Today is the feast day of Saint John of Facundo (or Sahagun). Ora pro nobis.
John, the oldest of seven children, was born of pious and respected parents, John Gonzalez de Castrillo and Sancia Martinez. He received his first education from the Benedictines of his native place. According to the custom of the times, his father procured for him the benefice of the neighbouring parish Dornillos, but this caused John many qualms of conscience. (3)
by Fr. Francis Xavier Weninger, 1876
Pope Alexander VIII. canonized in 1690, with all the usual ceremonies, St. John of Facundo, to whom the Roman Martyrology gives the testimonial that he was a light of the Church by his faith, holiness of life and the many miracles he performed. He was born in the Kingdom of Leon, in Spain, in a small village called St. Facundo or Sahagun. His parents for many years had no issue; but after long prayers were at last blessed with John; hence they bestowed particular care in giving him a Christian education. He studied the liberal sciences in the monastery of St. Benedict, which was not far from his native place. In the course of time he came of the Court of the pious Bishop of Burgos, who, esteeming him highly on account of his virtues, ordained him priest. During his sojourn there he frequently visited a miraculous image of the crucified Saviour, which is preserved in the Church of the Augustinian Monks. One day he was there witness of the cure of a paralysed man, who, in gratitude for the benefit derived, and also to consecrate himself entirely to the service of God, joined the religious in whose Church the miracle had taken place. This event determined St. John to give himself also entirely to the service of the Almighty. Hence he left the court of the bishop and went to Salamanca, not only for the purpose of perfecting himself in theology, but also to lead a more perfect life.
After having made in both the desired progress, God called him by an interior voice to the office of preaching. John obeyed the call of God, and made a beginning in Salamanca, a city which was at that period in a most pitiful condition. Two young men of the nobility had, in a quarrel, killed two other noblemen. The mother of the two murdered youths, clad in the garb of a soldier, went with a few of her domestics after the assassins, who had immediately fled from the city. She found them in Portugal, and there killed them both; upon which a terrible feud broke out between the two families and all their respective connections. Some of the nobility took part with one of the families, some with the other. Drawing the other citizens into their quarrel, the whole city was soon divided into two parties. Both sides took up arms, and some of either were frequently wounded or killed. John was chosen by God to make peace between them. He often ventured into the midst of the combatants: spoke sometimes with kind, sometimes with severe words, and rested not until he had restored peace. Many prayers and penances he had offered to the Almighty for this end, had preached emphatically in behalf of it, and several times had endangered his life, until he had accomplished his design.
After this he fell sick, and suffered greatly; and when the physician found it necessary that he should submit to a most painful and dangerous operation, he vowed that should the operation be successfully performed and his health be restored, he would enter a religious order. All went as he desired, and he hesitated not to enter, in pursuance of his vow, the order of the Hermits of Saint Augustine. How zealous he must have been during his novitiate may be concluded from the fact that he was soon after elected as Master of the Novices, and in the course of time he became Prior. He never left off preaching, for'which God had not only bestowed upon him a peculiar talent: but also worked through him some very extraordinary conversions. Although the holy preacher was much persecuted on account of the impartiality with which he condemned vice, without respect of persons, he relaxed not in doing his duty. To a certain Duke who reproved his frankness with anger and menaces, he replied: “Your Grace must know that a preacher must have such a disposition that he should tell the truth even if it cost him his life.” Several times were ruffians hired to waylay the Saint and to maltreat him, but God ordained that on the approach of their victim they could not move hand or foot until they had acknowledged their fault and begged his pardon.
This divine assistance, as well as the great success of his sermons, St. John obtained by his frequent and fervent prayers, to which he gave the greater part of the night; by his austerity in fasting and other work of penance, and by the great care he took to keep his conscience free from all stains of sin. Therefore he confessed almost daily, and when this was blamed, he said: “I am not sure of a day or an hour in which I may not be called to appear before the judgment-seat of God and give a rigorous account of my conduct. I often see that some die suddenly, while others lose their senses in sickness; hence, I endeavor to be always prepared. I confess frequently because I sin frequently.” Thus spoke the humble servant of God, who never burdened his conscience with a mortal sin. To say holy Mass he prepared himself during whole hours, and scarcely ever said it without shedding many tears. He had often the grace to see visibly, while standing before the Altar, our Blessed Lord, the Virgin Mother and other Saints, and to receive from them the most beneficial instructions.
