compromise! The word stung. “Compromise my conscience, my heart, my eternal salvation? I cannot. Tell me, Father, is some of this criticism directed at the girls and women I have provided for?”
“Possibly, ” replied the priest.
John reflected in silence. Maria Paz was a closed chapter in his life, yet she had never quite left it. He had but to see a young girl to be reminded of her purity, her charm, her piety. She remained the ideal that he wanted every girl and young woman to be like. With a portion of the alms that had come to him recently, he had obtained a suitable house to which he could take girls without family or home, and over whom he placed motherly widows whose morals were beyond reproach. Daily he visited the house, prayed with his charges, made them little sermons and encouraged industry, for he wishes them to become useful and self-sustaining. He himself taught them to sew and spin. In return, he asked only devotion to God, devotion to work and cleanliness.”
“The foundlings,” he said suddenly, with a grace of bitterness that was tinged with sorrow. “Is the world afraid of forsaken babies, too? I take great pains to find good foster parents for them and to make certain they will be brought up in an atmosphere of piety.” (pp. 209-210.)
There was no compromise in the heart and soul of Saint John of God in the face of slanders. We must not compromise on our pursuit of truth no matter the slanders, especially as we adhere to the immutable teaching of the Catholic Church without making any concessions at all to the apostasies and blasphemies and sacrileges of conciliarism that have so devastated so many hundreds of millions of souls and contributed to the worsening of the state of the world-at-large as the wellsprings of Sanctifying and Actual Grace have atrophied as a result of the Protestant and Masonic Novus Ordo worship service and the other invalid liturgical rites of a false church. True Popes Never Need to Convert to the Faith. The truths of the Holy Faith are never subject to any negotiation.
Yes, Saint John of God suffered to the very end of his life. So must we, and we must be as joyful as he was, recognizing that we well deserve every single chastisement and humiliation that God in His ineffable love and mercy permits us to suffer.
Brothers Anthony and Dominic, two members of the Hospitallers founded by Saint John of God, had been reconciled to each other by our saint after a bitter feud. They spoke to each other. They forgave each other after they had been forgiven in the Sacred Tribunal of Penance. Imagine such a thing. And ever grateful to the man who reconciled them to each other, the man who brought them into religious life so that they could better sanctify and save their souls, they were very concerned when the bishop, Don Pedro, had had to call Saint John of God, weakened by years of penance and selfless service to the poor, after another round of complaints shortly before our saint died in 1550:
“Strange,” said Anthony, “that’s what Dr. Raxis was talking about. The slander and abuse that are suffered by great and isolated men of science, for no better reason than that they accomplish good for humanity. Well, what are the faultfinders crying about now?”
“The usual. Fray Cero supports the undeserving, helps those who ought to be made to help themselves, encourages idleness by giving alms; he doesn’t ask questions, doesn’t inquire into the past of the women and girls to whom he has given refuge; his night-shelter is a den of thieves; his hospital is a haven for hardened sinners; et cetera. Don Pedro quieted the accusers with difficulty and found himself compelled to promise that he would investigate their charges.” Dominic waited a moment. “It isn’t in Fray Cero to appease the exaggerated pride of snobs. Humility is the essence of him. Merely as a matter of principle, Don Pedro had to question him.”
“I hope he wasn’t too ill to defend himself.”
“He defended his work, not himself. All his strength was used up by the time he reached the Archbishop’s palace, but his zeal and humbleness are inexhaustible. ‘If I received only the good,’ he told Don Pedro, ‘our wards would be empty and I would have no sinners to convert. I know that I do not perform my duty as I ought. I have set a bad example. I am unworthy of the trust that has been given me, an unworthy guardian of my Brothers. Were you to visit our hospital yo would not find the abuses and evil persons that Your Excellency has been warned are in it, and you would realize that I am the only one who ought to be driven out.'” Dominic was twisting his beads in his restless hands.”If His Excellency had not taken me aside for a moment,” he explained to Anthony, “I wouldn’t have known what the summons was all about, although I suppose I might have guessed it by something that Fray Cero said to me when we came home. As we entered the vestibule, he put his hand on my shoulder and looked at me. His eyes seemed to beg forgiveness. I didn’t know for what until after he had spoken. The counsel that he gave me I am sure he was giving to every one of us. This is what he said: “We are human, subject to error and misunderstandings, and quick to judge. So let us pardon, yes let us pardon as we wish to be pardoned. Judgment is God’s alone. Let us serve God faithfully, for it is to Him and to His Blessed Mother that we are answerable.” (pp. 286-287.)
We can do no less, can we? We must do no less as we forgive all of those who have hurt us, always striving, yes, perhaps never perfectly and never without a relapse into moments of passion and righteousness and even attempts at self-vindication, to pursue justice in this life without malice as we recognize that our sins have wounded Our Lord once in time and wound His Church Militant on earth today. We are very subject to error and misunderstandings. None of us is infallible. None of us.
Saint John of God teaches us accept rebukes, whether deserved or not, with a smile and to understand that we well deserve them because of our past sins, if not for the specific offense with which we are being charged at a given moment. God is just. He is merciful. A humble acceptance of criticism and of baseless slanders and gossip can help us to be more and conformed to the Cross of the Divine Redeemer as we rely always upon Our Lady’s maternal intercession, especially as we pray as many Rosaries each day as our state-in-life permits. Everything gets revealed on the Last Day at the General Judgment of the living and the dead. Shouldn’t that be enough for us?
