Home  

Saints Index

Oct 23 - St. John of Capistrano 1385-1456

 Toward the end of the 14th century the kingdom of Naples was the scene of many wars. Among those who had been drafted to serve in the army was a German knight - others say he came from France - who married a young woman of great piety in Capistrano and then took up his abode there. St. John was born of these parents on June 24, 1385, and was later identified as Capistran, from Capistrano, the place of his birth.

After he had completed his studies in law at the University of Perugia, he became a lawyer in Naples, where he gained so admirable a reputation for his honesty and ability that King Ladislas frequently called him in for advice.

John was not yet 30 years old when the king made him governor of Perugia. Having tasted of the good fortune of this world, he was soon also to experience its instability. He had repaired to a neighboring town, where war had broken out, in order to arrange for a peaceful settlement. He was treacherously seized, loaded with heavy chains, and thrown into prison. No one bothered about releasing him. Then, quite strangely, a Franciscan surrounded with light appeared to him, and invited him to leave this unstable world and enter his order. Capistran replied: "I had never thought about embracing such a life; still, if God so wills it, I will obey."

At a great price he now obtained his freedom and begged for admission at the convent of the Franciscans in Perugia. After a rigorous trial of his humility, he received the holy habit on October 4, 1416. Form the very first he was earnestly minded to put off the old man and put on the one in justice and holiness. Because of the extraordinary circumstances surrounding his call to the religious life, he was frequently subjected to severe trials; but his virtue and divine calling always shown forth in increased brilliance. Rigorous mortification, perfect obedience, and a fervent devotion to the bitter Passion of Christ distinguished him among his brethren. He was also a devout client of our Blessed Lady, and felt certain that without her assistance it would not be possible for him to obtain the palm of victory.

When he began the study of theology under St. Bernardin of Siena shortly after he had pronounced his vows, it seemed as if he acquired his holy science more through divine inspiration than through human reflection, so that his saintly master once said: "John achieves more in his sleep than others who study day and night." St. James of the March was one of his fellow students. It appears that God caused to be brought together these three great men, who were faithfully to join their forces throughout their lives to promote the perfect observance of the rule in the order, as well as to combat the immorality of that time. Capistran was destines, however, to be the most conspicuous hero in this fight.

While still a deacon, he was sent out to preach in 1420; but not until 1425 did he begin his apostolic ministry. He began in Italy by taking up the struggle against vice. His former position in the world made him acquainted with the enormity of the evil, against which he now rose like another Elias. His burning words, his ardent zeal, and the holiness of his life caused veritable miracles of conversion. People came from every side to hear him, soon no church was large enough to accommodate the crowds. Sometimes 50,000, 80,000, and even more than 100,000 persons would gather about his pulpit in public squares and broad fields to listen to his sermons. His very appearance touched their hearts.

The holy orator could portray the glories of God and His justice, the depravity of vice and the beauty of virtue, the Passion of Christ, the power of the name of Jesus, and the charity of our Blessed Lady so marvelously that the most hardened sinners were converted, while apostates and unbelievers turned to God and the Church. His presence was requested everywhere, and he was received like an angel from heaven. But amid the demonstrations of honor, the servant of God would always say: "Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to Thy name give glory."

The pope once entrusted him with the mission against a certain heretical sect, and the eminent success of his labor caused him thereafter to be sent by Popes Martin V, Eugene IV, Nicholas V, and Callistus III as apostolic nuncio to northern and southern Italy, to Sicily, and other countries, to preach against the enemies of the Church.

The last five years of his active life were devoted to missionary labors in Germany. Emperor Frederick III begged the Holy Father in 1451 to send the renowned missionary to him to put a check on the scandalous advances of the heretical Hussites. John wended his way through Carinthia and Styria to Vienna. From there his progress led him to Bohemia, Moravia, Silesia, Bavaria, and Thuringia; and then back again to Poland, Transylvania, and Russia. The most astonishing miracles confirmed his words. He cured innumerable sick persons, raised dead people to life again, and with only his mantle spread upon the waters, crossed rivers with several companions. Seeing these prodigies, some of the most obdurate heretics were converted, and hundreds of young people asked for admission into the order.

