St. John of God Taught That No One Is Disposable

Sometimes it takes years for us to open our eyes to God’s will and to truly understand His plan for us. St. John of God, whose feast day we celebrate on March 8, is a perfect example of the fact that it’s never too late to change your life and follow God. John was 40 when he repented and dedicated his life to serving others.

Born in Portugal in 1495, John grew and became a soldier. With the other soldiers in his unit, he drank, gambled, and even pillaged homes. Eventually the unit disbanded, and John began working as a shepherd. But when he turned 40, he started reflecting on his actions; he decided to dedicate the remainder of his life to serving God.

At first, he attempted to rescue slaves in Africa but was unsuccessful. So he went to Spain and worked various jobs until one fateful day when he heard John of Avila speak. John of God was suddenly tormented by his past sins and the way he had led his life. He gave his belongings to the poor, ran through the streets pulling his hair out and wailing, and even beat himself. Because of this behavior, he was sent to a mental hospital. It wasn’t until John of Avila visited him and told him that he needed to focus on doing good for others instead of inflicting both mental and physical pain on himself that John of God finally forgave himself and began a new way of life.

He started serving the poor and sick. He had very little money to give them, so he sold items in the public square to make money for the poor. He even begged for those who were too sick to beg for themselves. Eventually he raised enough money to open a hospital—and he took the name John of God after he had a vision that God told him He was pleased with how he was helping the needy.

As news spread of his work, more and more people began donating both money and material goods to the hospital, and soon other men volunteered to help in his mission. John of God served the poor and the sick until his death in 1550.

Twenty years after John of God died, the men who had served with him formed the Hospitallers, who continue his work around the world today. According to the Hospitallers website, “The basis of [St. John’s] life, example and teaching was a deep sense of hospitality which opened him to every person he met and moved him to do everything in his power to help them in their needs.”

Too frequently, our society treats those who are suffering as disposable. The elderly and the sick are offered a chance to end their lives prematurely through assisted suicide. Mothers whose babies have a prenatal diagnosis of some kind of disability or disease are urged to abort.

Society often lacks the compassion that John of God showed to all those around him. But his life and actions teach us to see the suffering through the eyes of God and to treat them as Christ would have—and as John did.

John understood that no one should be thrown away or discarded, even those whom society considers “undesirable.” His actions encourage us to think about the people in our lives we may consider undesirable and to ask ourselves what steps we can take to love and serve them as they deserve.

John once said, “Labor without stopping. Do all the good works you can while you still have the time.”

God has given us all immense gifts, and He rejoices when we share them with others. While this obviously includes our family and friends, it also includes those in our community who struggle, who have been forgotten, or who are unloved. When we help the poor by donating to food banks, when we sit with an elderly or sick friend, when we assist a single mom, or when we speak up about the value of the preborn baby, we are living the truth that no one is disposable and that every single person matters.

For decades, St. John of God lived a life of selfishness and hedonism, but with God’s grace and the example of a great saint, he learned what it truly means to serve others. Let his life be an inspiration to us, as we too search for ways to teach that all people are valuable.

This article first appeared in LifeSiteNews at lifesitenews.com/blogs/st-john-god-love-unborn-elderly-christ.

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About the author

Susan Ciancio

Susan Ciancio is the editor of Celebrate Life Magazine and executive editor for the Culture of Life Studies Program.