St. John of Avila’s Inspiring Contribution to Priestly Holiness

REGISTER BOOK PICK: Father Gustavo Castillo’s book was inspired by Pope Benedict XVI’s declaration of St. John of Avila as a Doctor of the Church Oct. 7, 2012.

Book cover 'Shepherding the Family of God: The Spirituality of Diocesan Priests in St. John of Avila' by
Father Gustavo Castillo.
Book cover 'Shepherding the Family of God: The Spirituality of Diocesan Priests in St. John of Avila' by Father Gustavo Castillo. (photo: Institute for Priestly Formation)

Shepherding the Family of God

The Spirituality of Diocesan Priests in St. John of Avila

Father Gustavo Castillo

Institute of Priestly Formation; 272 pages (paperback)


Standing in the Plaza of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome on the feast of the Holy Rosary, Oct. 7, 2012, having recently arrived in Rome for his doctoral studies, Father Gustavo Castillo was inspired by Pope Benedict XVI’s proclamation of St. John of Avila as a doctor of the Church:

“Fulfilling the wishes of numerous brethren in the episcopate, and of many of the faithful throughout the world, after due consultation with the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, with certain knowledge and after mature deliberation, with the fullness of my apostolic authority, I declare St. John of Avila, diocesan priest, and St. Hildegard of Bingen, professed nun of the Order of St. Benedict, to be doctors of the universal Church. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

Father Castillo was so moved by this event that he went on to write his doctoral thesis on the newly minted doctor of the Church. His thesis was published by the Institute for Priestly Formation Publications on June 11, 2019, with the title, Shepherding the Family of God: The Spirituality of Diocesan Priests in St. John of Avila

Now, the attention of the Church turns once again to St. John of Avila. Pope Francis has inscribed as an optional memorial in the Roman Calendar, St. John de Avila, priest and doctor of the Church, May. The first time this was to be observed was May 10.

It seems appropriate to highlight the reasons why St. John of Avila is receiving so much attention. Father Castillo’s book does exactly that. In his foreword, Archbishop José Gomez states: “In retrieving John’s heroic vision of priestly dignity and sanctity, Father Gustavo Castillo has performed an important work of ressourcement [renewal] — introducing the English-speaking world to a giant of Hispanic theology and spirituality and a true pioneer of authentic renewal and reform in the Church.”

Father Castillo gives a brief portrayal of the “Apostle of Andalusia,” who influenced many priests and laity with his spiritual guidance and writings during his life as well as after his life. His thought had a big impact on the fathers of the Council of Trent and a “cluster of saints” in Spain, such as the great St. Teresa of Avila and others. 

“Traces of his thought can also be found in St. John of the Cross and in Felix Lope de Vega. Even saints like Francis de Sales, Alphonsus Liguori and Anthony Claret make reference to his works in subsequent years,” Father Castillo writes.

What is of most interest about this work in our day is the fact that it is not only a ressourcement, as referred to above, but a clarion call: Father Castillo takes the writings of St. John of Avila, brings them to our attention, and then wraps these writings in the message of the personal call to holiness as proposed by the Second Vatican Council. More specifically, he urges priestly holiness with an enticing consideration of the triple offices of priest, prophet and king. It is a marvelous way to reflect on the different gifts of the priesthood. 

The final chapter inspires a renewal of the priesthood in light of the mission of the “Priest and People of God: Mutual Sanctification.” 

Personally, I found it as a helpful guide for meditation during my own silver jubilee of priestly ordination and encourage all diocesan priests to make use of it for their own reflection and prayer. And don’t forget to read the endnotes; they also contain some golden inspirations.

Father Mark S. Mannion is a priest of the personal prelature of Opus Dei.