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St John of Avila: Tune Out the Noise to Tune In God (Part II of II)

August 7, 2013 by  
Filed under Anthony Lilles, John of Avila

In our last post, we introduced Saint John of Avila's teaching in his lifetime project Audi, Filia.  To help us understand how important it is for us to order our lives to the silence of prayer, Saint John of Avila tells us about the dark languages of this world that can lead us astray. He starts with an especially deceptive language which enchants today every bit as much as it did in 16th century Spain: vain honor. Over and against humility and graciousness in our relationships with one another, powerful voices of our culture and politics insist on a certain kind of righteous indignation. These voices suggest that social causes and agendas are more important than the love we owe God and one another.

Any political movement or noble cause that ends with “ism” can turn into deadly poison under the enchantment of vain honor: socialism and capitalism, feminism and environmentalism, conservatism and liberalism.  It is vain honor which makes any and all of these so many arrows we shoot at God and one another. Whatever the cause, the temptation is to make it our tower of Babel, with which we use everyone else to build it, until we surmount the heavens.

We have our rights after all and our cause is just, this voice tells us. If anyone should dare to trample our cause, we must fight back, it urges.  If someone should embarrass us or diminish our cause, this is a matter of social war, it declares.  All holy mirth is drowned out in this cacophony of mean-spiritedness. This voice of Babylon even quotes scripture, “An eye for an eye” until we and everyone around us are all completely blind even as we castigate each other for not being tolerant.

Vain honor diminishes our ability to receive criticism or to be gracious.  Under the enchantment of this worldly language, even a kind word of advice is responded to with scorn.  Good intention is never seen because those driven by this spell interpret every relationship in terms of a power struggle.  A voice of injured pride escapes our lips as we find the language to put all offenders in their place.

When we let it into our hearts, this brutal language of contentious indignity and petty grievance tears down those whom we ought to love the most: our spouses, our children, our parents, those entrusted to our care, our neighbors and even the strangers in our midst.  In the wake of those who live by this voice, there is a painful pathway of broken marriages and families, friendships and communities, hearts and lives that scars our culture.  It is a Siren which condemns those who heed it to the worst loneliness.

As long as we attend to these kinds of shrill enchantments, we not only fail to hear God but we can not build anyone up, or forgive them, or seek forgiveness, or allow the plight of another to pierce our hearts, or help build a culture of life or contribute to a civilization of love.  The wisdom of John of Avila helps us see that if we want to pray to the One who condemned vain honor at the price of his dishonor, we must no longer be seduced by the broken record of competing social agendas and other power games playing so loudly in our culture.  We must tune-out such irrational noise if we want to tune into what God is saying, not only about our culture, but also our lives.


PS from the Editor: If you want to read more of Anthony’s insights on the topic of prayer, don’t miss his new book, Hidden Mountain Secret Garden. Anthony has an unusually profound understanding of mystical theology and lives a life of deep prayer. This book is an experience like no other. Among his many accomplishments and responsibilities, Dr. Lilles now teaches theology for the Avila Institute.

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About Anthony Lilles

Anthony Lilles, a graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville, completed his graduate and post-graduate studies in Rome at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas. He and his lovely wife, Agnes, are blessed with three children and live in California, where he is the Academic Dean, and Associate Professor of Theology, St. John's Seminary, Archdiocese of Los Angeles, and Academic Advisor at Juan Diego House, House of Formation for Seminarians. For over twenty years, Dr. Lilles worked for the Denver Archdiocese directing parish religious education, R.C.I.A. and youth ministry, as well as serving as Director of the Office of Liturgy for the Archdiocese and as Coordinator of Spiritual Formation for the permanent diaconate. In 1999, he became a founding faculty member of St. John Vianney Theological Seminary where he was Academic Dean for nine years and Associate Professor of Theology. He is a Board Member for the Society of Catholic Liturgy. Dr. Lilles has provided graduate level courses on a variety of topics including the Eucharist, the Sacraments of Healing, Church History, Spiritual Theology, Spiritual Direction and on various classics of Catholic Spirituality. His expertise is in the spiritual doctrine of Saint Elisabeth of the Trinity and the Carmelite Doctors of the Church: St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross and St. Thérèse of Lisieux. In 2012, Discerning Hearts published his book "Hidden Mountain, Secret Garden: A Theological Contemplation on Prayer," a compilation of discussions with seminarians, students, and contemplatives about the spiritual life. He collaborated with Dan Burke on the books "30 Days with Teresa of Avila" and "Living the Mystery of Merciful Love: 30 Days with Thérèse of Lisieux". And, his book "Fire from Above" was published in 2016. Among his many accomplishments and responsibilities, Dr. Lilles now teaches theology for the Avila Institute. He blogs at

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  • abandon56

    Thank you for this, Dr. Lilles. Very timely reflection. I wasn’t expecting the “noise” in the text to refer to this nasty vice of vain honor. Your piece has helped articulate the phenomenon I have noticed in myself and others without having been able to identify it until now. Thanks for the sharing John of Avila’s affirmation to avoid this irrational noise that is prevalent in ourselves and our parishes as well as our culture. Will pass this consoling and convicting reflection on to my husband, who will especially appreciate it. God bless you!

  • Anthony_Lilles

    You are very welcome … I had the same response as you when I first read this text by Saint John of Avila. Yet the insight is so powerful and true.

  • jrbarrytx

    All I can say is “wow”! Very profound and confirmed why I have chosen not to listen to talk radio anymore nor most of the news sources as I was becoming someone I did not like very much and certainly listened more to these than the voice of God. Thank you for this! Jackie

    • Anthony_Lilles

      Thank you for this comment Jackie – What you have done is so important. When we are not vigilant with entertainment media like the radio, we are vulnerable to all kinds of contention and at the same time lose a little silence we need for prayer.

  • jrbarrytx

    And by the way, I just bought your book Hidden Garden Secret Mountain because of this posting.

    • Anthony_Lilles

      Thank you … I am honored and I hope the book is a blessing for you.

  • Amy

    Brilliant article exposing the enemy’s demonic plan. The first two commandments are still what every good thing comes from: love of God first above all else and love of neighbor as ourselves.

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