Saint John of the Cross – “I abandoned and forgot myself, laying my face onmy Beloved; all things ceased; I went out from myself, leaving my caresforgotten among the lilies.
” John of the Cross is one of the acknowledgedmasters of mystical theology. It is thought among present day theologians thatthere is no other writer who has had a greater influence on Catholicspirituality than John of the Cross. He is a canonized saint of the CatholicChurch and was made a Doctor of the Church because of his extreme influence onpresent day doctrine. His dedication as a leader in service is surpassed only byhis deep faith in the workings of the Trinity through Jesus on earth as a modeland the Holy Spirit as our guide to a life of spirituality. John of the Crosswas born Juan de Yepes in 1542 to a poor family of Spanish nobility. When Johnwas a boy, he attended a school for poor children, gaining a basic education,and the opportunity to learn skills from local craftsmen.Order now
When he was 17, Johnbegan to work at the Plague Hospital de la Concepcion, and its founder offeredto let him attend the Jesuit College, so long as he did not neglect his hospitalduties. From 1559 to 1563, John studied with the Jesuits, learning Latin, Greek,and other subjects. He was offered the chance to study for the secularpriesthood, which would have given him material security, but he felt God wascalling him to Religious life. At age 20, he entered the Carmelite Order, beingclothed with the habit on February 24, 1563, and taking the name Juan de SantoMatia (John of Saint Matthias). He was ordained in 1567, and said his first Massin Medina del Campo. During that trip, he first met Teresa of Avila, and sheencouraged him to promote her reform among the men’s Order.
John spent much ofhis time working for the reformation of the Carmelite Order and in the overallservice of others. However, there were said problems with his ideas of reformfrom certain members of his Order. On the night of December 2, 1577, a group ofCarmelites, lay people, and men-at-arms broke into Johns quarters, seizedhim, and took him away. The men led John away, handcuffed, and blindfolded, to amonastery in Toledo. John stood accused of being rebellious and as an overallthreat to the Order. John would have to submit to the demands of the Order, orundergo severe punishment.
Nonetheless, John refused to renounce the reform inwhich he so truly had faith. John was locked up in the monastery prison becauseof his strong convictions toward reform. He was placed in a windowless dark roomof six by ten feet, with little light, and with little air. This hole of a cellwas exposed to the terribly cold winter months and the suffocating heat of thesummer months. This, aside for the beatings, the filth, the forced fasting, andthe lice, made it an unfavorable situation for anyone. However, John did not seethe situation as the rest of humanity would see it.
John found the situation tobe a blessing because he was able to remove all of his earthly needs anddesires, and find the true place where God was hidden. God brought John hisgreatest joys in those times of pain and suffering. In a sense, the oppressorswhom imprisoned John, gave him what he truly wanted. God. In time, John was ableto escape the prison cell in which he was held by physically unscrewing thebolts on his door. Thought to be achieved miraculously by some, John was able tocreep past the guards, climb down the wall, and regain his freedom.
From thetime of his escape until the time of his death, John devoted his life to thesharing and explaining of his experience of the Lords grace and love. “Saint John of the Cross, in the darkness of your worst moments, when youwere alone and persecuted, you found God. Help me to have faith that God isthere especially in the times when God seems absent and far away. Amen. “After his time in the monastery prison and his eventual escape, John was able toagain take up his mission of reform far away from the conflicts and threats thatimpeded him prior. He never cared to go over the past and talk about hisimprisonment.
He bore no animosity toward his oppressors; nor did he complain orboast about the suffering that he had endured. Because of his experience, Johnwas now more than ever before, able to appreciate the natural world around him. John was now able to listen to all of nature through his senses; the flowers,the whistling breezes, the night, the dawn; all were manifestations of the Lord. This seemed to be one of Johns only vices, if it could fairly be called that. John could not easily resist the enchantment of nature. John was ver much human.
The rushing streams, the flowers in the field, the vast mountains, and all ofnature spoke to him. God was present everywhere. “Come and see these littlecreatures of God. How well they worship the Almighty!” John found itimpossible to ignore any person of the world who was in personal distress.
However, John did not limit himself to only assisting others who were seekingspiritual enlightenment, but he looked for ways to help those with materialneeds as well. John was a selfless man who lived for the service of others. There were countless examples and stories of how John would go to great lengthsto help out his fellow man in the least. Further, this lifestyle of service didnot end at the material needs of others, but transmitted in the physical needsof the sick. Taking pains to show the most delicate sympathy for the sick, heknew how to care for them, comfort them, and give them hope.
