Wednesday, January 18, 2012

John of Avila

I now, with blessed relief, turn to John of Avila, born January 6, 1500 and died May 10, 1569.  Spanish mystic, priest, preacher, saint and now to be Doctor of the Church (announced by Pope Benedict XVI on August 20, 2011).  He inspired and corresponded with St. Teresa of Avila, and soon I'll find out if he also corresponded with St. John of the Cross.  I've ordered a book of his spiritual letters as well as a study of his life, including his famous Audi Filia which is supposed to be a brilliant guide in the spiritual life.  Reading but four sermons, I'm convinced!

John of Avila was born into a wealthy, pious family of Jewish converts. His parents died while he was in seminary; he sold his inherited property and gave to the poor.  He is patron of secular priests in Spain.  He is holy help and friend to many, now these five centuries hence, we thankfully have his writings.

From the dust jacket of The Holy Ghost"The sermons contained in this volume treat of the necessity of knowing, conversing with, and abandoning oneself to the Holy Ghost, since His is the task of completing the work of Jesus Christ:  they show that Christian perfection must be based on the operation of the Holy Ghost in the soul."  When I selected this small volume from the hermitage shelves, it was due to mostly to read the thoughts of St. John of Avila--recently brought to mind by the Pope in an address to youth in Madrid, Spain.  Yet, as His Real Presence wills, the content immediately reinforces the insights I have received during Mass and of which I have previously tried to describe.  From St. John of Avila's thoughts, I am going to offer excerpts that stand out to me.

St. John of Avila offers description of the apostles' great attachment to the human person of Jesus, such as they were despondent when He said during the time after His Ascension that He was leaving them.  "'I go...and I will ask the Father; and he shall give you another Paraclete,' that is comforter."  The apostles looked to the sky wherein Jesus ascended.  Raising their thoughts and voices to heaven, they said: 'Lord, we long for Thee and we do not know Thee; we wish Thee to come and we do not know who Thou art.  Of Thy mercy, deign to come and console our hearts; come Lord for we are indeed sorrowful without Thee.'"

And John of Avila recommends we imitate the apostles in their longing and desire for the Holy Ghost, since the incarnate Jesus was no longer with them.  We must ask, "Comforter of my soul!  Come, console me!"   

"The first requirement for the coming of the Holy Ghost in our souls is that we should be aware of His power, and that we should believe that He can accomplish marvels.  However sad a soul may be, He is sufficient to console it; however worthless, He can make it valuable; however lukewarm, He an fire it; however weak, He can strengthen it; however lacking in piety, He can inflame it with ardent devotion.  What is the way to bring the Holly Ghost to us?  It is to be aware of His might."

"The second requirement for the Holy Ghost to be willing to come into our hearts (so that we may not be rejected or found wanting) is to have the will to receive Him as our guest, sincerely and anxiously to desire His coming....Be devoted and faithful in the service of Jesus Christ and in your hopes for the coming of the Holy Ghost, and have no dealings with evil and meanness, because the consolation of the Spirit is very gentle.  Very little will hinder its coming and it does not take pleasure in the things of this world."

This next citation is what amazes me in its linkage with not fragmenting Jesus, and rather to be willing to grow into union with the Trinity by uplifting our devotion and love, as well, to the Father and the Holy Spirit.  "Note what was said to the apostles, when they were looking up at the sky in suspense, when the Lord ascended into heaven.  They were closely united to Him.  They were longing and hoping for the visit of the Holy Ghost; they were anxious to see the Holy Ghost as their Master had declared they would; they were oblivious of themselves as they looked at Jesus Christ when He ascended into heaven.  Blessed be He, who was so solicitous for our good; who did not content Himself merely with looking after us and taking care of us; but when He had ascended into heaven was so anxious about His own, that He sent down two angels dressed in white garments who said to them: 'Ye men of Galilee, why stand you looking up to heaven?  This Jesus who is taken up from you into heaven shall so come--with the same majesty--as you have seen him going into heaven.'

"And they were told to go to the Cenacle, because there the Holy Ghost would come upon them.  You need not spend the whole day looking into the sky; you need not spend it praying or meditating.  Go, my brethren, to the Cenacle.  Do not spend your time thinking on the bodily presence of Christ!  I have often said to you that the reason the Holy Ghost did not come to the apostles while Jesus Christ was in this world was because they were transported in the Master's presence, and that alone contented them, and although the presence of Our Lord was so good and holy, it hindered the apostles from being perfect, and on this account Jesus Christ wished to go away.  'My disciples, you are deeply attached to Me, you love Me greatly.  I know that when you are with Me you are content; but I love you even more and to prove My love, I shall go away, so that the Holy Ghost may come and make you more perfect, and bring your thoughts closer to God,'  Does this not show you that the presence of Jesus Christ in some degree hindered the coming of the Holy Ghost?

