St John of Ribera

Bishop (entered heaven this day in 1611)

Dear Jake,

I am consistently amazed at how easily you young people ignore one of the most fundamental tenets of our faith.  Can’t you see that the doctrine of Original Sin makes sense out of your quandary, as well as so many others?  We live in a fallen world, my dear nephew, and even though you have been baptized into the family of God and are living the adventure of your faith with responsibility and zeal, you still suffer the contradictions elicited by the Fall.  One of those contradictions happens to be that our emotions don’t always harmonize with God’s will.  Sometimes, in fact, what we know in our hearts to be an invitation from God (who can only desire what is truly best for us) stirs up all kinds of negative and fearful feelings.  But those feelings don’t necessarily mean that the invitation isn’t from God.  Take today’s saint, for example.

He was one of those unbelievably active and energetic Spaniards (born in Seville) who contributed to the Church’s rebound after the disastrous Protestant Reformation.  He was naturally talented (not unlike yourself) and the son of Spanish nobility.  Educated at Salamanca and put on the clerical track from an early age, he excelled in his intellectual activities and was named professor at the famous and ancient University of Salamanca soon after his ordination.  He would have loved to stay there teaching and preaching for the rest of his life.  But God had other plans.  In fact, his reputation for intelligence and holiness spread to the highest ranks in Spain, and King Phillip II recommended him to Pope Pius V for a small bishopric.  The saint fervently resisted the appointment, but to no avail.  He served the diocese of Badajoz with great zeal for about four years even though he would have preferred to be back in Salamanca, and the results of his work were so remarkable that he was named Archbishop of Valencia (this required a special dispensation from the Pope, because John was not yet 30 years old, the minimum age for a bishop at the time), one of Spain’s most important sees.

Again he resisted the appointment, vehemently, but to no avail.  For the next 40 years, therefore, he poured himself out in the arduous task of executing the reforms called for by the Council of Trent.  In his tenure, he made eleven complete tours of the more than 500 towns and cities in his Archdiocese, established seminaries and university residences, diligently put together a worthy team of professors and formators for his priests, and constantly gave away his own resources to the poor.  He also worked tirelessly to resolve the thorny problem of the Moriscos (the Muslims who had been forced to convert to Christianity if they wanted to continue living in Valencia), a source of civil strife throughout his life, resolved only when Philip III had the unfortunate Moors deported.

Two years before he died, the King named him Royal Viceroy for Valencia – a clear indication of how much good this man did, and how much respect he earned.  And yet, the whole time he bore the unwieldy burden of his vocation, on the level of feelings, he would have preferred to be teaching classes in Salamanca.  The Church and the world, however (not to mention the Kingdom of Christ), are much better off because he gave priority to faith over feelings.  And I dare say that he wouldn’t change a thing if he had it to do all over again.

Your loving uncle,


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