Tuesday, July 12, 2011
July 12: The Feast of St. John Gualbert
The spirit of interior sacrifice shows itself in works of mercy made out of consideration for our neighbor, without distinction of friend or enemy, and with the sole intention of pleasing God.
"But I say to you: Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that persecute and calumniate you: that you may be the children of your Father Who is in heaven." (Matthew 5:44-45)
St. John Gualbert was born into nobility in Florence, Italy in the year 999 A.D. According to the custom of the time and to his status in society, St. John was educated both in the humanities and in Christianity. When he was young, St. John's parents took great care to educate him, particularly in Christian doctrine and science. However, as he became an adult, St. John became involved in worldly concerns. Since his status provided him with considerable wealth, St. John was able to satisfy whatever appetite he had. He considered his vanity and worldly pursuits part of his privilege. He easily and eagerly replaced the humility of Christ with the pride of selfishness.
Due to his noble status and his worldly interests, St John accepted his role as Knight in the Army. His position gave him greater status, praise, and wealth. It also gave him the opportunity to avenge the murder of his only brother, Hugo. Hugo had been murdered by a gentleman of the country and his killer had never been found. The prevailing custom of the time was for a family member to seek his own revenge. It was precisely this custom that motivated St. John. His parents, being filled with Christian virtue, pleaded with John to soften his heart, but John was filled with resentment over the loss of his only brother. He refused to listen to the voice of God nor that of his parents. Vengeance permeated his thoughts.
On a particular Good Friday, some time after his brother's murder, St. John was traveling with his army through the countryside. At a precise point in the road, where meeting parties could not escape, he met his brother's killer face to face. Filled with the rage he had been carrying for years, St. John Gualbert drew his sword to avenge his brother. But at that moment, the young gentlemen, filled with remorse over his horrible sin, threw himself onto the ground, arms outstretched in the form of a cross, and begged for mercy in the name of Our Lord.
Overcome with the images of Christ's sufferings on that day, dying between two murderers and thieves, St. John was overcome with passion. He sheathed his sword, helped the young man to his feet, and replied, "I can refuse nothing that is asked of me for the sake of Jesus Christ. I not only give you your life, but also my friendship forever. Pray for me that God may pardon me my sin."
Upon his return home, St. John entered into the chapel at the Benedictine abbey to pray before the Lord on the Crucifix. He outpoured all his sorrow and remorse for spending his life filled with pride, vanity, selfishness, and vengeance. While on his knees in tears and remorse, he begged the Crucified Lord for forgiveness of his sins. While St. John continued his prayers, the Crucifix miraculously bowed its head toward him, as if the Lord were confirming his commitment and great sacrifice. At that moment, St. John fell at the feet of the abbot of the monastery and renounced all his worldly goods.
Immediately, his parents were neither pleased nor convinced of St. John's sincerity. His father went to speak to the abbot requesting that his son be allowed to return home. However, St. John stayed on, under no commitment, until he could proof himself worthy and sincere. After a time, with his parents' blessing, St. John completely abandoned the world and devoted his life to prayer and penance. The more John fasted and subdued his passions, the more graces the Lord bestowed upon him. The more graces John received from the Lord, the greater he grew in virtue, especially in meekness and humility.
St. John grew to be filled with all virtues. He later became Abbot himself, founded the Order of Vallombrosa, and demanded no less virtuous behavior from his charges. He was particularly devoted to the poor and, it is said, he never turned away a poor, hungry soul from the monastery. He expected when new monasteries were built, that the money was to be used wisely, and frugally, with all that was left over used to benefit those less fortunate living in the countryside. He devoted the rest of his life to ridding the unholy practice of simony, payment in exchange for the Sacraments, in Italy. He was so loved for his virtue that Popes and people often came to visit him for counsel, which he found himself unworthy to give.
St. John Gualbert died peacefully in his quarters on July 12, 1073.
St. John Gualbert, pray for us that we may offer forgiveness instead of seeking vengeance.
St. John Gualbert, pray for us that we may use our worldly gifts from God in a manner that is pleasing to Him.