Saturday, March 28, 2020

Saints for Today: John of Avila, Priest and Doctor of the Church (1500-1569)

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Jean M. Lee, M.A., D.Min., is a licensed behavioral health and substance abuse counselor, founding a nonprofit, state-licensed behavior health counseling agency and Christian gift/book store. Volunteer work includes: Jail ministry, Legion of Mary membership, door-to-door evangelization, and writing a weekly newspaper column titled “Faith and Inspiration: Encyclopedia of Saints for Today.” A Catholic revert after 32 years away from the Church, she is devout in the Catholic faith, loves the saints, and lives a deeper spiritual/religious and more joyful life since returning to the Church.

Feast Day: May 10

John of Avila lived in the first half of the sixteenth century. He was born in Almodóvar del Campo (Ciudad Real, in the Archdiocese of Toledo). He was the only son of devout Christian parents, Alonso Ávila and Catalina Gijón, who were wealthy and of high social standing. When John was fourteen years old, he was sent to study law at the prestigious University of Salamanca. He left his studies at the end of the fourth term, after a profound experience of conversion. This prompted him to return home to devote himself to meditation and prayer.

John continued studies in philosophy and theology and was ordained a priest in 1525. Already recognized as a gifted preacher, he aspired to go as a missionary to Mexico. But the Bishop of Seville commissioned him to evangelize Spain’s southern most province, that had been dominated by the Moors. So began a 40-year career of ceaseless travel and preaching across Spain. Drawn by his passion and mysticism, thousands flocked to hear John preach. People of every rank turned their lives around and John set them on the path to holiness. With a vast correspondence, he kept in touch with his converts. The letters, many of which survive, contain much practical wisdom and have established John of Avila as a significant spiritual writer.

A young priest once asked John how to become a good preacher. John said the only way he knew was by loving God above all. He conducted missions in various cities including Seville and Cordoba. At Granada he was instrumental in the conversion and spiritual healing of John of God. Among his friends were Francis Borgia whom he had converted, Teresa of Avila, Louis of Granada, and Ignatius Loyola.

John’s rejection of worldly goods was such that he was charged by the Inquisition of unreasonable criticism of the rich and of asserting that their wealth denied them any hope of going to heaven. The charges against him were rapidly dropped.

For his last fifteen years, John of Avila was in constant pain, but his illness did not keep him from his evangelistic work. On the morning of 10 May 1569, in his humble home in Montilla, surrounded by disciples and friends, clinging to a crucifix, after much suffering he surrendered his soul to the Lord. After his death he was buried in the Jesuit church at Montilla.

“Come here, then, my soul, and tell me–in God’s name, I ask you–what hinders you from following wholly after God with all your strength? What do you love if not God, your spouse? Why don’t you have great love for him who has so greatly loved you? Had he nothing else to do on earth except to give himself up for you? And seek your benefit even to his own hurt?

What is there for you to do on earth except to love the King of Heaven? Don’t you see that all these things must come to an end? What do you see? What do you hear? What do you touch? Taste? Handle? Don’t you see that all these things are but a spider’s web that can never clothe you or keep you from the cold?

Where are you when you are not in Jesus Christ? What do you think about? What do you value? What do you seek beyond the one perfect good?

Let us rise, my soul, and put an end to this evil dream. Let us awaken, for it is day, and Jesus Christ, who is the light, has come.” –St. John of Avila

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Benedict XVI. APOSTOLIC LETTER Proclaiming Saint John of Avila, diocesan priest, a Doctor of the Universal Church. Vatican Web site. October 7, 2012. Web. 28 April 2014.
Ghezzi, Bert. “Voices of the Saints.” Chicago: Loyola Press, 2000.
Heritage, Andrew, ed. “The Book of Saints: A Day-By-Day Illustrated Encyclopedia.” San Francisco: Weldonowen, 2012.

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