December 22, 2017

St. John of Kanty, Scholar and Servant of the Poor

Optional Memorial - December 23rd 

Outward appearances of failure do not always indicate an interior lack of success. In fact, precisely the opposite can be true, as it was in the case of Saint John of Kanty (otherwise known as John Kanty or John Cantius.) This patron saint of both Poland and Lithuania could also have been designated the patron of frustration and disappointment, had he been so disposed to those things and less resolute.

John of Kanty was born in Oswiecim, Poland, in 1390, and at first, he appeared destined for a life of renown and accomplishment. Though raised and initially educated in a rural setting, the future saint took quickly to life in the bustling city of Krakow, becoming a brilliant scholar at the university there. A student of philosophy and theology, he earned his doctoral degree, was ordained a priest, and named professor of theology at the very institution he had graduated from.

John was popular with his students, so much so that some of his colleagues became jealous of him. Because his life was virtually blameless, they fabricated charges against him in order to damage his reputation and get him ousted from the university. It worked. He was not allowed to appear at his own hearing or testify in his defense, John soon found himself both in disgrace and out of a job.

Unsure what else to do with him, his superiors sent him to the city of Olkusz in Bohemia to serve as pastor. At the age of 41, with no previous parish experience to guide him, John was terrified of his new responsibilities, and the citizens of Olkusz were none too pleased to have him, either. Apparently, they had been used in the past as a “dumping ground” for priests who didn’t fit in anywhere else, and they assumed that John of Kanty was simply another disgraced cleric.

It was in the midst of these difficulties — none of which were of his own making, that John began to display the qualities that would eventually make him a saint. It would have been understandable if he had harbored anger and resentment against his former colleagues, allowing his feelings to spill over into his dealings with his new parishioners. Instead, he went out of his way to treat the people of Olkusz with concern, reaching out to them from the depths of a forgiving heart.

He had hoped that the people of Olkusz would recognized his goodness and take to him at once, but that was not the case. Though he labored humbly among them for many years, they remained hostile and suspicious towards him. Careful not to show any sort of impatience or anger, he continued his work until finally, eight years after he was “exiled” to Olkusz, he was exonerated of all previous charges and recalled to Krakow. Realizing what they had in John of Kanty, it was said that the citizens of Olkusz followed him down the road begging him to stay.

With the exception of pilgrimages to Jerusalem and Rome, John of Kanty spent the rest of his life teaching Sacred Scripture at the University of Krakow. He was generous to a fault toward the poor, and his kindness extended even to former enemies. "Fight all error, but do it with good humor, patience, kindness, and love," he said, "Harshness will damage your own soul and spoil the best cause."

St. John of Kanty died in Krakow in 1473 of natural causes. He was beatified by Pope Clement X on March 28, 1676. In 1737, Pope Clement XII named him patron of Poland and Lithuania. On July, 16 1767, he was canonized by Pope Clement XIII. Grant, we pray, almighty God, that by the example of St. John of Kanty we may advance in our knowledge of You and by showing compassion, gain forgiveness in Your sight. St. John of Kanty, help us overcome all difficulty.

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