“God writes straight with crooked lines.”
The path to God of today’s saint, John of God, was full of twists and turns.
Though not much is known of his early life, he was either abducted from his home in Portugal by a Spanish priest and perhaps abandoned or he ran away. He eventually ended up as a shepherd in Spain and even became the estate manager. In his early twenties he joined the army and went to France and then Vienna. He returned back to Spain, and perhaps made a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. He tried to go to trade himself for Christians held by the Moors, but was persuaded otherwise.
In Granada, Spain, he heard a sermon by St. John of Avila and began to preach as well as to practice severe penances, so severe that he was put into a mental hospital.
St. John of Avila visited him there and, in effect, told him to get up and start doing something. John of the Cross was released from care but stayed on as a helper in the hospital.
Eventually he founded a hospital (which was notable for its hygiene) and gathered men around him who later became the Order of Hospitallers of St. John of God. He died after trying to rescue someone drowning during a flood.
There are many stories about him, including one in which John of God recognized Christ in a sick person, and heard the words:
John, all you do for the poor is done for me. It is my hand that receives your alms; it is my body that you clothes, my feet you wash.
There is much to learn from saints like John of God, but what I find most helpful today is the advice the St. John of Avila gave him. Stop punishing yourself for your sins; get up and care for those in need.
In many ways, that’s reflected in today’s Gospel, Mark 12: 28-34. The great commandment is to love God and love your neighbor. That will bring us peace and help us live as members of the Kingdom of God.
Repentance is absolutely necessary as we today’s reading from Hosea 14: 2-10:
Return to the Lord; you have collapsed through your guilt…
But God promises love and forgiveness:
I will heal their defection…and love them freely…
And He calls us to bear fruit:
He shall blossom like the lily…
What a summary of the message of Lent. What a call to renewal, halfway through Lent.