St John of God

Founder of the Brothers Hospitallers (entered heaven in 1550)

Dear Jack,

In your zeal you have forgotten one of the basic guidelines for Christian behavior: hate the sin, but love the sinner.  I have no doubt that the corrupting influence of the individuals you refer to needs to be stopped. You are right and valiant to take up the challenge.  At the same time, however, don’t forget that the “perpetrators,” as you call them, are also human beings. Jesus Christ died for them as much as he died for you, and he loves them just as he loves you, and he is longing for them to come and be with him forever in heaven, just as he wants you there as well.  So by all means, counteract their lies and seductions, but keep an eye open for chances to win them over to the Kingdom. Don’t think they are too far gone – today’s saint was a raucous, debauching mercenary soldier until he was 40, but when God’s grace caught up with him he became a whirlwind of holiness.

His first step of repentance came when he took a job as a shepherd near Seville, Spain after his mercenary troop had disbanded.  Here the quiet reflection fostered by his pastoral occupation brought on remorse for his previous way of life. He set out to find some way of making it up to God.  Various providential adventures in his native Portugal brought him finally to open up a shop in Gibraltar where he sold religious articles. He spent his free time doing good deeds for his customers.  Soon after he had opened up this business (which did well), the famous preacher St John of Avila was invited to preach on the feast of St Sebastian. So moved was John of God by the sermon, that he started crying out in the church, accusing himself of his sins in a loud voice, beating his breast and begging for mercy.  Then he dashed outside and continued the exhibition while running about the streets and pulling at his hair like a madman. The crowds assumed he had gone insane and tried to calm him by throwing sticks and stones at him. He made his way back to his shop, sold all his merchandise and returned to the streets in his previous state of distraction.  Some kind citizens took him to St John of Avila, which temporarily calmed him down. But he soon resumed his wild penance and was forcibly interred in the local asylum. There St John of Avila visited him again and told him to serve God in a more productive way. He was immediately and lastingly calmed by this rebuke.

When he left the asylum he began another little business in order to support a hospital for the poor, which he ran almost by himself at first.  The project grew quickly, gaining support from the local bishop and many well-to-do citizens, so that he could dedicate himself full time to tending the sick.  At night, however, he would go out into the streets to find other objects of charity. He took a special interest in finding reputable positions for destitute young girls, so vulnerable to deleterious temptations.  He never confined his zeal to his own hospital, but wore himself out attending to the needs of anyone he heard about, near or far, even if it took a miracle. Once when his hospital caught on fire, he carried the patients out to safety on his own back, walking over and over again right through the flames without ever being burnt.  In the end, his work not only gave rise to the religious congregation that bears his name, but kindled a revival of faith in the entire province, among poor, rich, clergy and laity alike… and all this in the mere 15 years between his return to the faith and his untimely death at the age of 55.

Who knows, maybe one of those “enemies of the faith” you berate so passionately has a similar vocation.  For their sake, and for the sake of the Church, I encourage you to remember always to hate the sin, but love the sinner.

Your affectionate uncle, Eddy

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