Weninger’s Lives of the Saints – Saint John Gualbert

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detail from the painting 'San Giovanni Gualberto and Saints'; date unknown, artist unknown; Santa Trinita, Florence, Italy; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsThe great holiness of John Gualbert began with one single act of self-denial. He was bom at Florence, of noble parents, and although brought up in the Christian faith, he was but little instructed in the way of living a Christian life. When, in riper years, he entered the army, he learned still less of Christian virtue. When Hugh, his only brother, was assassinated by a young nobleman for unknown reasons, his father vowed to search everywhere for the murderer, and to kill him without mercy; commanding his son, Gualbert, to do the same if an opportunity should be offered to avenge the death of his brother. John showed himself as willing to obey the command, as his father had been willing to give it. On Good Friday, when John was returning from the country to Florence, he met the one on whom he was so eager to take revenge. The road where they met was so narrow, that the murderer saw no chance of escape; and as he had no weapons to defend himself, he fell on his knees and cried: “For the love of our Lord Jesus Christ, who died today, have pity and spare my life.” John, who had immediately drawn his sword on seeing him, was about to rush on him; but when he heard these words spoken by the murderer, he suddenly stopped. Pondering how Christ had not only forgiven His enemies for greater crimes, but had also prayed for them to His heavenly Father, his heart softened, and all desire for revenge fled in one moment. Casting aside his sword, he raised the assassin from the ground, embraced him and said: “What you ask for the love of Qur Lord, I cannot refuse. I will spare your life and forgive your crime.” After having so heroically conquered himself, and reconciled himself with his bitterest enemy, John went into the first church to which he came, and kneeling down before the image of the crucified Saviour, prayed that Christ might, in mercy and grace, release him also from his offences. The image upon the cross bowed its head towards him as a sign that his prayer had been graciously received. This unexpected miracle made so deep an impression upon John, and the divine grace operated so strongly upon him, that he instantly resolved henceforth to serve God alone. Repairing to the monastery of Saint Minias, he begged to be admitted among the number of the religious. His father-was at first violently opposed to it, but when he saw that John had cut off his hair, to indicate that he was in earnest, he not only relented, but praised his perseverance, and admonished him to remain firm in his resolution. John, however, needed not this admonition; he remained firm, and aspired with such zeal to spiritual perfection, that, after a very short time, he deserved to be placed as a model for all religious, in true devotion, humility and obedience. The zeal he manifested in the service of God at the beginning of his conversion, never decreased, but continued unaltered until his end. After the death of the Abbot, he was unanimously chosen as his successor. But nothing could induce him to accept the dignity offered to him, and to escape further persuasion, and to serve God more perfectly, he went, with several virtuous ecclesiastics to Saint Romuald, at the hermitage of Camaldoli, where he remained for some time. As, however, this holy man informed him that he was chosen by God to become the founder of a new order, he repaired to a place, a few miles from Florence, which, on account of the many trees that shaded it, was called Vallis Umbrosa, or the shaded valley. There he met two hermits with whom he and his companions resolved to remain. The life he led while there was very holy, his occupation consisting of praying, fasting, watching and pious contemplations. When this became known in the surrounding country, several men and youths came to him, desiring to lead a pious life under his direction. As the number of these daily increased, he erected a monastery and founded an order, which soon became famous in all Italy. He became its first Abbot, but governed those under him more by his example than by precept and admonitions. It was a common saying, that if any one wished to know who was the Abbot of the monastery, he had only to observe who was the most humble, zealous, devout and patient among the brotherhood. Before he died, he had the comfort to count twelve monasteries founded by him, all filled with zealous servants of the Almighty. Towards others he was compassionate and kind, but towards himself, extremely austere. The poor he assisted in every possible manner, not even sparing the sacred vessels of the Church, if he had no other means to aid them. He fasted most rigorously, and although he was a great sufferer, he refused to be exempted from the obligation of fasting. He prepared himself most devoutly for his end when he felt it approaching; and after having received the Holy Sacrament, he called all the religious to him, and gave them his last exhortation to live in love and unity: to maintain strictly the regulations of the order, and to meditate frequently on death and the last judgment. His fervent desire to see God he expressed in the often repeated words of the Psalmist: “My soul thirsteth after God. When shall I go and appear before the Lord!” At last, God granted the desire of his holy servant, and called him to eternal life, in the year of our Lord 1073, and the 74th of his life. The inscription on his tomb, which he himself composed, was as follows: “I, John, believe and confess the faith which the Apostles preached, and the holy Fathers professed in the four councils of the Church.” Saint John was honored during his life with the gifts of reading the innermost thoughts of the heart, curing the sick and the possessed by making the sign of the holy cross over them. After his death his tomb became an universal refuge for the oppressed and forsaken, on account of the graces which were there bestowed upon them, through his intercession.