During his mission against the enemies of the Church at home, great dangers arose abroad, threatening Christendom itself. Mohammed II had captured Constantinople in 1453, and was determined to force all Christians in the West to submit to Mohammedanism. His first objective at this time was Germany. He had already reached Hungary and was advancing on the fortress of Belgrade. There seemed to be little chance of saving it; the only hope of salvation seemed to lie in the hands of Capistran. He would lave to rouse the princes and the people to a crusade against the Turks. Pope Callistus III proclaimed the crusade and appointed Capistran to preach it.

Although he was now 70 years of age, and so reduced by labor and austerity that he seemed to be nothing but skin and bone, the saint rushed, like the flying messenger of Christ that he was, about Germany and Hungary, summoning volunteers for the war against the enemy of the Christian name. With the troops he had assembled, he then hastened to Belgrade to aid the gallant warrior Hunyady.

An army of several thousand Turks was encamped before the fortress, but Capistran did not allow that to frighten him. Filled with confidence in the holy name of Jesus, which was given the soldiers as their standard, and holding aloft the cross with the banner on which was inscribed the holy name, while frequently calling on the holy name with a loud voice, he led the troops against the enemies, who were at least ten times stronger than the Christians. But the power of the Lord of Hosts and the efficacy of the holy name were to be marvelously manifested. More Turks were slain in the attack by the enthusiastic warriors of Christ than the number of the Christian soldiers, and the rest fled in panic. Once more Christian Europe was saved.

This glorious victory on the feast of St. Mary Magdalen in 1456 was destined to be the crown of John's activities. He fell ill soon afterwards, and died in the Franciscan convent of Illok in Hungary on October 23rd. Glorified by God after his death with numerous miracles, he was canonized by Pope Alexander VIII in 1690.

THE LIFE OF A CHRISTIAN IS WARFARE
1. As St. Capistran fought for the Church of Christ, so must every Christian fight for his soul. Christ Himself has said: "I came not to send peace but the sword" (Matt 10:34). With the sword of Christ, that is, with His doctrine and His means of grace, as well as with His merits and His promises, we must do battle against the world and not let it attract us with its allurements. "Know you not, says St. James (4:4), "that the friendship of this world is the enemy of God?" Hence, keep on your guard against the children of this world. Thank God, inasmuch as He keeps you from mingling with this wicked world, even if it be through suffering and affliction. "We are chastised by the Lord, that we be not condemned with this world" (1 Cor 11:32). -- What are your sentiments concerning the world?
2. Consider that even though we may have withdrawn ourselves from the world, we shall still have enemies. "A man's enemies, " says Christ, "shall be they of his own household" (Matt 10:36). At times our own relatives stand in the way of our salvation and perfection with selfish interests. Hence our Lord adds: "He who loves father or mother more than Me, is not worthy of Me" (Matt 10:37). This may seem a hard saying to some, but it is God's word. In reality, we are our own worst enemy. Self-love, vanity, and sensuality seek to destroy our soul, that they may have their gratification. That is the tinder supplied by original sin; it came from hell and leads to hell. "If you live according to the flesh, you shall die" (Rom 8:13). Hence, die now to your inordinate desires so that you may not die the eternal death.
3. Consider that the devil, who led our first parents to commit sin, continues to assail the human race. "Our wrestling is not against flesh and blood; but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in high places" (Eph 6:12). As invisible as the air that surrounds us, the wicked enemy struggles against us. Sometimes he incites wicked persons against us, sometimes he stirs up the passions in our hearts: revenge, impatience, pride, avarice, impurity. Let us then, "take the shield of faith," remembering whither sin leads, and "take the helmet of salvation" in the hope of eternal bliss, which the true soldier of Christ looks forward to, and draw "the sword of the spirit, by all prayer and supplication" (Eph 6:16-18). -- With the battle-cry of St. Capistran, "Jesus and Mary!" you, too, can rout the enemy and win the victory.

PRAYER OF THE CHURCH
O God, who didst marvelously exalt Thy Church through the merits and teachings of St. John, and through him didst lead the faithful to triumph over the faithless tyrants by the power of the most holy name of Jesus; grant, we beseech Thee, that through his intercession, we may obtain the victory over our enemies here upon earth, and merit to receive with him the reward in heaven. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

from: The Franciscan Book of Saints, ed. by Marion Habig, ofm., 1959 Franciscan Herald Press