Saint John of Avila
“Blessed be God, for so bountifully providing for us that He even bestows on us His very Self. The Son is given to us, and through Him the Holy Spirit, and with Them comes the Father. Thus, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit reside within us, and we already have a beginning here of that communion with God which will be perfect in the next life. Let us thank Him for all His mercies and prepare ourselves to receive the favors that still remain to be bestowed on us.”
Saint John of Avila - Priest, author, Mystic and Doctor of the Church
Saint John's father was Alfonso de Avila and came from a converted Jewish family in Spain (sometimes known as converso). Saint John was born on January 6, 1499 in Almodovar del Campo Spain. His mother (Catalina Xixon) and father were both very wealthy but were also widely known for their Christian piety in the town. At fourteen his father sent Saint John to the University of Salamanca to study law - a study that he would not complete as he withdrew in 1517 and returned home. For the next three years Saint John practiced severe austerity and piety at home and impressed a Franciscan friar who passed through town. The friar advised Saint John that he should resume his studies at the University of lcala de Henares. Saint John agreed and enrolled at the university to study philosophy and theology and was blessed to study under the Dominican friar Domingo de Soto.
Tragically both of his parents died while Saint John completed his studies. In Spring 1526, Saint John was ordained and he celebrated his first Mass in the church where his parents had been buried. He sold the land and possessions he had inherited and gave all proceeds to the poor of the area. The death of his parents had a profound effect on Saint John as he no longer felt any ties to Spain. After a careful examination through prayer he began to feel a calling towards missionary work, specifically to Mexico.
Saint John travelled to Seville for departure to the Indies with a Dominican friar by the name of Julian Garces (who would later be appointed the first Bishop of Tlaxcala). For several months he prepared for the voyage to Mexico and spent this time preaching and performing catechesis. His devotion to these skills and his love for celebrating Mass attracted a local priest, Hernando de Contreras, who brought word to the Archbishop of Seville Alonso Manrique de Lara. The Archbishop, in recognizing a young priest who could greatly increase the faith in the Spanish province of Andalusia, convinced Saint John after great lengths of persuasion to stay rather than travel to Mexico. For several months Saint John lived in a small house in Seville and began to write the Audi, filia (Listen, Daughter).
Saint John preached his first sermon in Andalusia on July 22nd, 1529 and almost immediately gained a great following of laity who were transformed by his immense skill in preaching. For nine years Saint John preached in Andalusia acting as a missionary, growing crowds, increasing faith and denouncing the behavior of the aristocracy who were living sinful lives. It was this last accomplishment of Saint John that attracted the Office of the Inquisition in 1531. Aristocrats and local Nobles who had their reputations damaged by Saint John's sermons charged him with exaggeration the dangers of wealth and accused him of telling the wealthy they had no path to Heaven. The Inquisition, though, after examination the charges and holding court, found saint John innocent and released him in July of 1533.
In 1535 Saint John was incardinated into the Diocese of Cordoba and he formed his new base of operations at the city. In neighboring cities such as Granada, Baeza, Montilla and Zafra he established schools and colleges. In 1538 the University of Baeza was created and Saint John selected to serve as it's first rector. The School became the standard and model for both Jesuit schools and seminaries. Over the next few years Saint John also lived with a large group of disciplines and began to loosely form a community.
In 1551, Saint John began to suffer greatly from several illnesses. He retired to the town of Montilla where he died on May 10th, 1569. He was buried in Montilla at the Church of the Incarnation. Pope Clement XIII declared Saint John of Avila Venerable in 1759 and Pope Leo XIII beatified him on November 15h, 1893. Pope Paul VI canonized him formally a Saint on May 31st, 1970. On the Feast of the Holy Rosary (October 7) in 2012, Pope Benedict XVI named him a Doctor of the Church saying that Saint John of Avila was a
"profound expert on the sacred Scriptures, he was gifted with an ardent missionary spirit. He knew how to penetrate in a uniquely profound way the mysteries of the redemption worked by Christ for humanity. A man of God, he united constant prayer to apostolic action. He dedicated himself to preaching and to the more frequent practice of the sacraments, concentrating his commitment on improving the formation of candidates for the priesthood, of religious and of lay people, with a view to a fruitful reform of the Church".
Today his optional memorial is celebrated on May 10th.