As we move into the Lenten Season, the time when traditionally we Sacrifice, Practice Self-Denial, Practice Charity, and for those of us who normally don’t do it, Practice our Faith…what better example than St. John Joseph of the Cross’s life…
Self-denial is never an end in itself but is only a help toward greater charity—as the life of Saint John Joseph shows.
John Joseph was very ascetic even as a young man. At 16 he joined the Franciscans in Naples; he was the first Italian to follow the reform movement of Saint Peter Alcantara. John’s reputation for holiness prompted his superiors to put him in charge of establishing a new friary even before he was ordained.
Obedience moved John to accept appointments as novice master, guardian and, finally, provincial. His years of mortification enabled him to offer these services to the friars with great charity. As guardian he was not above working in the kitchen or carrying the wood and water needed by the friars.
When his term as provincial expired, John Joseph dedicated himself to hearing confessions and practicing mortification, two concerns contrary to the spirit of the dawning Age of Enlightenment. John Joseph was canonized in 1839.
John Joseph’s mortification allowed him to be the kind of forgiving superior intended by St. Francis. Self-denial should lead us to charity—not to bitterness; it should help us clarify our priorities and make us more loving. John Joseph is living proof of Chesterton’s observation: “It is always easy to let the age have its head; the difficult thing is to keep one’s own” (G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, page 101).
“And by this I wish to know if you love the Lord God and me, his servant and yours—if you have acted in this manner: that is, there should not be any brother in the world who has sinned, however much he may have possibly sinned, who, after he has looked into your eyes, would go away without having received your mercy, if he is looking for mercy. And if he were not to seek mercy, you should ask him if he wants mercy. And if he should sin thereafter a thousand times before your very eyes, love him more than me so that you may draw him back to the Lord. Always be merciful to [brothers] such as these” (St. Francis, Letter to a Minister).