Practical Considerations

1. Out of his love for Christ, Saint John pardoned his enemy from the depth of his heart. Are you willing to do the same? Has not Jesus done the same for you? Has He not already often pardoned the many and great offences with which you had offended Him? Yet you consider so long whether you shall pardon your neighbor who has offended you only by a few words, or otherwise done you a trifling wrong. Oh shame! How dare you call yourself a Christian when you, as such, ought to follow the example of Christ? How can you expect that Christ will pardon your sins? Do you not know that He has very clearly said in the Gospel, that He will -not pardon you, if you do not forgive your neighbor? If your neighbor does not deserve it, you still owe it to Christ. For love of Him, pardon the offences other have done to you. “God ordains it,’* writes Saint Thomas of Villanova, “God commands it, and hence it should be agreeable to us. What will not we do to please the friend we love? If our friends ask for those who offended us, we again receive them into favor and restore them to our friendship. Christian reader who acts thus for love of thy friend, wilt thou not do the same out of love to Christ, who does not ask it of thee, but commands it? What is your answer? Do not hesitate, but prostrating say, with lips and heart, “Yes, my crucified Lord, for love of Thee, and because Thou command it, I pardon every wrong that has ever been done to me by men, and I hope Thou also wilt forgive my iniquities.”

2. Saint John never allowed himself to grow sluggish in the service of the Most High and in his solicitude for his salvation. How is it with you in this respect? You have often begun to serve God, and work for your salvation with great fervor because you were convinced that this is required to obtain eternal life. But how long did it last? Ah! sometimes a few days had hardly passed when you returned to your former sluggishness. You desire to serve God, but only so far as it is convenient to you, only so far as not to offend Him by a mortal sin. Lesser offences you do not mind. You think of the salvation of your soul, but not seriously and without forcing yourself to do all that you know is required of you. How do you suppose the Almighty regards your indolence? Can you imagine that He will reward with eternal life such coldness in His service? If you had a servant who was so lazy, so careless in his duties, or who performed the work you gave him to do so negligently, as you attend to the service of God and the work of your salvation, would you be pleased with him or. reward him richly at the end of the year? I do not believe it. And just as little ought you to imagine that God is pleased with your indolence, or that He will bestow on you an eternal reward at the end of your life. To good, faithful and fervent servants He has promised heaven; but one who is indolent cannot expect this reward. “Let nobody expect/’ says Saint Chrysostom, “that after leading a tepid, idle life, he will enter heaven.” This may not be. “Because thou art lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold I will begin to vomit thee out of my mouth.” (Apocalypse 3) This is the divine menace. Sluggishness leads slowly to great sin and finally to destruction. If you desire to avoid this, begin anew to serve God with fervor and to work diligently for your salvation. But continue in it until your end; otherwise you will repent of it, but unavailingly, in your last hours, and still more in eternity. “When your last hour arrives, you will judge quite differently from what you did in life, and will bitterly repent that you have been so tepid and so negligent,” says Thomas a Kempis.

MLA Citation

  • Father Francis Xavier Weninger, DD, SJ. “Saint John Gualbert”. Lives of the Saints, 1876. CatholicSaints.Info. 14 March 2018. Web. 14 August 2018. <>