Being that I am somewhat immobilized with a muscle tear it at least has given me a chance for even more reading. So I started reading the letters of St. John of Avila. Due to the recent announcement that he will be made a Doctor of the Church I figured it would be a good idea to acquaint myself with a saint who preached to saints and whose preaching led to conversions of saints.
So far his letters have been just what I needed to read as they are so punctuated with the Gospel and his solid spiritual advice. It is hard to whine about my relatively minor pains reading his advice on suffering to those really suffering. There is just so much good stuff in his letters and yes I use stuff in the theologically technical sense. When his contemporary St. Teresa of Avila was being questioned about her teaching she was told to write it down and submit it to John of Avila and that they would go by what he had to say. In response St. John of Avila writes a great letter thanking her for what she has to say on prayer for his own soul while also making some suggestions for improving the clarity of her book to avoid confusion.
His letters are quite warm while showing great concern for a persons spiritual life and the dangers contained. One passage left me laughing in an example he gave.
While pondering over this truth, a holy hermit saw a woman of the world pass by, magnificently dressed and bejewelled. He burst into tears, exclaiming: “I beseech Thee to pardon me, O Lord, for this woman in one day takes more trouble to please men, than I have done in many years to please Thee!”
Now that is some holy humor! A footnote on this passage revealed.
The monk was St. Nonnus, Bishop of Heliopolis, and the woman St. Pelagia, an actress at Antioch, of bad repute, who had formerly been a catechumen. A few days after the incident recorded, she heard St. Nonnus preach a sermon on the Last Judgment, which so touched her heart, that she went to him and with many tears, begged him to baptise her. He did so, and, giving all her riches to the poor, she went to the Holy Land, where, under the name of Pelagius, she spent many years in penance, shut up in a narrow cell with only a small aperture for a window. She acquired the reputation of a Saint, and at her death, the people were surprised to discover that she was not a man: the virgins of the neighbourhood bore her body to their church as a rich treasure.
In another letter written to a Jesuit near death he playfully congratulates him on his upcoming promotion.
However, I am sending you my congratulations on your promotion to be prebendary 1 in the heavenly Jerusalem, where God is praised to all eternity and seen face to face.
Another footnote explains that a prebendary is he:
who resides within the precincts of a Cathedral and constantly attends its services, to that of the Saints who “stand before the throne” of God and “rest not day nor night, saying ‘Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty,” and whose company the dying Jesuit hoped soon to join.
I just absolutely love this idea of death as a promotion for the faithful. Though prudentially I doubt if Hallmark will come up with “Congratulations on your upcoming promotion” cards for those who are dying. I do hope to be promoted one day and to avoid demotion.
You can get the letters in various ebook formats here. The formatting is not the best and there are obvious OCR translation errors. Though they are minor enough.