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From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.

This day month we were keeping the feast of St. John of Matha, whose characteristic virtue was charity; our saint of to-day was like him: love for his neighbour led him to devote himself to the service of them that most needed help. Both are examples to us of what is a principal duty of this present season; they are models of fraternal charity. They teach us this great lesson, that our love of God is false if our hearts are not disposed to show mercy to our neighbour, and help him in his necessities and troubles. It is the same lesson as that which the beloved disciple gives us, when he says: 'He that hath the substance of this world, and shall see his brother in need, and shall put up his mercy from him, how doth the charity of God abide in him?’[1] But if there can be no love of God where there is none for our neighbour, the love of our neighbour itself is not genuine unless it be accompanied by a love of our Creator and Redeemer. The charity which the world has set up, which it calls philanthropy, and which it exercises not in the name of God, but solely for the sake of man, is a mere delusion; it is incapable of producing love between those who give and those who receive, and its results must necessarily be unsatisfactory. There is but one tie which can make men love one another: that tie is God, who created them all, and commands them all to be one in Him. To serve mankind for its own sake, is to make a god of it; and even viewing the workings of the two systems in this single point of view—the relief they afford to temporal suffering—what comparison is there between mere philanthropy, and that supernatural charity of the humble disciples of Christ, who make Him the very motive and end of all they do for their afflicted brethren? The saint we honour today, was called John of God, because the name of God was ever on his lips. His heroic acts of charity had no other motive than that of pleasing God; God alone was the inspirer of the tender love he had for his suffering fellow-creatures. Let us imitate his example, for our Lord assures us that He considers as done to Himself whatsoever we do even for the least of His disciples.

The liturgy thus portrays the virtues of our saint:

Joannes de Deo, ex Catholicis piisque parentibus in oppido Montis-Majoris, junioris regni Lusitaniæ natus, quam sublimiter in sortem Domini fuerit electus, insuetus splendor super ejus domo refulgens, sonitusque æris campani sua sponte emissus, ab ipso ejus nativitatis tempore non obscure prænuntiarunt. A laxiorisvivendi ratione, divina operante virtute, revocatus, magnæ sanetilatis exhibere specimen cœpit, et ob auditam prædicationem verbi Dei sic ad meliora se excitatum sensit, ut jam ab ipso sanctioris vitæ rudimento consummatum aliquid, perfectumque visus sit attigisse. Bonis omnibus in pauperes carceribus inclusos erogatis, admirabilis pœnitentiæ, suique ipsius contemptus cuncto populo spectaculum factus, a plerisque ceu demena graviter afflictus, in carcorem amentibus deslinatum conjicitur. At Joannes cœlesti charitate magis incensus, gemino atque ampio valetudinario ex piorum eleemosynis in civitate Granatensi exstructo, jactoque novi Ordinis fundamento, Ecclesiam nova prole fœcundavit, Fratrum hospitalitatis, infirmis præclaro animarum corporumque profectu inservientium, et longe lateque per orbem diffusorum.

Pauperibus ægrotis, quos propriis quandoque humeris domum deferebat, nulla re ad animæ corporisque salutem proficua deerat. Effusa quoque extra nosocomium charitate, indigentibus mulieribus viduis, et præcipue virginibus periclitantibus, clam alimenta subministrabat, curamque indefessam adhibehat ut carnis coneupiscentiam a proximis hujusmodi vitio inquinatis exterminaret. Cum autem maximum in regio Granatensi valetudinario excitatum fuisset ineendium, Joannes impavidus prosiliit in ignem, hue illuc diseurrens, quousque tum infirmos humeris exportatos, tum lectulos e fenestris projectos ab igne vindicavit, ac per dimidiam horam inter flammas jam in immensum succrescentes versatus, exinde divinitus incolumis, universis civibus admirantibus, exivit, in schola cliaritatis edocens, segniorem in eum fuisse ignem qui foris usserat, quam qui intus accen derat.

