St. Andrew Avellino, Confessor
St. Andrew Avellino was born at Castro Nuovo, in the kingdom of Naples. To fear God and to avoid sin, were the maxims which his mother, from early childhood, implanted deep into his heart, and which became the rule of his entire life. While he studied at Senise, a lady sought to attract him by several presents which she sent him, but the chaste youth accepted not her gifts, and sent her word saying that she should trouble him no more, and might rest assured that he would rather die than consent to any evil. On another occasion when he was enticed to sin, he fled like the chaste Joseph. To escape similar temptations, he determined to become a priest, and was ordained after he had finished his studies.
For some time he devoted himself to the practice of Canon Law in the ecclesiastical courts; until one day, in the heat of his argument, a trivial lie escaped him. Soon after, while reading the holy Scriptures, the words, ” The mouth that lieth, killeth the soul,” came under his eyes, and his repentance was such that, from that moment, he renounced his profession in order to escape from the danger of offending God, and gave himself entirely to the sacred ministry. By associating frequently with the religious of the Theatine Order, he conceived the desire of joining their number, which he did in 1556. It was on this occasion that he took the name of Andrew, in honor of the holy Apostle of that name, after whose example he desired to suffer much for the glory of God.
His eminent virtues induced his superiors to make him Master of Novices, though he had been only five years in the Order, and afterwards to charge him with the administration of several houses. He attended to all his duties to the greatest benefit of those under him. Besides the usual vows, he imposed upon himself two more. The first of these was to work continually against his own inclinations; the second, to make continual progress in perfection. The fervent love he bore to God and men induced him to employ all his leisure moments in prayer and in laboring for the salvation of souls. Before entering into religion, he had been accustomed to give six hours daily to prayer, but as he could not, as a religious, spare so much time during the day, he took a part of the night for this sacred duty. He benefited mankind much by preaching and hearing confessions. He reformed many a hardened sinner, restrained others from falling again, reconciled embittered minds, and led numberless souls to heaven.
God manifested more than once, by miracles, how agreeable the endeavors of the Saint were to Him. One night as he returned home, with his companion, from the house of a sick man whose confession he had heard, a violent storm extinguished the light that was carried before them ; but then such a brightness emanated from the Saint’s body that the way was made clear through the darkness, whilst, at the same time, neither he nor his companion was touched by the rain. Many similar events, as also the frequent visions of Saints, the gifts of prophecy and of reading the hearts of men, but above all the many examples of heroic virtue which he gave to others, won for St. Andrew the highest regard. St. Charles Borromeo, the holy Cardinal, esteemed him greatly, and made use of his zeal on many occasions.
Notwithstanding this, the holy man had so low an opinion of himself, that he regarded as nothing his great and arduous labors to further the honor of God and the salvation of souls; looked upon himself as a great sinner, and frequently evinced great fear in regard to his salvation. ” If they,” said he, ” must regard themselves as useless servants, who have done all their duty, what must I do, who have done so small a part of what I ought to have done?” Sometimes he would look up to heaven and sigh: “Will that magnificent mansion of the blessed spirits allow the entrance of one so miserable, despicable and sinful as I am?”
From this fear, however, he was afterwards freed by a comforting vision. St. Augustine and St. Thomas of Aquin, both of whom he honored as patrons, appeared to him, consoled him, and promised him their aid, especially in that hour on which eternity depends. Andrew, taking heart, asked them whether he would enjoy eternal life? The answer was as follows: ” The time of thy salvation has not come yet. But as in life everything is doubtful and uncertain, follow our advice: struggle, with the greatest perseverance, on the battle-field of virtue, as thou hast done till now; and thus thou wilt gather a treasure of merit, and God will not close to thee the gates of heaven.” With these words the Saint consoled himself, and not only continued his zeal in the practice of virtue, but increased it daily.
During the last 18 years of his life, he allowed himself neither meat, nor eggs, nor fish; his nourishment consisted of beans only, of which he had always enough cooked to last him three days. When advised to change his diet, on account of his advanced age, he said: ” Though at the age of 83 years, I am excused from the law of fasting, I find when thinking of my sins and my indolence in the service of the Most High, that I am obliged to fast and to observe other austerities, in order to appease the wrath of God.” Thus spoke he, who had ever preserved his first innocence. His bed was a sack of straw on two boards. He daily scourged himself to blood. Not content with all this, he daily begged the Almighty to send him something to suffer.
The greatest wrongs he bore with invincible meekness; in persecutions and trials, he evinced heroic patience, and he met his enemies with truly Christian gentleness. This was especially experienced by the man who had cruelly murdered the son of the Saint’s brother. The holy man exhorted his brother neither to seek nor demand vengeance. He knew the murderer, but revealed him not; and when the wretch was at last discovered and arraigned before the judges, Andrew implored mercy and pardon for him.
