Today’s optional memorial commemorates Saint John of Avila (1499 – 1569), a contemporary of his fellow Spaniards, saints and correspondents, Teresa of Avila, Ignatius of Loyola and John of God. Like them, he was one of the primary instruments in what is inaptly termed the Catholic ‘counter-reformation’, but was in fact the reinvigoration of the Catholic Church in the face of Protestant opposition. Nothing like a few good heresies and schisms to make the Church stronger.
John had mystical leanings from his youth, one of those souls chosen by God. At first he studied law, but left without finishing, and began his formation for the priesthood, ordained in 1526, and saying his first Mass in the church where his parents were buried, they having died during his time away at university. Spiritually-minded Catholics have always had a healthy and realistic view of the inevitability of death, realizing that we are only separated for a time, and there is never much distance in Christ’s Mystical Body.
Father Juan at first desired to go to Mexico as a missionary, but was persuaded to stay and evangelize Andalusia – of which he is known as ‘the Apostle’ – the southernmost portion of Spain, jutting out in the Atlantic and Mediterranean Seas, where the Faith had been severely compromised by centuries of Islamic domination and persecution (the Muslims had been driven out not that long before, in 1492, by Ferdinand and Isabella).