Hospitaller Order of St. John of God
June 22, 2022 – Kilmacud
HOMILY OF BISHOP ÉAMONN WALSH
Today, we celebrate the 450th anniversary of the recognition of the Fraternity of St John of God by
St. Pius V, on January 1st 1572 which he described as “This flower that was lacking in the garden of the Church; thank God that our day has seen the birth of such a necessary Institute”.
We give thanks for the part played by all associated with St John of God, giving their time and talents to living the hospitality of St John of God over the past 450 years. We seek God’s guidance and courage in continuing this great mission to day and into the future.
Apparent failure, disaster, can be turned on its head becoming the starting block for something profoundly good. Out of the ashes of being labelled as mad, locked up in a nightmare of a hospital, John of God became motivated to treat the outcasts of the day with the compassionate care, dignity and Gospel love of Jesus. Not an easy thing to do at any time but especially back in the 1560/70’s when it was seen by some as a further sign of his madness.
We have just heard in the first reading of another disaster being turned to good. Here we have Anton Martin, determined to get his pound of flesh from the murderer, Pedro Velasco, of Anton’s brother, Pedro of Aragon. John of God pleads on bended knee for Anton to pardon Pedro Velasco. The end result being both Pedro and Anton becoming John’s earliest companions and helpers. We are all too familiar with how wrongdoings of this nature can equally end up in gangland tit for tat, an endless chain of murders. Occasionally we hear of the power of forgiveness, reconciliation with previous enemies becoming allies for good causes. It is a message for all ages; how do we turn apparent disasters into a force for good.
Since my early years I have experienced at first hand the hospitality spirit of St. John of God. The presence of St Raphael’s in Celbridge had a profound influence on me and many growing up as children in Celbridge. Difference, disadvantage, was an integral part of life where all have their equal dignity as partners in a local community. When later I became a bishop, the Welcome Home stage had one of the John of God residents alongside the Lord Mayor.
As an Institute, the St John of God Community have been innovators, creators of dignified services long before the State. With other Religious you raised the bar to dignified level that is accepted now as standard. Your call now is to see what sectors of society are lacking in your spirit of hospitality and inclusion, and set your compass in that direction. A flowing river never stands still. You may have fewer vocations, but you have instilled into your services the Spirit of John of God. That is the touchstone for the continuation of your motto “Go forth with passion to promote Hospitality”. While your services have to be run in conformity with statutory regulations and business requirements, you are much more than a business. Some may have people before profit as a slogan, for you each person is seen as sisters and brothers in Christ, within the charism of John of God. With that target in the sights of each member of the John of God Services, the Spirit of St John of God is secure.
Like every organisation, institute, community, there will be times of failure, missing the hospitality target, and the consequential fallout. Mistakes must never be allowed to define who we are. The public from time to time may try to define people in that way. Mistakes are to be repaired in so far as repairable, rebuild the broken, safeguards put in place, lessons learnt for the future, never taking our eye off the target. Any driver who spends their time looking solely in the rear-view mirror will eventually crash.
The target of St John of God is as relevant today as in 1572. Steep yourselves in the Spirit of St. John of God and “go forth with passion to promote hospitality”.
May I take this opportunity to thank you Brother Donatus and all the St John of God Community for bearing the heat of the day; keeping focused on your charism despite stormy weather and holding your nerve. One you remain true to yourselves and the spirit of hospitality that is all that matters in the end. On behalf of all of us present and beyond who admire your work, thank you.