St John of the Cross

Priest and Doctor of the Church (entered heaven on this day in 1591)

Dear John,

Difficulties in prayer again?  Good. It’s a sure sign that you are growing up, in the spiritual sense.  When we are spiritual novices, God gives us plenty of candy – prayer is sweet, it takes little effort, liturgical celebrations arouse feelings of warmth and happiness… our emotions are effortlessly in tune with our faith, which helps us keep in contact with the sources of grace, especially the sacraments and personal prayer.  But as we grow, God begins to wean us off our emotional dependency; he invites us to deepen our love by clinging to him more and more out of faith and trust that depends less on feelings and more on love. When the honeymoon is over, real love has a chance to go into action, and real love always demands self-denial, sacrifice, the endurance of hardship: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13)

This is the great lesson learned so thoroughly and taught so eloquently by today’s saint.  John of the Cross was recruited by that other remarkable Doctor of the Church, St Teresa of Avila, to extend to the Carmelite monks and priests the reform she had initiated with the Carmelite nuns.  It entailed a return to the more primitive Carmelite practices, which the founders of the Order had begun in the Holy Land back in the 12th century: more austere poverty, more silence, more time spent in contemplative prayer, more geographical stability.  John and Teresa established four houses of these “discalced” Carmelite friars (referring to their minimalist footwear, an expression of their evangelical poverty and a means for practicing penance) before controversy boiled over.  

The unreformed Carmelites resented John and began to make things difficult for him.  In all truth, there was quite a bit of legitimate confusion and misunderstanding on both sides, but the upshot was that John ended up being imprisoned, calumniated, stripped of his positions, and repeatedly abused throughout the second half of his life (he died when he was only 49).  To top off these exterior trials, God supplied him with considerably more difficult interior hardship. He endured torturous scruples, spiritual barrenness, and violent interior temptations. Of course, the Lord also graced him with moments of sweet consolation and a rich reservoir of vibrant faith and passionate love.  Drawing from this divine school of Christian wisdom, he produced his masterful works (poems and commentaries) on the spiritual life, best known among which is “The Ascent of Mt Carmel.” For these, in 1929 he was named a Doctor of the Universal Church.

So don’t fret the labors that prayer is causing you these days.  Persevere with faith and love, and your heart too will widen and deepen and expand, making plenty of room to receive the floods of grace that God is preparing to send you (and to send to others through you).  In the meantime, count on my spiritual support.

Your affectionate uncle, Eddy

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One Comment
  1. Thank you for the opportunity to share the spiritual wisdom of the Word of. God of holy people whose loves were filled with the Love of God and the salvation of souls.?

    THANKS! BE given to Godf for all its goodness and blessing. To us….

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