Multiplici aspcritatum genere, demississiiua obcdientia, extrema paupertate, orandi studio, rerum divinarum contemplatione, ac in beatam Virginem pietate mirifico excelluit, et lacrymarum dono enituit. Denique gravi morbo correptus, omnibus Ecclcsiae sacramentis rite sancteque refcctus, viribus licet destitutus. propriis indulus vestibus e lectulo surgens, ac provolutus in genua, manu et corde Christum Dominum e cruce pendentem perstringens: octavo Idus Martii, anno millesimo quingentesimo quinquagesimo, obiit in osculo Domini: quem etiam mortuus tenuit nec dimisit, et in eadem corporis constitutione sex circiter horas, quousque inde dimotus fuisset, tota civitate inspectante, mirabiliter permansit, odorem mire fragrantem diffundens. Quem ante et post obitum plutimis miraculis darum Alexander octavus, Pontifex maximus, in sanctorum numerum retulit; et Leo decimus tertius, ex sacrorum catholici orbis antistitum voto, ac rituum congregationis con sulto, cœlestem omnium hospitalium et infirmorum ubique degentium patronum declaravit, ipsiusque nomen in agonizantium litaniis invocari præcepit.
John of God was born of Catholic and virtuous parents, in Portugal, in the town of Montemor. At his birth, a bright light shone upon the house, and the church bell was heard to ring of itself; God thus evincing to what great things he destined this his servant. For some time he fell into a lax way of living; but was reclaimed by God’s grace, and led a very holy life. His conversion was effected by his hearing a sermon, and so fervently did he practise the exercises of a devout life, that, from the very first, he seemed to have attained the height of perfection. He gave whatsoever he possessed to the poor who were in prison. Extraordinary were the penances he inflicted on himself; and the contempt he had for himself induced him to do certain things, which led some people to accuse him of madness, so that he was for some time confined in a madhouse. His charity only increased by such treatment. He collected alms sufficient to build two large hospitals in the city of Granada, where also he began the new Order, wherewith he enriched the Church. This Order was called the Institute of Friars Hospitallers. Its object was to assist the sick, both in their spiritual and corporal wants. Its success was very great, and it had houses in almost all parts of the world.

The saint often carried the sick poor on his own shoulders to the hospital, and there he provided them with everything they could want, whether for soul or body. His charity was not confined within the limits of his hospitals. He secretly provided food for indigent widows, and girls whose virtue was exposed to danger. Nothing could exceed the zeal wherewith he laboured to reclaim such as had fallen into sins of impurity. On occasion of an immense fire breaking out in the royal hospital of Granada, John fearlessly threw himself into the midst of the flames. He went through the several wards, taking the sick upon his shoulders, and throwing the beds through the windows, so that all were saved. He remained half an hour amidst the flames, which raged with wildest fury in every part of the building. He was miraculously preserved from the slightest injury, and came forth to the astonishment of the whole city, teaching the people, who had witnessed what had happened, that the disciples of charity have a fire within their hearts more active than any which could burn the body.

Among the virtues wherein he wonderfully excelled, may be mentioned his many practices of bodily mortilication, profound obedience, extreme poverty, love of prayer, contemplation, and devotion to the blessed Virgin. He also possessed, in an extraordinary degree, the gift of tears. At length, falling seriously ill, he fervently received the last Sacraments. Though reduced to a state of utter weakness, he dressed himself, rose from his bed, fell on his knees, devoutly took the crucifix into his hands, pressed it to his heart, and kissing it, died on the eighth of the Ides of March (March 8) in the year 1550. He remained in this same attitude with the crucifix still in his hand, for about six hours after his death. The entire city came to see the holy corpse, which gave forth a heavenly fragrance. The body was then removed, in order that it might be buried. God honoured his servant by many miracles, both before and after his death, and he was canonized by Pope Alexander VIII. Leo XIII., at the desire of the bishops of the Catholic world, and having consulted the sacred congregation of rites, declared him the heavenly patron of all hospitals and of the sick in all places, and ordered his name to be inserted in the litany for the dying.

What a glorious life was thine, O John of God! It was one of charity, and of miracles wrought by charity. Like Vincent of Paul thou wast poor, and, in thy early life, a shepherd-boy like him; but the charity which filled thy heart gave thee a power to do what worldly influence and riches never can. Thy name and memory are dear to the Church; they deserve to be held in benediction by all mankind, for thou didst spend thy life in serving thy fellow-creatures, for God’s sake. That motive gave thee a devotedness to the poor, which is an impossibility for those who befriend them from mere natural sympathy. Philanthropy may be generous, and its workings may be admirable for ingenuity and order; but it never can look upon the poor man as a sacred object, because it refuses to see God in him. Pray for the men of this generation, that they may at length desist from perverting charity into a mere mechanism of relief. The poor are the representatives of Christ, for He Himself has willed that they be such; and if the world refuse to accept them in this their exalted character, if it deny their resemblance to our Redeemer, it may succeed in degrading the poor, but by this very degradation it will make them its enemies. Thy predilection, O John of God, was for the sick; have pity, therefore, on our times, which are ambitious to eliminate the supernatural, and exclude God from the world by what is called secularization of society. Pray for us, that we may see how evil a thing it is to have changed the Christian for the worldly spirit. Enkindle holy charity within our hearts, that during these days, when we are striving to draw down the mercy of God upon ourselves, we also may show mercy. May we, as thou didst, imitate the example of our blessed Redeemer, who gave Himself to us His enemies, and deigned to adopt us as His brethren. Protect also the Order thou didst institute, which has inherited thy spirit; that it may prosper, and spread in every place the sweet odour of that charity, which is its very name.

[1] 1 St. John iii. 17