St John of Capistrano

(entered heaven in 1456)

Dear Jean,

Ever since you arrived at college your notes have narrated all the wonderful experiences you have been having.  Unfortunately, all of those experiences are parties, dates, weekend road trips, and other social engagements.  Not once have you mentioned a single class, a professor, a lecture – and you have not even alluded to any kind of spiritual life.  My dear niece, you can skim along the giddy surface of a “good time” for the first eight (or more) weeks of college, but if you don’t balance out your social life with a little substance, the next four years will be nothing more than a long firecracker.  Depth of soul, my dearest, depth of soul is what leads to lasting joy and the inexpressible sweetness of a life lived intensely.  The highest mountains have the deepest roots, and they are the most beautiful.  The deeper waters harbor more life, and can withstand the storms.  Those who love silence can hear the music better.  Learn from the example of today’s saint.

He was one of those extraordinarily talented persons who would have achieved greatness in whatever undertaking he embraced.  He was born in central Italy, and finished up his studies in the city of Perugia.  He made such an impression on the people there that when he graduated they elected him governor.  Political squabbles ended up with his capture and imprisonment by local adversaries.  It was prison that saved him.  Forced to reflect on the passing nature of worldly glory (hitherto his only desire), and on the reality of death (prisons in 1400 were hardly comfortable or sanitary), he emerged with a determination to put his life at the service of God and the eternal Kingdom.  He humiliated himself by riding through town sitting backwards on a Donkey, with a huge paper cone on his head where he wrote out in bold letters all his most heinous sins.  As he made his way through the streets, children and adults alike laughed at him, and pelted him with mud and stones.  In this condition, he requested entry at the Franciscan friary, and began his preparations to become a Franciscan priest.  He was subjected to severe trials of obedience as a novice, for which he was grateful ever after, but persevered in spite of the difficulties.

By the time he was ordained a priest, everyone was familiar with his extraordinary abilities as a preacher and miracle worker.  He spent the rest of his life traveling from province to province and tirelessly calling people to repentance, trying to counteract the scandals and disorder that reigned in the Italian church at the time.  Eventually he was entrusted with reform of the Franciscan order itself, which he performed admirably.  He also became a favorite pick for special papal missions – to Jerusalem, for instance, and then to counteract heresy in Austria.  Wherever he went, huge crowds gathered to hear him and to ask him to cure their sick.  His zeal for the Church won many fallen-away Christians back into the fold, and even roused the Hungarian king and people to successfully resist the onslaught of Turkish invaders at the gates of Belgrade.  After that engagement, he fell victim to the plague (sparked by the dead bodies that lay strewn and rotting all about the besieged city) and died.  Throughout the years of his remarkable life, St John began every day with the same activities: rising before dawn, he prayed for an hour and celebrated Mass, only then would he go forth to build the Kingdom.

Perhaps you are not called to such heights of sanctity (but perhaps you are), or to such a public mission in the Church (though you might be), but unless you carve time out of your social life for some study, prayer, and personal reflection – even if it’s only a little – you may not find out your calling at all, which would be quite tragic.

Your affectionate uncle,


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