There was a priest called Andrew (part four)
Thus occurred the first meeting between two men who would become life-long friends. Andrew would love and be loved by three generations of Farnese princes before his own death in 1608. Nor did the association end with Andrew’s death. In 1624 on the occasion of his beatification, Duke Edward, the greatgrandson of Duke Octavius Farnese, sent a letter of personal congratulations to the Theatine superior general, and in 1712, the year of the canonization, the special life of St. Andrew Avellino written for the celebration was dedicated to Princess Elizabeth Farnese. Princess Elizabeth later gave her permission for the Theatine Order to publish the letters of spiritual direction which the members of the Farnese family had received from St. Andrew. These letters, including those sent to Duke Octavius when he was away from home at military encampments, had been treasured in the family chapel for over one hundred years.
Maria, princess of Portugal and daughter-in-law of Duke Octavius Farnese, was best loved of all Andrew’s spiritual daughters. She was, he would later write to her son, the perfect example of what a Christian princess should be. His affection for her was reciprocated. Once the Theatines wished to send Andrew back to Naples. “I don’t know when I can leave,” he wrote to his nephew in amused tolerance, “La Serenissima Principessa will not consent to my going.”
Apparently Andrew did get to Naples, for it is said that there he met Don John of Austria who was on his way to the Battle of Lepanto. Perhaps Andrew travelled south with Duke Alexander Farnese, husband of Princess Maria, who joined Don John and fought in the battle which saved Christian Europe from the invading Moslem Turks.
Andrew returned to Placencia where he went back to work preaching, hearing confessions, visiting the nightmare-like hospitals of the time, writing letters of advice to his spiritual children in Naples and Milan as well as in Placencia, counselling the nuns at the Refuge for Repentants, teaching the little boy Princess Maria Farnese gave into his spiritual care. Whenever he possibly could, he went from place to place on foot, refusing all offers of other transportation.
In 1572 he was named official visitor for the Theatine houses in Lombardia. This meant continual travelling, usually by horseback or muleback, and travelling in the sixteenth century was always dangerous. Andrew was injured several times, and once, while he was trying to get on his horse, he was almost killed. He had just placed one foot in the stirrup when the animal bolted, dragging him along the ground for a considerable distance. The horrified bystanders had great difficulty in stopping the horse. When they finally did, they discovered to their amazement that the man they had rescued was only scratched and bruised. Andrew thanked his rescuers and laughingly refused to accept their expressions of sympathy. He should have, he said, congratulations instead.
Andrew returned to Naples in 1572. From 1584 to 1585 he was rector of both the Theatine houses in Naples, St. Paul’s and Holy Apostles. The young men of both houses came to him for spiritual advice which he gave them willingly. Mental prayer, he advised his spiritual sons, was an infallible remedy against temptation. He taught them his rules for becoming a good confessor.
A confessor should be sweet, amiable, and discreet.
He should never give heavy penances to new penitents.
He should never talk about Divine Justice without talking about Divine Mercy.
The confessor should try to persuade the penitent that he truly does not want to offend the dear Father who always pardons everyone who is sorry for his sins.
His young men saw that Father Andrew was always satisfied with the least and the poorest. “The first new shoes he had,” one of them later remarked, “were on his dead body when he couldn’t fuss about it.” In 1590 Andrew once more refused to become a bishop when Pope Gregory XIV offered him a see.
In 1593 when Andrew’s beloved young nephew, Francis Anthony, was stabbed to death on the streets of Naples, the dead man’s brother John came at once to St. Paul’s to tell their uncle, Father Andrew. The stunned Andrew managed to maintain his outer serenity while listening to John’s account of the brutal, totally unprovoked murder which inexplicably been committed by a young nobleman who was well known in the city. Quietly the older man asked his young relative for an for an extreme act of charity. “If you value my blessing and if you loved your brother,” he told the heartbroken John, “you will never forgive his murderer.” John, truly his uncle’s nephew, listened and accepted. Early the next morning as soon as the courts were open, he went to make his forgiveness official by signing a legal release. There would be no further bloodshed, no family feud involving the House of Avellino. After Francis was buried, with the chapter’s consent, in St. Paul’s, Andrew was free to express his own bitter grief, describing his heartbreak in letters to his spiritual daughters. “You know how much this hurts me,” and “I cannot express how much this misfortune has affected me,” he wrote. And to Princess Maria Farnese he said sadly, “God is asking me to practice what I preach.”
Andrew had wished to be a priest, he had lived as a priest, and now in his last years he would fight for his priesthood, fight desperately and with every means he could employ against two unrelenting adversaries who would seek to steal it from him: illness and old age. Valiantly he refused to yield his active life to either. He continued to hear confessions, trying as he always had to travel to his penitents on foot, but it was not always pos¬sible. Although his hand shook so much that writing had become very difficult, he continued to write his letters of spiritual advice. He continued to counsel the young men, and they continued to listen.
One day as several young lawyers were examining some new law books, they saw Andrew coming toward them. Knowing his widespread reputation for saintliness, they greeted him respectfully. He looked at their books, shook his head and said, “They tell lies those doctors of law.”
Taken aback the young men asked, “Father, do you think that lawyers don’t go to Heaven?”
He smiled at them and said, “I was speaking of myself. I remember that once when I was practicing law, I heard myself telling a lie in court, and later that night I realized that to strengthen my case I had been killing my soul. It was then that I decided to stop practicing law and to consider entering a religious order instead.” His young listeners were deeply impressed by his sincerity, as one of them would later explain while telling the story at Andrew’s beatification process.
When he was past eighty, Andrew somehow developed a gift for knowing what was going to happen before it did. Since he tended to forget others could not do this also, he created some interesting effects. One day a prominent doctor, John Anthony Foglia, offered the old man his arm up a fight of stairs. “You are a good doctor,” Andrew told him, “and when our doctor dies I will have them call you for our house at St. Paul’s.” Since Father Andrew was very old and the other doctor was quite young, Dr. Foglia smiled and thanked him, but privately thought that he would not count on the Theatines for patients. Several months later the younger doctor did, in fact, die and it was Dr. Foglia who attended Andrew for the last years of his life. It was not the easiest job the doctor had ever had. Andrew protested bitterly whenever Dr. Foglia tried to make him eat special food or take extra rest.
Passage from Heroic virtue Theatine lives, by Margaret Oyler – Theatine Pubblishers, Denver (Colorado), 1997 pagg. 35-39