Tag Archives: St. John of Avila

Twists and turns of holiness

“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.


An unlikely doctor of the church

St. John of Avila, a Spanish priest, died on May 10, 1569. He was not a member of a religious order, but was friends with St. Ignatius Loyola (founder of the Jesuits), adviser of St. Teresa of Avila (reformer of the Carmelites), and aided the conversions of St. Francis Borgia (a Jesuit) and St. John of God (the inspiration for the Brothers of St. John of God who work with the sick). He wanted to go to Mexico to spread the faith but his bishop persuaded him to be a missionary to the people of Andalusia.

He got into trouble with the Inquisition for several reasons. His mysticism led them to think he was a member of the Alumbrados, the Illumined, who were considered heretics since they emphasized personal illumination from God (and looked too much like Protestants, I’d suggest.)

He was also accused of being too hard on the rich, denying them access to heaven. He was charged with unduly favoring the poor.

I also wonder if the Inquisition was suspicious of St. John because of his Jewish ancestry – as they were of St. Teresa of Avila.

Recently, Pope Benedict XVI said that he would be declared a doctor of the church. Again, someone who was thought suspicious in his lifetime by the church is recognized not only as a saint, but as a doctor –  a major teacher – of the faith.

Ah – God’s ways are marvelous.

The New Concise Edition of Butler’s Lives of the Saints includes this quote of St. John:

Christ tells us that if we wish to join him, we shall travel the way he took. It is surely not right that the Son of God should go his way on the path of shame while the sons of men walk the way of worldly honor.

Would that we all take this to heart.