Fifth Sunday of Easter

SAINT JOHN OFAVILA. Although he lived over half a century ago, Saint John of Avila [1499 – May 10, 1569], who served as a Priest in Spain, has had the
Church’s spotlight shone on him in recent years. Declared ‘Blessed [the last step before Canonization] by Pope Leo XIII in 1894, he was made a Saint by Pope Saint Paul VI in 1970. In light of his brilliant writings and scholarly works, Pope Benedict XVI declared him a Doctor of the Church while on his 2012 papal pilgrimage to Spain, and on January 25, 2021, Pope Francis had him added to the Universal Church’s Calendar of Saints. Why is a cleric from 500 years ago so important in our own time?

Born into a wealthy family who converted from Judaism, he inherited his parent’s vast fortune as he was their only child. He planned to become a lawyer, but switched to philosophy and theology, and was ordained a Priest in 1525. Like many clerics in that time and place, his hope was to cross the ocean and serve as a missionary in Mexico, but his Bishop convinced him to stay and help reawaken the faithful in Spain and correct the many harmful habits that had corrupted many Catholics – even the clergy. [I know you find that hard to believe!] While he was widely successful in ending pastoral, liturgical and other
abuses, he gained many enemies – especially among the Ordained! He even spent a year in ‘prison’ on charges leveled against him by the dreaded Spanish Inquisition. Cleared of all suspicion of promoting or teaching heresy, he ministered as a Priest, despite debilitating illnesses, until his death at the age of 70.

Unlike most reformers of his time, Saint John of Avila was NOT a member of a Religious Order, but a Diocesan Priest like me. Religious Life is considered a ‘higher’ calling since Religious Priests, Sisters and Brothers make vows of chastity, obedience and poverty and live in community. Diocesan Clergy merely promise obedience and celibacy, and like all Christians, must abide by Gospel values, Church teaching, the Ten Commandments, etc. Our charism is to live as the laity we serve do, so we can more easily understand their struggles, preach about and model living like Christ in one’s everyday life for them – while Religious are more focused on their Religious Community. Anyway …

The future Saint John maintained and nurtured holy relationships with other future Saints, most of whom did belong to Religious Orders. Among them were: Saint Francis Borgia, the 3rd General Superior of the Jesuits; Saint Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit Order; Saint John of God, founder of the Hospitallers, a Religious Order that ministered to the sick and dying; Saint John of the Cross, a Carmelite; Saint Peter of Alcantara, a Franciscan; and Saint Teresa of Avila, the great reformer of the Carmelite Order. Yet, as previously stated, he remained a Diocesan Priest whose goal was, as is mine, to make the Parish and her people the best they can be.

Perhaps the main reason Saint John of Avila has become so important is that his world is much like our world. In his day, anti-Semitism was rampant in Spain, as was the often-violent efforts by Moslems to conquer all of Europe, and to persecute – or exterminate – all ‘infidels:’ Christian, Jew, or non-Moslem. Many Catholics were lukewarm in living out their Faith, and the clergy were far from exemplary. [As they say, the more things change, the more they stay the same!] No wonder many clerics sought to go as missionaries to Mexico or elsewhere

Since Rome has yet to approve the official English orations for Saint John of Avila, we use generic ones. Please offer the one below for all clerics and laity who, like him, diligently strive to reawaken the faith in those in whom it has gone dormant or lukewarm. Saint John of Avila, Patron Saint of Spanish Priests, pray for us!

Collect from the Common of Doctors of the Church

Almighty and eternal God, who gave
your holy Church blessed John of Avila
as Doctor and Priest, grant that what
he taught when moved by the divine Spirit
may always stay firm in our hearts; and,
as by your gift we embrace him as our patron,
may we also have him as our defender
to entreat your mercy.
Through our Lord Jesus … for ever and ever. Amen.

With God’s love and my prayers,

Very Rev. Michael J. Kreder, VF, KCHS