I know of no bad person in my hospital except myself, who am unworthy to eat the bread of the poor.
- St John of God
So replied St. John of God when critics accused him of harboring troublemakers in his hospital in the Spanish city of Granada. John of God ‘s life ended there, kneeling in prayer before the hospital chapel's altar, of pneumonia contracted in a heroic but failed attempt to rescue a drowning youth. We pray for his intercession on behalf of those suffering from heart disease.
He was born in Portugal to devout Christian parents in 1495, fifty-five years after a goldsmith in Mainz, Germany had invented a machine which could print books cheaply. John of God was to become an itinerant seller of religious books in Spain, after careers as a soldier, shepherd, and adventurer. It was at this time that he was granted a vision of the Infant Jesus, who bade him travel to the city of Granada.
In Granada, John of God attended to the preaching of John of Avila, and so began the ascent to his vocation of caring for the sick, the afflicted, and the poor. He gave away all his material goods and wandered the city's streets behaving in ways that led to his confinement in a lunatic asylum. John of Avila secured his release. Not long afterward, John of God made a pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Guadeloupe, where the Blessed Virgin revealed his true vocation.
He returned to Granada and devoted himself to caring for the sick, the afflicted, and the poor in a house he rented. It was his first hospital. He was later able to move it to a monastery, where he also opened a homeless shelter. He begged and borrowed, and on one occasion stole food to feed the hungry. His life of caring, of constant prayer, and of modesty slowly opened the hearts of others, and when he died the entire city grieved.
In our modern idiom, we would say that when it came to helping others, John of God had no brakes. His fidelity to the grace of God dominated his being and guided his actions. Perhaps the best-known of the many miracles associated with him is his rescue of the patients in a burning hospital. At one point a roof collapse plunged him into the heart of the flames, but he emerged unscathed.
John of God is the patron of firefighters, booksellers, printers, hospitals, the sick, and of nurses. After his death his companions, acting on his bequest, formed the Brothers Hospitallers of St. John of God. His life is proof of the possibility of conversion, and of change, and urges us to act on our caring impulses before our self-consciousness restrains us.
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