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Let this saint bring you to a more meaningful Lent


Cathopic | Aleteia

Annabelle Moseley - published on 03/02/24

The humble and hopeful example of St. John of God is a beacon to each of us who would hope to achieve some of the holiness he attained.

March finds us immersed in Lent, working on prayer, fasting, penance, and almsgiving. Fortunately for us, there is a March saint who can teach us to have a more deeply meaningful Lent. St. John of God, whose feast day is March 8, mastered all of those Lenten pillars. His humble and hopeful example is a beacon to each of us who would hope to achieve some of the holiness he attained.

St. John of God does not have one of those idyllic beginnings of holiness like some of the saints who seem to have been angelic from childhood. However, he did have much to suffer, which is often fertile ground for holiness to grow even if it comes later in life.

John was born in Portugal in 1495. It is said that he was kidnapped or suffered some other trauma early in life, because he never saw his parents again after the age of eight, and he somehow ended up on the other side of the Spanish peninsula. No one knows exactly what happened to him in his youth, but it’s sure that it was a solitary and lonely existence. At 22 years old, he joined the army and entered a life of damaging vice that included drinking, carousing, and cruelty. 

Suddenly, his life took a turn in a way that resembles artistic depictions of St. Paul the Apostle being thrown from horseback. A horse John had stolen reared and threw him near enemy lines; this fall was the catalyst for his conversion. Examining his conscience, he went on pilgrimage and decided to amend his life and do penance to make up for lost time. His feelings remind of St. Augustine, who declared to God, “late have I loved you.”

John began to publicly do penance for his sins including such actions as throwing himself into mud, leading him to be institutionalized for insanity. Upon his release, he decided to please God by serving others instead of abusing himself. He began taking the mentally ill and homeless into his own home, begging for alms to support his efforts to care for them. St. John of God became the founder of the Brothers Hospitallers, which eventually became known as the Hospitaller Order of the Brothers of St. John of God. He is now the patron saint of hospitals and the dying, as well as those who have sorrow for their sins and wish to amend their lives. 

Words to live by

Here are three quotes from St. John of God that can help us to have a more fruitful Lent:

For just as water extinguishes a fire, just so does charity blot out our sins.”

In order to carry out the beautiful Lenten obligation to do acts of charity with a fitting amount of gratitude for the chance to be of service, it is great to remember that acts of charity help blot out our sins! Lent is a great time to donate to a cause. Need an idea? Bring food to your parish pantry; donate coats to your local clothing drive; visit someone who is lonely. Interested in a charity beyond your own community? Here is one worthy cause, helping poor Catholic villagers in Sri Lanka rebuild their Catholic church which was destroyed during a hurricane.

“I have received so many graces from God, and have not recognized them, and have repaid them with so little of my own.”

This quote by St. John of God was uttered at the end of his life. It serves to remind us that we must be grateful for our many graces and ever more mindful of making a gift of acts of love given to Our Lord in response. If even a person who has lived a saintly life has regrets for not doing enough for God … then let that be a reminder to us to make each day count, to waste no time in showing God our loving gratitude. How can we do this? One way is to answer the request of Our Lord that He made on Holy Thursday, “Could you not watch one hour with me?” This is a direct request Our Lord makes to us, to watch an hour with Him. To live out St. John of God’s urging to repay God, and answer Our Lord’s plea, why not go to Eucharistic Adoration as often as we possibly can this Lent? You can also get a guided Holy Hour here, which focuses on recognizing the graces of God this Lent, in keeping with the wisdom of St John of God.

”I beg you for the love of Jesus Christ to keep three things in mind: the first is the hour of death, which none of us can escape; the second, the pain and suffering of hell; and the third, the glory and beatitude of paradise …”

Reflect on the glory and beatitude that Jesus Christ has reserved for those who serve Him. “How do we properly keep these things in mind? Let us take up a Lenten spirit of “Memento Mori,” which means “remember you must die,” keeping the certainty of death before our eyes (which is the way we start Lent, remembering we shall return to dust) and living with the eternal in mind. As the familiar country song goes, “live like you were dying.” Concrete ways to do this? Wear a crucifix and scapular to be reminded of the beauty of life and certainty of death. Consider eternity when tempted to hold a grudge; do a nightly examination of conscience and go to Confession frequently.  

When we do all these things, serving God in each instance, we will be able to more joyfully join in these words of St. John of God: “Reflect on the glory and beatitude that Jesus Christ has reserved for those who serve Him, and that no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived.

St. John of God, pray for us!

LentSaintsSpiritual Life
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