Friday, March 30, 2012

Patron Saint of Booksellers

People in the business of selling books today need help. There is nothing easy about being an author, a publisher or a book seller today--sports books included.

In some circles, people pray to saints asking them to intercede on their behalf to God. To many this seems odd, some see it as a kind of polytheism, but for many it's a wonderful way to include a whole "village of holy people" in their lives. There are endless stories of saints that make up an enormous literature of faith and inspiration.

Saint John of God is what reporters today would call a "great story." John was born in Portugal in 1495--just a few years after Columbus "sailed the blue." He came from modest, but devout parents. As a youth, he was innocent and virtuous. But when he joined the military of the King of Spain Charles V, well that's when things went south. According to Butler, the "licentiousness of his companions" led him to lose his fear of and devotion to God. Eventually, he renewed his faith, but not after he had done some things that he would regret for the rest of his left. He went about like some were wont in those days to seek martyrdom.

Traveling to Africa, he prayed, repented, and slavishly served a Portuguese gentlemen and his family who had fallen on hard times. In time, he was somehow convinced that martyrdom was something that one should not seek directly. He left Africa and traveled to Granada where he started to sell little devotional books and statues as something fitting a pious man that might help others find virtue. His brief bookselling days earned him the title of Patron Saint of Booksellers (including others involved in the book trade) long after his death.

After hearing a sermon by a famous preacher of the time, John D'Avila, Saint John went mad with guilt and remorse--he cried out in church and then ran around the streets where people threw things at him. He gave away any money he had made and all his possessions. D'Avila tried to talk some sense into him and it seemed to work for a while, but then a kind of madness crept back and he was committed to a "madhouse." A madhouse was a place where mentally ill patients were treated cruelly in that time. D'Aila must have been appalled when he heard of John's fate and set out again to set Saint John right. D'Avila convinced him that he could do more positive things than punish himself--he had been punished enough at that point. Thus, Saint John went out renewed with piety and charity to serve the poor, the sick, and those who were the most vulnerable in the society. He created a hospital.

Saint John became so well known for his piety and devotion to the poor, that the rich were often competing with each other to offer the most support and aid to the "hospital" he created. He seemed to have no interest at all in even being esteemed by anyone for anything--including holiness. When one woman called him a hypocrite, it was said he gave her some money and asked her to go out in public and proclaim the same. When a complaint came to the Archbishop that Saint John was harboring bad women and the idle, Saint John prostrate himself before the man and cried out that he was the worse person at the hospital and that he had fallen short of serving others like the Master they both served.

In time, everyone in the area just looked at Saint John as a force for virtue and holiness. He gave 100% to his "mission." When he took ill, he had to be ordered to leave service at his hospital. As he neared death, he gave one final blessing to the community. He died at exactly 55 years of age.

Saint John would receive credit for the founding of the Order of Charity, which was in fact formally organized after his death. He wasn't in the book business for long, but he certainly followed his heart and his convictions.

Copyright 2014, Sporting Chance Press
Sporting Chance Press is the publisher of Patrick McCaskey's Sports and Faith: Stories of the Devoted and the Devout and other fine sports books. Sports and Faith: Stories of the Devoted and the Devout is a personal chronicle of Chicago Bears Senior Director Patrick McCaskey that looks back at decades of spiritual enrichment and life lessons from athletes, coaches, religious and everyday people. McCaskey recalls the stories of those who strived to make the cut on and off the field—plus people who left comfortable lives to serve the under-served in extraordinary ways.