Discover more from Missio Dei
Memorial of St. John of Avila, Doctor of the Church
Gospel Reflection for May 10, 2023, the Fifth Week of East - Matthew 5:13-19
You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt lose its savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is good for nothing any more but to be cast out, and to be trodden on by men.
You are the light of the world. A city seated on a mountain cannot be hid.
Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but upon a candlestick, that it may shine to all that are in the house.
So let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.
Do not think that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets. I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.
For amen I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot, or one tittle shall not pass of the law, till all be fulfilled.
He therefore that shall break one of these least commandments, and shall so teach men, shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven. But he that shall do and teach, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:13-19)
Today is the Wednesday of the fifth week of Easter. It is also an optional memorial for a saint with whom, like many other Catholics, I was unfamiliar before writing this reflection. He is a Spanish saint who lived in the 16th century, was a champion of reform and called the “Apostle of Andalusia” for his work of preaching against the widespread avarice and corruption in the Church and society at that time, and was a close friend of St. Ignatius of Loyola and St. Teresa of Avila. As Pope Benedict XVI described him in his homily for the naming of St. John as a Doctor of the Church in 2012, he was a
profound expert on the sacred Scriptures, he was gifted with an ardent missionary spirit. He knew how to penetrate in a uniquely profound way the mysteries of the redemption worked by Christ for humanity. A man of God, he united constant prayer to apostolic action. He dedicated himself to preaching and to the more frequent practice of the sacraments, concentrating his commitment on improving the formation of candidates for the priesthood, of religious and of lay people, with a view to a fruitful reform of the Church.
Among his many great writings are Scripture commentaries, letters, a systematic treatise called Audi, Filia which Benedict XVI called “a classic of spirituality,” a catechism on Christian doctrine and treatises on the love of God, the priesthood and reform, the latter of which influenced the proceedings of the Council of Trent.
St. John is an example of a true Catholic reform. Guided by the Holy Spirit, he discerned the signs of the times clearly and addressed them with boldness and charity, never sugarcoating the truth to spare the feelings of others or even his own safety (even once being imprisoned by the Inquisition for his criticisms of the wealthy), always prioritizing the love of God and the salvation of souls, yet constantly preaching with charity and patience. Like the prophets, apostles and Church Fathers, he knew that salvation comes only through Christ and that “the desire of money is the root of all evils” (1 Tim 6:10); the more that pleasure, power and convenience occupy our lives, the more the corrective influence of suffering is excluded and the still, small voice of God is muted in our hearts. But, unlike many today who see the problems in the world and wish to address them, St. John did not simply turn a blind eye, nor did he seek popularity through gossip and detraction. Instead, he followed what has been called “the Benedict Option,” (Rod Dreher) creating oases of sanctity and wisdom as alternatives to the world, including new colleges, seminaries and a community of priests who would later join the Jesuits.
St. John’s life, wisdom, holiness and reform can be inspirational for us today. As Catholics, we should always have some measure of sorrow and mourning for the sin of the world; if sin does not pain us, we have become institutionalized, loving our prison rather than desiring to escape it. However, we should also keep ever present in our minds and hearts the joy of victory which Christ won for us, never despairing or seeking to fulfill our due sentence for sin by fugitive escapes of vice, fame or indifference. Instead, may St. John’s example and intercession inspire us to always hold to the truth and work to bring the world closer to Christ with wisdom, charity and solidarity, as well as a fervent love of the Blessed Sacrament and His divinizing love. As Benedict XVI writes, “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.” In this way we may become the salt of the earth and the light of the world for Christ.
“Open your little heart to that breadth of love by which the Father gave us his Son, and with him gave us himself, and the Holy Spirit, and all things besides” (St. John of Avila, letter 160)