Behind every great Spanish saint, there’s St. John of Ávila—or so it seems.
John was the close friend and spiritual director of many saints in the 16th century, including St. Teresa of Ávila, St. John of the Cross, and St. Ignatius of Loyola.
John was born into a wealthy family and thought the law would be his profession. After studying at university for some time, however, he became disgusted with what he saw of the court and returned home.
For a few years he lived with his parents in great austerity. He eventually left for Alcalá and studied to be ordained.
After John’s ordination, he gave away all his wealth and prepared to go to Mexico as a missionary—but this was not meant to be.
The archbishop of Seville heard about his sanctity and his talent as a preacher. Sending for John, he persuaded him—with great difficulty—to give up the Mexico scheme and instead re-evangelize southern Spain, beginning with Andalusia.
It took one sermon to make John famous. Crowds flocked to hear him, absorbing his exhortations and admonitions. At one time he was investigated by the Inquisition due to some false accusations, but this only increased his popularity among the faithful.
In addition to preaching missions, John also helped form some of the greatest Spanish saints. He helped St. Ignatius promote his new Society of Jesus; he instructed young men who later helped St. John of the Cross (another Doctor of the Church) reform the Carmelites; and he assisted St. Teresa of Ávila (yet another Doctor!) with her Autobiography, to name a few of his many accomplishments.
For years, John journeyed throughout southern Spain, stirring up lukewarm faithful into fiery devotion to Christ. His last eighteen years were marked with constant illnesses, but these sufferings did not stop him from preaching and instructing.
At his death, John was surrounded by his friends and spiritual children, who prayed with him as he offered up his last sufferings to the crucified Christ.
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