The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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June 30, 2000 Issue
Saint of the Day

He drew a sword, but stopped

St. John Gualbert found something more powerful than steel: forgiveness

By Tony Staley
Compass Editor

In a telling and touching moment in Sr. Helen Prejean's book, Dead Man Walking, she describes meeting the family of a person who had been murdered by a death row inmate she has befriended.

The inmate has recently been executed - an action favored by the victim's family, because they thought it would bring them peace. Instead, they were still troubled. Execution was not enough, the family member said, lamenting that the killer could not be killed, resuscitated and killed again, repeatedly. But, even then, the family member said, that wouldn't have been enough.

That's the worst part about vengeance - in the end, it doesn't bring us peace or happiness. Only forgiveness, reconciliation and God's grace can do that.

Fortunately, St. John Gualbert realized that important truth, and it changed his life. This 11th century saint was born into the noble Visdomini family in Florence, Italy.

After the murder of his brother, Hugh, John swore revenge. One day, he met his brother's killer. Enraged, John drew his sword, ready to even the score. Then, to his surprise, he forgave the man whose simple acceptance of his impending death reminded John of Christ on the cross.

Soon, John became a Benedictine monk at San Miniato del Monte Monastery, where he remained until he realized that his confreres might pick him as their abbot.

He moved into a hermitage at Camaldoli, then decided to start his own monastery at Vallombrosa, near Fiesole.

The Vallumbrosans followed the primitive rule of St. Benedict, emphasizing poverty and charity and allowing lay brothers, which was uncommon at the time.

In the spirit of St. Benedict, John sought moderation in community life, avoiding both harshness and leniency. He was known for his humility and would not allow himself to be ordained. He also stipulated that his monasteries be simple, not lavish or imposing.

John soon built a reputation for prophecy, performing miracles, helping the poor - every poor person who came to the monastery was given something - and for opposing simony (the buying and selling of church offices). Because of his wisdom, large numbers of people came to him for spiritual advice.

The Vallumbrosans spread throughout Italy, but today are found mainly in the north in the areas around Florence and Milan. John died in 1073 on July 12, the day we celebrate his feast. He was canonized in 1193.

John's life provides us with a powerful example of the good we can bring about if we forgive as God forgives us.

Sources: Butler's Lives of the Saints, Dictionary of Saints and 365 Saints

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