St. John of God, the rich man, and Lazarus

Part of my morning prayer, when I am home, is to read several short biographies of the saint of the day. Today I was struck by the story of St. John of God, 1495-1550.

Born in Portugal, he seems to have been abducted at an early age to Spain. He got involved in the army and its vices, but had a conversion experience.

At one point he heard St. John of Avila and began to public reproach himself for his sinfulness. He took this to such extremes that he was confined to an asylum. But John of Avila visited him and told him to serve those around him – and John of God immediately found himself in sound mind and began to serve the poor in the asylum and other sick. St. John of Avila seemed to know that one way to deal with minor depression is to move out of oneself and care for others. (Of course, clinical depression and mental illness are different and need professional care.)

John of God then founded a small hospital in a house he rented which proved too small. He founded a larger hospital and others soon followed him. The hygienic practices of his hospital were unusual for his time.

Always concerned for the poor, John was once seeking firewood for a poor family during a flood. While doing this, he tried to save someone with him who was drowning. His health deteriorated and he died, kneeling at an alter in his room, on March 8, 1550.

Unlike the rich man in today’s Gospel (Luke 16: 19-31), St. John of God saw the poor man Lazarus around him and responded in love in very practical ways.

I have found that working with children here and visiting the poor villages gives me a deep joy, even as I lament the poverty. Somehow I see God there – and God gives me the joy I need to go forward.

St. John of God is the patron of nurses and hospitals.

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