This is the fifth post of ten for my #TenSaintsTenDays series, counting down from the Feast of All Saints to Veterans Day, when Centurions Guild is launching the 2016 Armistice Appeal. Check back in every day until November 11th for a new saint, their story, and a prayer to guide us into the way of peace.
John of God – Posttraumatic Saint’s
John of God, from Opressa, Spain, in contrast to Joan and George before him, is not very widely known, which is unfortunate. But the order he established, the Brothers Hospitallers, have been entrusted to the medical care of the pope since the sixteenth century. The pharmacy they administer in Rome is the busiest in the whole world. There is an order of Knights of John of God that often gets confused with the Knights Hospitallers (another military order that is infamous for their participation in the crusades), but John’s knights carry no weapons and their sole mission is to preserve the remains of their founder. Their motto is simple “God is love.” Not very militaristic, but John would have approved.
Orphaned as a child, John learned to beg to survive, until he was adopted by a wealthy farmer that raised him to be his heir. Not satisfied with a sedentary life, he joined a group of crusaders serving Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, when they came marching through his town. He went on to spend over 18 years in uniform under the emperor, seeing combat around Europe. His biographer does not record precisely why he left, but it was not long after his group sailed near his hometown, perhaps causing some level of nostalgia that inspired him to put his service behind him.
As many soldiers do, John struggled to find purpose and meaning after his time in the military. He tried charitable work, travel, even working in a bookstore. One day he was listening to a sermon by a well known theologian, John of Avila, when he was overcome with guilt. For what we can not be sure, but the majority of his life spent as a combatant leaves a strong impression. He had a major mental and moral breakdown, and was committed to the equivalent of a psych ward. The treatment for mental illness at the time was flogging and starvation. John changed that, insisting with both his lips and his life that helping others is by far a better cure for mental anguish. He spent the rest of his life in hospitals, funding the work of helping the the sick poor by his own begging. He died young, on his own 55th birthday, and his feast is celebrated on March 8th.
A prayer for sufferers of combat stress;
God of order and love, Prince of peace and justice, bear me against your breast in my darkest moments, shield me from invasive thoughts and the harrowing of a conscience crystallized too late. Take a towel to dry my night sweats, a damp cloth to moisten my dried lips. Guard my mind from painful memories and deliver my dreams from the evil I have seen and done and failed to prevent. Protect me from my own past, dear Lord, and comfort me in my grief. Overcome my fear with your perfect love. Grant me your peace in my weakness and in my sleep, through the mercy of your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Follow me on Twitter to get updates each day as the series unfolds, or start by reading the series intro. Learn about John and more than 45 other #SoldierSaints in my book For God and Country [in that order], © 2013 Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Va. Prayer reprinted by permission.
Are you, or do you know, a #SoldierSaint wrestling between faith and service? Get in touch through my connect page!