I came upon St. John of God not because of his story--which has distinct similarities with that of his Spanish counterpart Ignatius Loyola--but because of one of his patronages. I found myself dealing with heart issues about a year and a half ago and began searching for a saint whose intercession I could pray for. The Catholic Church has a saint for just about everything, so I knew I’d likely find someone. I found St. John of God and immediately began praying his novena; he’s remained with me since.
St. John of God’s story is a fascinating one. He left his biological family when he was about eight years old to follow a priest who had interested him with his tales of the new world. John then fell sick and was nursed back to health by the person who would later adopt him. Around the age of thirty, John entered the Spanish army and went to war against France. Like Ignatius, John lived a life of sin and revelry while a soldier. It wasn’t until an accident (he was thrown off a horse instead of shot by a cannon ball like Ignatius) that he decided to reform his life.
After finally leaving the army, John went off to Africa with the goal of aiding Christians and potentially becoming a martyr. He was told that seeking martyrdom was not a good spiritual practice and eventually returned to his native Spain. He later worked at a religious bookstore until he heard a homily from St. John of Avila which led him to sell all of his books and to give the money away. For this uncharacteristic behavior, he was taken to a mental hospital and, after his release to the main hospital, began to help take care of the other patients. This led John to start his own hospital and eventually found the Brothers Hospitallers. He did this, like many things, out of great love for others, the same love which led him to his death after he attempted to save a boy from drowning.
St. John of God’s life can teach us so much. His life of revelry and constant back and forth changes in his spiritual life will seem quite familiar to some. Fascinated by God at an early age, living in revelry and sin in young adulthood before finally returning to God, and dedicating his life to God is a very common story. He lived his later life in a way that led him to follow his heart. These actions led others to ridicule him and even got him thrown into the hospital for mental health concerns, but that didn’t stop him. He allowed his heart, guided by what he discerned to be God’s will, to lead him in his life. St. John of God is truly patron of the heart, not only in its ailments, but for all of those who live life by following God’s promptings in their hearts. May we follow our hearts when they are open to and guided by the Word of God and the Holy Spirit.
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