St. John of Avila: How to Begin Saving Your Soul

You ask me to give you some advice about saving your soul: a demand most reasonable and worthy to be granted if only my ability were equal to my good will.

When a man first has the use of his reason, he should begin so to regulate his life that when death comes, his days may all have been spent in preparation for worthily receiving the crown of glory. When maturer age, the forerunner of death, arrives, he must repent and make amends for any past negligence. This is the time to renew our courage and to exert ourselves to remedy the weaknesses of our youth and to devote ourselves with fervor to making ready for death.

This preparation consists not only in setting ourselves free from both debts and mortal sin, but in doing penance for our past faults, so that when our good and evil deeds are put into the balance of justice, with the divine mercy added to the right side of the scale, our attachment to God’s service may weigh as much as our former attachment to the world.

We ought to give alms, to be charitable, devout, patient, and humble, in order to compensate for our former defects in these virtues. Busy like a honey-making bee, with a holy fervor, we should seek to get nearer and nearer to God; for at our time of life, the hour approaches when we shall appear before Him. How shall we answer our Sovereign Judge, if we have spent carelessly those later years He has most mercifully given us, in which to amend the past and prepare ourselves for Heaven? Therefore, care less for temporal things and attend instead to those which are more important.

Withdraw your heart from the world before God takes your body from it: keep your mind in perfect peace however much it is occupied in business. A man who is traveling post haste concerning a matter that is of life and death to him does not turn his head to look at anything as he passes. You must cultivate the same indifference to mundane matters.

Say in your heart, “I am being led captive to death; what is this world to me? I am going to God; I do not wish to entangle myself in earthly things.”

If, in spite of all our efforts, we often find our attention distracted from religious matters, what would it be if we took no pains to be recollected? Consider that you are only beginning to serve God; remember your former good resolutions, and beg God to assist you in carrying them out, for you have more experience as to the best means of keeping them now than you had before.

Your life consists in drawing nearer to God; to do this, you must endeavor to detach yourself from visible things and remember that in a short time they will all be taken from you. Practice spiritual reading and prayer; go to confession and Holy Communion; and let the one object of your life be to serve God and to bear with things contrary to your will. Be most tender in your love for God and your neighbor; act in as charitable a way as possible to others, and be firm as a rock in bearing the trials sent you by Divine Providence.

Good works are of no use unless we bear the cross as well, nor do sufferings profit us unless we lead a Christian life. If this seem hard to us, let us contemplate our Lord and Master, and see how many were His labors and pains.

What He was, that He wishes His followers to be, each in his own measure, for He asked and obtained from His Father that where He was there might His servants also be. Therefore, we must not fear to follow Him in His pains here below and yet wish to share with Him in His present bliss. Although it be the more painful part to partake of His sorrows, it is the better, for we shall enjoy our Lord’s presence more fully for having toiled for Him here.

“If we suffer with Him, we shall also reign with Him.” Do not let us be incredulous about this promised reward nor slow in trying to gain it, for after a brief time of toil, we shall enjoy eternal happiness.

This article was adapted from the letters of St John found in Finding Confidence in Times of Trial, which available from Sophia Institute Press.

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St. John of Avila (1500-1569) led the authentic effort to reform the Church and Christian society during one of its darkest hours, largely through letters and meditations. Called a spiritual master by St. Teresa of Avila, Francis de Sales, and John Paul II, his writings are simple and profound.

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