Saint John of Avila was born on January 6, 1499 at Almodovar del Campo in the country of Spain. In his early teenage years, he was sent to the University of Salamanca to study law. When studying law became a chore, he returned home and lived a life as a hermit. After three years of living this life, he was discovered by a Franciscan priest passing through his hometown that encouraged him to study philosophy and theology at Alcala. During this time at Alcala, he was blessed to have as his teacher the famous Dominican, De Soto.
During his studies in Alcala, unfortunately his parents passed away, which left John alone. Not long after their death, John was ordained to the priesthood. His first mass was celebrated in the church where his parents were laid to rest. With his family gone, he decided to sell off the property that the family owned and give the profits to the poor. He then decided that he wanted to be a missionary to Mexico; however, God had other plans for him within Spain.
While waiting for his time to depart to be a missionary, he celebrated Mass in the city of Seville. His sermons drew many crowds for he spoke the truth of Jesus Christ with passion and denounced evil with fortitude. Not only did he garner attention from the faithful, but priests, and the Archbishop of Seville, Don Alphonso Manrique, also saw something great in him. The archbishop told him that his talents were needed in Andalusia and asked him to stay instead of go to the Americas as a missionary.
On July 22, 1529, St. John of Avila gave his first sermon in Andalusia. At once, his fire for Jesus Christ and His Catholic Church shined forth. Great crowds of the faithful attended his Masses waiting to hear the magnificent words that proceeded from his lips. Although he found success among the lay faithful, the upper class did not approve of his sermons since he spoke about the evils associated with money and power. They had charges brought against him and he was brought before the inquisitor of Seville.
As we would expect, he was proven innocent of the charges brought against him. Because his preaching was known far and wide, San Salvador Church in Seville asked him to preach. The faithful were enthusiastic and very happy that he accepted the invite to stay and preach.
At the young age of thirty years old, St. John of Avila became the apostolic preacher of Andalusia. He remained in this position for nine years before heading to other cities in Spain to preach. Although John lived to be seventy years old, he suffered with a chronic sickness for most of his life. On May 10, 1569, surrounded by friends and holding a crucifix, Saint John of Avila entered Heavenly Glory.
During his lifetime, he was the spiritual father to the some of the greatest saints of the sixteenth century – St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, St. Francis Borgia, and St. Peter of Alcantara. He was an associate of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, who sought John to join his company of men. Although St. John never joined, he sent some of his best students to the Society.
Even though he was a master preacher, he has given the Church some great writings as well. Audi, Filia, his premier work is a systematic document on classic spirituality. Christian Doctrine speaks about the importance of a pedagogical catechesis for children and adults. The Treatise on the Love of God is about the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. The Treatise on the Priesthood is a collection of sermons, letters, and advice for priests. He also gave us writings that focused on the spiritual life and documents that speak of the reforms made at the Council of Trent.
Pope Leo XIII beatified him on November 12, 1893. On May 31, 1970, Pope Paul VI canonized him a Saint of the Catholic Church. Pope Benedict XVI declared Saint John of Avila a Doctor of the Universal Church on October 7, 2012.
In his Apostolic Letter, the Holy Father said about the “Apostle of Andalusia”,
“If Master Avila was a pioneer in pointing to the universal call to holiness, he also had an essential role in the historical development of a systematic doctrine on the priesthood. Down the centuries his writings have been a source of inspiration for priestly spirituality and even a current of mysticism among secular priests. His influence can clearly be seen in a number of later spiritual writers.
Central to Master Avila’s teaching is the insight that, as priests, “during the Mass we place ourselves on the altar in the person of Christ to carry out the office of the Redeemer himself” (Letter 157), and that acting in persona Christi demands that we humbly embody God’s paternal and maternal love. This calls for a particular lifestyle, marked by regular recourse to the word of God and the Eucharist, by the adoption of a spirit of poverty, by preaching “temperately”, in other words, based on prior study and prayer, and by love for the Church as the Bride of Christ.”
Saint John of Avila…Pray For Us!