The Almighty bestowed upon him, besides other graces, the gift of prophecy and of reading the thoughts of the heart. At St. Lazare, on the opposite side of the bridge, a great feast was given during the winter season. The holy man feared that in consequence of the old quarrel related above, one side or other might provoke a new feud by angry words or reproaches. He therefore, had a pulpit erected near the bridge, and from it exhorted all to love and harmony ending with the words: ” I announce to you this beforehand: that he who dares to draw his sword will pay for the deed with his life. Keep therefore peace, that none of you, on this day, may become a prey to Hell.” Notwithstanding this exhortation, one youth dared to quarrel with another and drew his sword against him. He had, however, instantly to experience the truth of the Saint's prediction; for he was killed on the spot. A woman wished to kiss the Saint's hand, but he, withdrawing it, said: “I will not permit my hand to be touched by one who carries the devil in her heart.” The woman asked what he meant by these words; when he answered: “I know that you have determined to take your daughter's life, because she has become a mother without being wedded.” These words clearly proved that God had bestowed upon him the gift of reading hearts. Many other similar events and many miracles might be told of this Saint, but space is wanting for us to relate them all, and we will only add a few words of his happy end.
St. John had converted, by the force of his sermons, a young man who, for a long time, had lived in criminal intimacy with an unchaste woman. The latter menaced the Saint that, before the year should end he would dearly pay for what he had done; and, in fact, she, in some manner, administered poison to him, which slowly wasted his strength. The Saint was more concerned about the sin that had been committed, than about his own suffering. He prepared himself, with great fervor for death, by receiving extreme unction, and joyfully resigned his soul into the hands of the Almighty, in the year 1479, just at the moment when the bells were rung for the Angelus. Soon after his death his countenance shone with such wonderful beauty and divine radiance, that all who beheld it were touched with veneration for the holy man. This, however, still increased when, by invoking his faithful servant, God wrought many miracles at his tomb. The first of these was, that a woman, named Beatrix, who for 23 years had had a paralyzed hand by touching the tomb of the Saint, recovered the entire use of it. Soon after, a dumb man received speech by invoking the aid of St. John, and a child crushed to death was restored to life with the use of all its limbs. (1)
His sermons against sinful living conditions, and in support of the rights and dignity of workers brought him great opposition of some local leaders. He became known as an outstanding preacher, whose style, clarity, sincerity, and integrity attracted large crowds and created many opportunities for conversion. To the Duke of Alba, who complained of John's stern denunciation of the sins of nobility and commoners alike form the pulpit, John replied: “It is becoming of Your Grace to know that a preacher must be prepared in his soul to speak the truth, both in denouncing and correcting shortcomings and in praising virtue, to such a point that he is willing in that cause even to face death.” Incensed, the duke hired assassins to stop Saint John’s preaching, but upon recognizing John's holiness, they repented, confessing and begging forgiveness—which he freely gave. The duke later fell ill, and was healed by John's prayers, himself repenting and renouncing his former ways. (4)
The process of beatification began in 1525, and in 1601 he was declared Blessed. New miracles were wrought at his intercession, and on 16 Oct., 1690, Alexander VIII entered his name in the list of canonized saints. Benedict XIII fixed his feast for 12 June. His relics are found in Spain, Belgium, and Peru. His life written by John of Seville towards the end of the fifteenth century with additions in 1605 and 1619, is used by the Bollandists in “Acta SS.”, Jun., III, 112. (3)
Image: San Juan de Sahagún. Retablo cerámico del siglo XVII, del convento de Santa María del Pópulo de Sevilla, hoy en el Museo de Bellas Artes. (6)
Research by Ed Masters, REGINA Staff