Benedictine Liturgical Year – Saint Andrew Avellino, Confessor

statue of Saint Andrew Avellino by Pedro Alonso de los Ríos, 17th century, façade of Saint Emilian and Saint Cajetan's Church, Madrid, Spain); photographed by Luis García (Zaqarbal), 4 July 2009; swiped off Wikimedia CommonsIn the sixteenth century, in reply to the reproach of exhaustion hurled against the Church, the Holy Ghost raised from her soil an abundant harvest of sanctity. Andrew was one of his most worthy co-operators in the work of holy reformation and supernatural renaissance, which then took place. Eternal Wisdom had as usual suffered Satan to go before, for his own greater shame, cloaking his evil works under the grand names of renaissance and reform.

It was nme years since Saint Gajetan bad departed this world, leaving it strengthened by his labours and all embalmed with the fragrance of his virtues; the former Bishop of Theate, his companion and collaborator in founding the first Regular Clerks, was now governing the Church under the name of Paul IV; when in 1666 God bestowed upon the Theatines, in the person of our Saint, an heir to the supernatural gifts, the heroic sanctity, and the zeal for the sanctuary, that had characterized their father. Andrew was the friend and support of the great Bishop of Milan, Saint Charles Borromeo, whose glory in heaven he went to share on this day. His pious writings are still used in the Church. He himself formed some admirable disciples, such as Laurence Soupoli, author of the well-known work so prized by the Bishop of Geneva, the Spiritual Combat.

Nothing need be added to the following history of his life.

Andrew Avellino, formerly called Lancelot, was born at Castro Nuovo in Lucania; and, while still an infant, gave evident signs of future holiness. He left his father’s house to study the liberal arts; in the pursuit of which he passed so blamelessly through the slippery age of youth, as ever to keep before his eyes the fear of the Lord, which is the beginning of wisdom. Of a comely appearance, he was so great a lover of holy purity that he was able to escape snares laid for his chastity by shameless women, and even to repel open attacks. After being made a cleric, he went to Naples to study law, and there took his degree. Meanwhile he was promoted to the priesthood; after which he began to plead, but only in the ecclesiastical court and for private individuals, in accordance with the prescriptions of Canon Law. Once, however, when pleading a cause, a slight untruth escaped him; and happening soon after, in reading the Holy Scripture, to come upon these words: The mouth that belieth killeth the soul, he conceived so great a sorrow and repentance for his fault, that he determined at once to abandon that kind of life. He therefore left the bar, and devoted himself entirely to the divine service and the sacred ministry. As he was eminent in priestly virtues, the Archbishop of Naples confided to him the direction of certain nuns. In discharging this office he incurred the hatred of some evil men, who attempted his life. He escaped their first assault; but soon afterwards one of the assassins gave him three wounds in the face: an injury which he bore unmoved. Desirous of a more perfect life, he humbly begged to be admitted among the Regular Clerks; and on obtaining his request, he asked to be called by the name of Andrew, on account of his ardent love of the Cross.

He earnestly devoted himself to the stricter manner of life he had embraced, and to the practice of the virtues, going so far as to bind himself thereto by two most difficult vows, viz; never to do his own will, and ever to advance in Christian perfection. He had the greatest respect for religious discipline, and zealously promoted it when he was superior. Whatever time remained oyer after the discharge of his duties and the prescriptions of the rule, he devoted to prayer and the salvation of souls. He was noted for his piety and prudence in hearing Confessions. He frequently visited the towns and villages near Naples, exercising the apostolic ministry with profit to souls. Our Lord was pleased to show by miracles how great was this holy man’s love of his neighbour. As he was once returning home late at night from hearing a sick man’s confession, a violent storm of wind and rain put out the light that was carried before him; but neither he nor his companions were wet by the pouring rain; and moreover a wonderful light shining from his body enabled them to find their way through the darkness. His abstinence and patience were extraordinary, as also his humility and hatred of self. He bore the assassination of his nephew with unruffled tranquillity, withheld his family from seeking revenge, and even implored the judges to grant mercy and protection to the murderers.

He propagated the Order of the Regular Clerks in many places, and founded houses for them in Milan and Piacenza. The Cardinals Charles Borromeo and Paul of Arezzo a Regular Clerk, bore him great affection, and availed themselves of his assistance in the discharge of their pastoral office. The Virgin Mother of God he honoured with a very special love and worship. He was permitted to converse with, the Angels; and affirmed that when saying the Divine Office, he heard them singing with him as if in Choir. At length, after giving heroic examples of virtue, and becoming illustrious for his gift of prophecy, whereby he knew the secrets of hearts, and distant and future events, he was worn out with old age and broken down with labours. As he was at the foot of the Altar about to say Mass, he thrice repeated the words: I will go in to the altar of God, and fell down struck with apoplexy. After being strengthened by the Sacraments of the Church, he peacefully expired in the midst of his brethren. His bodv was buried at Naples in the church of Saint Paul, and is honoured even to this day by as great a concourse of people as attended the interment. Finally, as he had been illustrious for miracles both in life and after death, he was solemnly enrolled among the Saints by Pope Clement XI.

How sweet and yet how strong were the ways of Eternal Wisdom in thy regard, blessed Andrew, when a slight fault into which you were surprised became the starting-point of thy splendid sanctity! The mouth that belieth, killeth the soul. Seek not death in the error of your life, neither procure ye destruction by the works of your hands. You read these words of divine Wisdom and fully understand them. The aim of life then appeared to thee very different, in the light of the vows thou wast inspired to make, ever to turn away from thyself and ever to draw nearer to the Sovereign Good. With holy Church in her Collect, we glorify our Lord for having disposed such admirable ascensions in thy heart. This daily progress led thee on from virtue to virtue till thou dost now behold the God of gods in Sion. Thy heart and thy flesh rejoiced in the living God; thy soul, absorbed in the love of his hallowed courts, fainted at the thought thereof. No wonder it was at the foot of God’s altar that thy life failed thee, and thou didst enter on the passage to his blessed home. With what joy thou wast welcomed into the eternal choirs, by those who had been on earth thy angelic associates in the divine praise!

Be not unmindful of the world’s homage. Deign to respond to the confidence of Naples and Sicily, which commend themselves to thy powerful patronage. Bless the pious family of Regular Clerks Theatines, in union with Saint Cajetan thy father and theirs. Obtain for us all a share in the blessings so largely bestowed on thee. May the vain pleasures found in the tabernacles of sinners never seduce us; but may we prefer the humility of God’s house to all worldly pomp. If, like thee, we love truth and mercy, our Lord will give to us, as he gave to thee, grace and glory. Calling to mind the circumstances of thy blessed end, Christians honour thee as a protector against sudden and unprovided death: be our guardian at that last moment; let the innocence of our life, or at least our repentance, prepare for us a happy exit; and may we, like thee, breathe out our last sigh in hope and love.

– text taken from The Liturgal Year, volume 6, by Prosper Guéranger, 1903