Today, 18 Sep 2012, (and in some places 16 Sep 2012), is the feast day of St John Massias (a.k.a. John de Massias, Juan Macias, John Macias, Juan de Macias), who lived the first half of his life in Spain as a shepherd and the second half of his life in Peru as a Dominican lay brother. With great love and generosity he tended to the needy; those living in poverty in this life, and those holy souls utterly dependent upon our prayers in Purgatory.
St John Massias was born in 1585 in a little town called Ribera del Fresno in the south-western Spanish province of Badajoz. Even today the town has less than 4000 inhabitants. By the time John was 4 he was orphaned and in the care of his uncle. From an early age he learned to be a shepherd, and spent many hours in solitude among the animals praying the Rosary, pondering the mysteries about the lives of Jesus and Mary contained within them and growing in his relationship with God. The good God chose to lead him along the extraordinary path beginning in these years. Often the child Jesus, His mother Mary and several Saints would visit him, particularly the Saint he was named after, St John the Apostle and Evangelist.
John’s first contact with Dominican religious didn’t occur until his late teens / early twenties and immediately he wished to join them. A message from his patron St John dissuaded him from this, but promised that he would join them later in a different country. When he was 25 a business man offered John passage to South America, which he accepted. Working his way, often as a shepherd or cattle-hand, he went from Colombia to Ecuador and eventually to Peru.
At Lima in Peru there were 4 Dominican communities, and John chose to try his vocation at the smallest and poorest one: the Priory of St Mary Magdalene. Being illiterate and much older than the average applicant, he was eventually accepted as a lay brother in early 1622, and promptly gave away the remainder of his possessions. Aware of the number of souls that John could bring back to God as a religious, the devil regularly attacked him from the night prior to his profession onwards.
John was as generous with his possessions as he was in penances and in prayer. Many times the prior had to moderate John’s mortifications by placing him under holy obedience. Likewise John passionately desired the solitude of prayer, and time spent away from prayer in social settings was hard for him.
At the Priory John was appointed to serve as the porter and door keeper for the community. He welcomed and assisted them all, especially the poor. To them he showed great liberality. In order to provide for the needs of the sick, disabled, homeless and other destitute people who came to the Priory gates, John would go through the city seeking from generous souls the provisions the needy required. When it wasn’t possible for him to go out, John would send his faithful burrow with instructions about where to go. The animal took baskets on its back so that richer folk could add things, and poorer folk could take what the most needed. Should someone be stingy in giving or unwelcoming to the burrow, the animal would kick up a fuss. Regularly some 200 people came each day to seek help from the Priory, and with God’s providence John managed to find enough for all of them.
At the gatehouse it wasn’t just food and clothing that John gave out. He always had a kind word and a listening heart. Often he would take opportunities to teach the catechism, to pray for those who sought his prayers and to seek God’s answers to those who came seeking his advice. It is said that at times God caused him to disappear when the curious and the wealthy came looking for him.
When ever John found a spare moment he spent it in prayer, praying the Rosary as often as possible, and the Hail Mary and short ejaculatory prayers when a decade of the Rosary wasn;t possible. He made every minute of his life count, either in prayer, in service to others or in obedience. As often as possible, sometimes even 20 times a day, he visited the Lord Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. Each night he would pray three whole Rosaries on his knees, no matter how tired he was.
The poverty of the Holy Souls in Purgatory had a special place in John’s heart. Many of his prayers during the day, and especially the offering of Holy Mass, were offered specifically for the Holy Souls. Frequently Holy Souls were permitted to visit John and to plead, ‘Give us prayers brother John. You are the friend of the poor and the sick. Be our friend, too! Help make us worthy to with God and His Blessed ones.’ It is reported that during his lifetime John was able to set free at least a million souls from their sufferings in Purgatory. He did everything he could to help them, even prayerfully sprinkling holy water around for their relief.
Through John many souls came to be converted to Jesus. When necessary he would lead people to gaze at the crucifix and to consider their sins. As the grace of repentance touched them he would lead them to seek the Sacrament of Penance.
Over time John’s bouts of sickness became more serious. His final illness lasted 3 weeks, before his death on 16 September 1645. Some of his brother religious were even privileged to see Our Lady, St Dominic, St John and many other Saints come to escort the dying John to Paradise. In death, John’s burial place became a magnet for all the afflicted.
In 1975, St John Massias was canonised by Pope Paul VI. One of the miracles accepted for his canonization was unusual. It happened at Olivenza in Spain in 1949, not far from his home town. Having only 700 grains of rice left to feed 150 starving people, the parish cook called upon the intercession of St John Massias confident that he would ‘look after his poor’. Those prayers were answered with the multiplication of food sufficient to generously feed them all.
We thank God for raising up St John Massias to be of such solace to those living in straightened circumstances and to those languishing in Purgatory, and ask that John’s generous prayers might extend to ourselves as well.
St John Massias, pray for us.