Saint Anthony Mary Claret taught us to have a Holy Indifference to all attacks made against us. The following passages from his The Golden Key to Heaven describe the life of Saint John of God very well, and they ought to describe ours sooner rather than later:
God’s Providence demands that I have a heart of holy indifference–As it is arduous and difficult to gain one’s last End without complete and holy indifference, it is likewise so much the easier to gain this End with it. To thoroughly convince yourself of this, weigh this truth:
(1) God is Infinite Wisdom and Knowledge. He knows and understands the means that lead with all security to the attainment of your last End. There are all kinds of means serviceable for the gaining of your last End–health and sickness, honor and dishonor, an honored calling to a lowly occupation–provided they are put to good use.
Now if you know the answer, tell me: What will lead you most securely to your last End? Is it the enjoyment of robust health, or is it a sickly condition? Is it a state of being honored and loved, or one of being insulted and hated? Is it holding a high post, or having a humble employment? This something that you do not know, nor do I, nor does anybody else in the world. All those things are mysteries that no perception can penetrate except only the perception of Him Who is Almighty.
(2) God is Infinite Love, Who always arranged for souls the surest means for reaching their last End–surest, provided they always keep themselves in holy indifference and proper balance. God deals with souls as a mother who fondly loves her tender child.
As a true mother is incapable of giving poison to her beloved child, even more so is God incapable of providing anything harmful for a soul that surrenders itself to Him with complete indifference. O my soul, become for once fully convinced that if God visits you with illness, that this is the surest way for leading you to reach your last End; when He allows you to be despised and belittled, when He placed you in darkness, in desolation, in trials, that is the surest way for you to advance to your last End.
3) God is Infinite Power, and He helps infallibly to its last End the soul constant in holy indifference and proper balance. And who will be so bold and so daring that he can put an obstacle before God? And what will be the result? A heap of misfortune for which you cannot weep enough. Reflect well on this and what follows.
It is quite certain that such a soul must of necessity suffer in this world more than another soul. You greatly deceive yourself, my soul, if you imagine that you can escape the troubles which God’s Love holds in store for you as means to your last End. You will never be able to do so. You will suffer, and you will necessarily have to suffer the pains and ailments, the contempt and mistreatments which from eternity God has assigned for you to suffer.
“You will either fulfill what God wants, or you will suffer what you do not want.” Saint Augustine.
If you maintain an indifferent heart and bear everything with patience, you will give God pleasure and He will fortify you with an inflow of His graces. He will give you a continual peace and calm and will make the way of the cross something easy and sweet for you. If you neglect this holy indifference and bear troubles impatiently, you will displease God and He will deny you all His strengthening, supporting help and every kind of peace and consolation, letting you fall under the weight of your cross.
If tis very certain that for all eternity you will lose that high degree of glory unless you adopt the means God has appointed. If your heart is not indifferent and you do not use such means, adopting them willingly, you will weary yourself in vain and will lost your last End. It is certain that you are in danger of not gaining your eternal salvation, not even a lower grade of glory.
A soul that has not this holy indifference, falls out of (moral) necessity into many grave temptations. In such circumstances, who is not drawn downward by anger, by resentment, by faintheartedness and melancholy, by pride and fear of contempt? And who is not moved by impulsiveness and self-will, b interior upsets and disorder, and by the rebellion of uncontrolled passions?
Ah, to overcome these problems requires a particular help of God. Now will He give it to a soul unwilling to submit to His plans, to a soul who, full of anger, rejects the means which God has provided, a soul unwilling to serve except in its own way, unwilling to acknowledge Him as Master and Lord, and who insolently resists God’s designs? Let a man place his hopes in the One Whom he can trust, for the struggle is quite dangerous. (Saint Anthony Mary Claret, The Golden Key to Heaven, Immaculate Heart Publications, pp. 36-39.)
There is so much more to relate about the life and the work of Saint John of God. I would encourage you once again to purchase Brother Zero: A Story of the Life of Saint John of God. You will want to read it over and over again. He has much to teach us, especially given the suffering and divisions that are taking place in so many families at this time
We can rest securely only in Heaven. We must be attached alone to the pursuit of Heaven. Saint John of God noted this just before he died, humbly obeying Don Pedro, his bishop, by spending his days out of his own hospital, which is where he longed to breathe his last breath:
“Until God led me to Granada, I was constantly going here, going there. I had to learn to grow settled in restlessness. I was years and years waiting. Now–” he smiled–“I must wait again. I will be glad when the waiting is over. . . .
“God is our Father. He does not inflict pain upon us without reason. If we cannot understand the reason, we know at least that grief draws us closer to Him, and that is what He wishes. Partings,” he said meditatively, “I have known since I was nine years old. Soon I will go where there will be no partings any longer.” (p. 293.)
Do you have tears in your eyes? I have them in mine! We don’t have to be concerned what others think about us. It is enough to be understood by God now and at the hour of our deaths as we try to make reparation for our sins as did Saint John of God. That is enough. That is all.
May Saint John of God, who served Our Lord in the needs of the poor and was a tender, devoted client of His Most Blessed Mother, help us to “go where there will no partings any longer.”
Viva Cristo Rey! Vivat Christus Rex!
Isn’t it time to pray a Rosary now?
Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us now and at the hour of our death.
Saint Joseph, pray for us.
Saints Peter and Paul, pray for us.
Saint John the Baptist, pray for us.
Saint John the Evangelist, pray for us.
Saint Michael the Archangel, pray for us.
Saint Gabriel the Archangel, pray for us.
Saint Raphael the Archangel, pray for us.
Saints Joachim and Anne, pray for us.
Saint John of God, pray for us.