Our Saint’s devotion to the passion and death of our Lord Jesus Christ, was the cause of his earnest desire to suffer more and more. He was often heard to say: “Ah ! what is all that I do and suffer compared with what my Jesus did and suffered for my sake? O, that I might, for His honor, be torn with scourges and pierced with nails, and expire on the Cross for Him!” Not less deep was his devotion to the Blessed Sacrament; and at the time of holy Mass, his whole countenance glowed with divine love. To the very last day of his life, though he was almost entirely exhausted, he insisted on saying Mass; but he had hardly begun the Psalm at the foot of the Altar, when he was struck with paralysis. He was then carried to his room, where the last Sacraments were administered to him. Having received them, he blessed all those who were present, and peace and happiness shone from his countenance. After this, he turned his eyes upon an image of the Blessed Virgin,when during all his life he had greatly loved and honored, and expired in the 88th year of his life. His face beamed after his death with a truly divine radiance, and God proclaimed the glory which the Saint enjoyed in heaven, by many and great miracles.
I. A small, involuntary lie was repented of by St. Andrew, during his whole life; and in order not to be tempted to sin thus again, he renounced a profession in which he believed there was danger of repeating the offense. What do you say to this, you who have made almost a habit of lying and are very little disturbed by it? It is true that not every lie is a great sin ; and the verse which frightened St. Andrew so much, is to be understood to refer specially to lies by which great wrong is committed. But it is nevertheless a fact, that a lie is an offense done to the Almighty. It is also true that those who have the habit of lying in small things, easily transfer this habit to things of importance, and even confirm their lie with an oath, which is surely a mortal sin. It is false to say or imagine that it is no wrong to tell a lie in jest, or for the sake of preventing a quarrel. We need, of course, not always tell what we know, and must often express ourselves very guardedly; but to say what is not true is always a sin, be it done in jest, to please others, to prevent a quarrel or other damage, or, as the saying is, because we cannot help ourselves. Such lies are called ” white lies,” and we become guilty of venial sin, by becoming guilty of them.
But by other lies, we may commit great sin, because by them we seek to harm our neighbor, or do actually harm him. We also commit great sin by lying in the confessional, when, for instance, we voluntarily lessen the number of our mortal sins, or tell not the truth in regard to what is essential to a perfect confession. Finally, a lie is a great sin, as I have already mentioned above, when we confirm it with an oath, fully conscious of what we are doing, although it may be a matter of but little consequence, and of no harm to others. Examine your conscience, whether you have not frequently committed wrong by lying ; and endeavor earnestly to reform.
II. St. Andrew sometimes sighed while gazing up to heaven: “Will that beautiful abode of the Blessed give admittance to so miserable, so contemptible, so sinful a man as I am?” So holy a man, who had never been guilty of a mortal sin, and who had so zealously labored in good and noble deeds, feared that heaven might be locked against him ! Oh ! how much more reason have you to fear, knowing that you have spotted your conscience with so many sins!
Fear without disguise ; for, you have reason. But your fear must not be such as to make you despondent, but such as to incite you to do all that is necessary to gain life everlasting, and to avoid all that may close the gates of heaven against you. For the rest, take to heart the advice given by St. Augustine and St. Thomas to Andrew : ” Fight valiantly on the battle-field of virtue. God will not close the entrance of salvation to you.” “For the Almighty,” says St. Augustine, “has created us for the eternal joys of heaven, and not to precipitate us into the unquenchable fire.” Thomas a Kempis writes : “Be watchful and diligent in the service of God, and think often: why have I been created? If you are faithful and fervent in the performance of your work, God will be faithful and generous in rewarding you.”
In conclusion, consider well the two beautiful sayings of St. Andrew, which are related above. The first of these is what he answered when advised not to fast so strictly, on account of his great age; the second is what he was frequently heard to say when contemplating the bitter passion and death of our Lord. The first will serve to make you carefully observe the fasts; for you certainly have more reason to appease the wrath of an indignant God, than St. Andrew had. Consider the second in hours of suffering; for you can say with more truth, that your cross is nothing compared with that which your dear Savior bore. This will animate you to patience in your trials. “Who can refuse to suffer, when thinking that his Lord suffered so infinitely more? The pain and suffering of the Master decreases the pain and suffering of the servant. Christ crucified has left us an example, that we may follow in His steps.” Thus writes St. Lawrence Justinian.
Lives of the Saints: Compiled from Authentic Sources with a Practical Instruction on the Life of Each Saint, for Every Day in the Year by Rev. F. X. Weninger. Permissu Superiorum. New York: P. O’Shea, Publisher, 67 Barclay Street and 42 Park Place. 1876.