"The Holy Ghost is jealous.  Do not think He is not exacting. 'I am the Lord,' said God to Moses.  So that you may understand, brethren, that if you are fond of your confessor, however holy he may be, or of the preacher who gives you good advice and consoles you, the Holy Ghost will not come until you have renounced an excessive love of human beings.  The Holy Ghost wishes to be alone with you....'But Father, he is a saint, and guides me along the road to God, and encourages me when I am in difficulties.'  Jesus Christ was holier* and even He hindered the coming of the Holy Ghost.  The servant of God, the confessor and the preacher should not stand in the way of the Holy Ghost, who should be a staircase up which you can climb to God.  Love--even innocent love--will stand in the way....What you love...let it be for God and in God...."

* On this point I wish to clarify that St. John of Avila is not suggesting that Jesus Christ is not God; later in another sermon he makes it quite clear in his explanation of the Trinity.  But what he is saying is that a dependency, such as the apostles had, upon the earthly presence of Jesus hindered the disciples spiritual evolving because they were attached to the man, not God in God.  Note that the disciples repeatedly were confused and misunderstood some of what Jesus was trying to teach them of the spiritual life and souls, when He was among them in person.  It is not too unlike what St. Paul preaches that we must grow from being milk-fed to eating meat.  We must not think of things below but learn to ponder that which is of heaven.  We must be ready to climb the stairway to heaven, and that requires a willingness and desire to not cling to one phase of our spiritual understanding and learning but to allow Jesus Christ to lead us into life in the Holy Ghost and the Father, as well.  Later, also, John of Avila will explain that there is no union with the Trinity--Father, Son and Holy Ghost--without entering into the school of the Spirit.

St. John of Avila continues in this sermon to describe and explain the passion and death of Jesus Christ, and the sacrifice He made on earth as a means to lead us to union with Him--with God, the Trinity, His Real Presence--beyond this earth but yet while we exist on this earth.  It is all progression, and yes, we learn of Jesus and by Jesus, and this is but one more phase of what He teaches, what He lived and died and ascended into so that we would progress also through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  "Since then, through the merits of Jesus Christ, the Holy Ghost gives Himself to us, do not cease to ask for Him and to desire Him ardently!  Dedicate yourself to Him who willc ome to your soul and you will receive great consolation and no one will succeed in taking Him from you.  Prepare your dwelling-place!..."

It isn't that we diminish Jesus Christ in teachings.  It is that we allow Christ to lead us beyond the temporal aspects of dependency.  This is how Jesus can become fragmented, isolated out in our spiritual lives, such as I have tried to give examples even from my own single-minded focus and devotion for quite awhile, having come from a Protestant background that perhaps more so emphasizes Jesus alone.  But to know Jesus is to know God, as Jesus is God and came to earth to save us...and to lead us further than we had been able to grasp with our confusions in the temporal.  Part of the mission was to not only suffer and die but necessarily to introduce us to the Holy Spirit, lead us to that stairway to heaven, possible now, through passing beyond the temporal to the spiritual in a very real way.

And, it is not a matter of fragmenting the Holy Spirit, either, to a single-minded focus, relegating the spiritual to a temporal mold, or of phenomenon.  Later, also, St. John of Avila explains how necessary is this movement of being led by Jesus in progression, and that nothing much more can be fulfilled in the spiritual life without expanding our bodies, minds, hearts and spirits to the indwelling of the Trinity, and he repeats it will not happen without the Holy Ghost being truly alive in us and us in Him.

It is truly exciting; and more than exciting, as it is all truth to be actually lived!  I address His Real Presence and desire to see the Trinity always, not fragmenting any one or other of the Persons.  I pray to be totally open to the fullness of God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Perhaps others already comprehend, but I usually if not always think of Jesus the man--not even imaging Jesus the infant or Jesus the ascended.  Much of my praying had been to Jesus alone.  I had total devotion to the Eucharist; and I still have devotion but not to the diminishing or fragmenting of any of the Persons of the Trinity.  I came to learn in my angel's telling me he was taking me to the stairway to heaven, that this means my mind's understanding had to be opened up like tearing away any blockages to the stairway, such as even cardboard taped across the stairwell.

Perhaps this is also why the temporal aspects that can be quite distracting and ugly, and are all the more upsetting.  The obstacles such as simply wanting to be able to sit during Mass on a chair that my temporal body can endure, or of being caused physical harm by someone who did not want to research or gain insights from a professional who knows of states that can occur in the progression of the soul--must be removed.  That is also why reading this first sermon of our next Doctor of the Church struck me to the core in letting go a spiritual director, even though there is great fondness and appreciation for him.  But we must love God in God, and be willing to abandon imbalanced devotion.  We must not deny any of the Three Persons of the Most Holy Trinity total temporal and spiritual access to our souls.  Begin with the Mass and the fullness therein; then live a total awareness of His Real Presence in all moments.

Citations from:  John of Avila. The Holy Ghost. 1959. Dublin: Scepter, pp. 9-28.

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