St John of Ávila

(central Spain) (entered heaven this day in 1569)


Dear Joanne,

I am sorry, but I disagree with you.  You say you are doing everything within your power to grow in faith, put order in your life, and discover God’s will.  But that’s not true.  You have neglected the most practical and one of the most ancient Catholic tactics: you have not sought out a trustworthy spiritual director.  In that vein, I think you need to reflect a bit on today’s saint.

John of Ávila was born to a wealthy family and went to the famous University of Salamanca to study law.  He did well, but felt called to the religious life.  Wealth and abstract knowledge simply didn’t satisfy him.  He went off to learn how to pray and sacrifice.  Three years later he went on to study philosophy and theology and was eventually ordained a priest.  He longed to travel to the New World on a mission of evangelization, but the archbishop of Seville convinced him to stay in Spain and evangelize the southern province of Andalusia, which was still recovering from centuries of Moslem rule.

Thus St John found his vocation.  For the next forty years he preached tirelessly.  He went from town to down, spreading the Good News, serving the poor, and denouncing sin wherever he found it – even (especially, perhaps) among the rich and powerful.  He was so effective that at one point he was imprisoned by the Inquisition for teaching that the rich couldn’t get into heaven (the rich were purposely misinterpreting him because he was waking up their consciences).  The charges were dropped, however, after investigation.  His brief sojourn as a religious criminal only increased his popularity.

Among his many gifts was that of being a wise and effective spiritual director.  In fact, he served as such for five of the most influential saints of the sixteenth century: St Teresa of Ávila, St John of the Cross, St Peter of Alcantará, St John of God, and St Francis Borgia.

And that, my precocious young niece, is my point.  God likes to work through human instruments.  That’s one of the reasons behind the Incarnation.  And so, if you are trying to pursue the path of holiness and meaning all by yourself, you are not doing it God’s way.  The history of the Church is a history of saints passing on sanctity from one generation to the next.  Don’t think you’ll be able to catch it without catching it from someone.

Pray for a trustworthy spiritual director (and that doesn’t mean it has to be someone who floats around in ecstasy all the time, just someone you can trust – remember, the director is just an instrument of God’s grace), and start LOOKING for one too.

Your concerned uncle,


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