St. John of Avila is a little-known Spanish saint who helped or influenced many more saints we know much better.
He was born either in 1499 or 1500 in a small town south of Toledo, Spain. The only son of a wealthy family, he was sent off to study law. He left school after a deep conversion and was insistent on becoming a priest. He was ordained in 1526.
With the discovery of the New World still on the minds of many and the rise of new ideas and new technologies changing many lives, young Father John chose to leave his homeland and serve as a missionary priest to the people of New Spain (Mexico). He gave all his inheritance to the poor and, with the permission of his bishop, traveled to Seville, Spain, to await his transport ship to the Americas.
While he waited he preached in the town and caught the eye and ear of the holy Fernando de Contreras. Fernando and the Archbishop of Seville convinced Father John to stay and serve the people of Andalusia, which he did for a number of years. Father John was later brought to Córdoba and eventually to Granada where he finished his university studies.
A scholar of some prowess, Father John was recognized as an intellectually insightful man. He was an inventor, the author of a catechism for adults and children and the founder of several colleges and a university. But it was his love for God, for bringing souls to the Lord, and his deep spiritual insights that brought him wider acclaim.
His preaching was marked by a message of God’s deep and abiding love for us. This caught the attention of St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus, who sought out Father John hoping he would become one of those first Jesuits. Though he didn’t join, he sent 30 of his best spiritual mentees to the new order. In fact, it was Father John who helped convert St. Francis Borgia, SJ, who succeeded St. Ignatius as head of the Jesuits.
St. John of God, founder of the Hospitilars, was converted to a life of piety by the preaching of Father John. St. Peter Alcántara, reformer of the Franciscan Order, was a friend, as was St. John de Ribera. St. Thomas of Villanova distributed Father John’s catechism throughout his diocese. Finally, both St. Teresa of Ávila and St. John of the Cross, reformers of the Carmelite Order, actively sought out Father John for his spiritual wisdom.
His work “Audi, Filia” or “Listen, Daughter” is considered his spiritual masterpiece. He also corresponded with many lay people and priests to whom he gave spiritual direction. He wrote in one letter, “Open your little heart to that breadth of love by which the Father gave us his Son, and with him gave us himself, and the Holy Spirit, and all things besides.”
After some illness and exhaustion led him to retire from preaching, Father John died on May 10, 1569. He was canonized in 1970 by Pope Paul VI and declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012 for his tremendous insight and influence on Catholic spirituality during a critical time in church history.
Through St. John of Ávila we are reminded of God’s infinite love for us, to which we need only surrender, for it is that love which transforms us and makes saints of us all.
Summa Catechetica, "Neque enim quaero intelligere ut credam, sed credo ut intelligam." – St Anselm, "“Si comprehendus, non est Deus.” -St Augustine, "Let your religion be less of a theory, and more of a love affair." -G.K. Chesterton, "And above all, be on your guard not to want to get anything done by force, because God has given free will to everyone and wants to force no one, but only proposes, invites and counsels." –St. Angela Merici, “Yet such are the pity and compassion of this Lord of ours, so desirous is He that we should seek Him and enjoy His company, that in one way or another He never ceases calling us to Him . . . God here speaks to souls through words uttered by pious people, by sermons or good books, and in many other such ways.” —St. Teresa of Avila, "I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men and women who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, and who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it."- Bl John Henry Newman, Cong. Orat., "We cannot always have access to a spiritual Father for counsel in our actions and in our doubts, but reading will abundantly supply his place by giving us directions to escape the illusions of the devil and of our own self-love, and at the same time to submit to the divine will.” —St. Alphonsus Ligouri, "The harm that comes to souls from the lack of reading holy books makes me shudder . . . What power spiritual reading has to lead to a change of course, and to make even worldly people enter into the way of perfection." –St. Padre Pio, "Screens may grab our attention, but books change our lives!" – Word on Fire, "Reading has made many saints!" -St Josemaría Escrivá, "Do you pray? You speak to the Bridegroom. Do you read? He speaks to you." —St. Jerome, from his Letter 22 to Eustochium, "Encounter, not confrontation; attraction, not promotion; dialogue, not debate." -cf Pope Francis, "God here speaks to souls through…good books“ – St Teresa of Avila, Interior Castle, "You will not see anyone who is really striving after his advancement who is not given to spiritual reading. And as to him who neglects it, the fact will soon be observed by his progress.” -St Athanasius, "To convert someone, go and take them by the hand and guide them." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP. 1 saint ruins ALL the cynicism in Hell & on Earth. “When we pray we talk to God; when we read God talks to us…All spiritual growth comes from reading and reflection.” -St Isidore of Seville, “Also in some meditations today I earnestly asked our Lord to watch over my compositions that they might do me no harm through the enmity or imprudence of any man or my own; that He would have them as His own and employ or not employ them as He should see fit. And this I believe is heard.” -GM Hopkins, SJ, "Only God knows the good that can come about by reading one good Catholic book." — St. John Bosco, "Why don't you try explaining it to them?" – cf St Peter Canisius, SJ, Doctor of the Church, Doctor of the Catechism, "Already I was coming to appreciate that often apologetics consists of offering theological eye glasses of varying prescriptions to an inquirer. Only one prescription will give him clear sight; all the others will give him at best indistinct sight. What you want him to see—some particular truth of the Faith—will remain fuzzy to him until you come across theological eye glasses that precisely compensate for his particular defect of vision." -Karl Keating, "The more perfectly we know God, the more perfectly we love Him." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP, ST, I-II,67,6 ad 3, “But always when I was without a book, my soul would at once become disturbed, and my thoughts wandered." —St. Teresa of Avila, "Let those who think I have said too little and those who think I have said too much, forgive me; and let those who think I have said just enough thank God with me." –St. Augustine, "Without good books and spiritual reading, it will be morally impossible to save our souls." —St. Alphonsus Liguori "Never read books you aren't sure about. . . even supposing that these bad books are very well written from a literary point of view. Let me ask you this: Would you drink something you knew was poisoned just because it was offered to you in a golden cup?" -St. John Bosco " To teach in order to lead others to faith is the task of every preacher and of each believer." —St. Thomas Aquinas, OP. "Prayer purifies us, reading instructs us. Both are good when both are possible. Otherwise, prayer is better than reading." –St. Isidore of Seville “The aid of spiritual books is for you a necessity.… You, who are in the midst of battle, must protect yourself with the buckler of holy thoughts drawn from good books.” -St. John Chrysostom