12 Jul Saint John Gualbert, Abbot
Today is the feast day of Saint John Gualbert . Ora pro nobis.
Saint John Gualbert was born in Florence in the year 999. He was the son of the noble Florentine Gualbert Visdomini. He was raised with care in piety and the study of the humanities. No sooner had he entered adult life than he acquired a taste for pleasures. He followed the profession of arms at that troubled period.
by Fr. Francis Xavier Weninger, 1877
The great holiness of John Gualbert began with one single act of self-denial. He was born 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 our 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 St. 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 St. 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 commen 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.” St. 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. (3)
Image: Crop of Santa Trinita, Neri_di_bicci, San Giovanni Gualberto and saints, inside, Florence, Italy (5)
Research by REGINA Staff