He would not allowthe question of money to interfere with his desire to give his sick friars thebest possible care. He was a true leader in service. “It was out of thispoverty and suffering, that John learned to search for beauty and happiness notin the world, but in God. ” But Johns deepest concern was for thosepersons who were suffering in their spiritual life. In his oral teachings, Johnused to point out that the more you love God, the more you grow spiritually.
Further, the growth that he desired was to include all people and help themachieve that spiritual understanding. In his spiritual direction of others, Johnfocused on the communion with God in faith, hope, and love. Ultimately, the wayto truly receive that spiritual life was to follow those teachings of faith,hope, and love as Christ did. Pain for John was not a misfortune but a valuewhen suffered with and for Christ.
John recognized that we could not understandthe truth of Christ without the Holy Spirit, the basis of our personalspirituality. He wanted everyone to find comfort in the thought that howeversevere it may be, purification is still the work of God’s gentle hand, clearingaway the debris of attachment and making room for the divine light. Hardphysical labor in the service of others attracted him because he knew howimportant it was for him to achieve that true spiritual awareness. John did whatneeded to be done. “What more do you want, o soul! And what else do yousearch for outside, when within yourself you possess your riches, delights,satisfaction and Kingdom — your Beloved whom you desire and seek? Desire Himthere, adore Him there; Do not go in pursuit of Him outside yourself. You willonly become distracted and you won’t find Him, or enjoy Him more than by seekingHim within you.
” One of the main sources that gave John of the Cross hisgreat inspiration was the Bible. The Bible, which he cherished most of allworldly objects, helped him understand the mystery of the three Persons of theTrinity. This further understanding of the Trinity allowed John to help himselfand encourage others to achieve such a level of enlightenment. As stated prior,John spent his entire life in the service of others and sought to spread thatcherished understanding in which he received through his personal pains andsuffering. This spiritual journey was and is for every person. For John, theBible served as a living and unfailing wellspring.
Its waters pervade the entirebeing of this mystical thinker, poet, and writer. The Bible was his hymnal, hismeditation book, a book for travel, for contemplation, and for writing. Scriptural quotations throughout his works show how deeply he had assimilatedthe Divine Word, but he never keeps to a single exegetical style; and the readermight find this disconcerting. For John, he was able to visualize ways in whichthe biblical texts could assist him in his ministry of spiritual direction.
TheBible offered John a viable expression of his own personal spiritual experience. The Bible was a confirmation of his theological reform and ministry. Further,John was able to enjoy and follow the practice of using scriptural passages as aguide through the journey of life. John discovered a close alliance betweenbiblical history and his own personal history, and was able to use thatconnection of past experiences with his own personal experiences. John of theCross was a very influential individual in the Catholic Church who furtherextended the lifestyle of service in which Christ instilled.
Although mostpeople would gather that John might have been angered or disillusioned by hisimprisonment, persecution, and suffering throughout his life, rather Johnsreaction was quite the opposite. These painful events in his life transformedhim into a man of charity who held a deep compassion for those who suffered. John saw a clear vision of the beauty of Gods creation and its intimacy withthe Blessed Trinity. Through suffering like Christ suffered, John was able toachieve that spiritual enlightenment.
John fell ill at the end of his life in avery small village on a service trip to Mexico. John died as he had prayed forthroughout his ministry of service: without honors, without material comfort,and with great suffering. These pains and great suffering were voluntarily takenup to exemplify the suffering of Christ. His persecutions throughout his lifewere voluntarily taken up taken up to exemplify the suffering of Christ.
Thiswas his faith, and this was how he lived and died. “Whoever wishes to comeafter me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. ” John of theCross was 49 when he died. He was beatified in 1675, canonized as a saint in1726, and declared a Doctor of the Church in 1926. His life was a never-endingpursuit of that ministry of service and compassion that Christ instilled prior.
John of the Cross was and still is a man to be patterned after because of hisspiritually enlightened understanding of the life and actions of Christ. He wastruly a Man for Others. BibliographyPayne, Steven. John of the Cross and the Cognitive Value of Mysticism. KluwerAcademic Publishers. Volume 37, Dordrecht, The Netherlands 1990.
Swietlicki,Catherine. Spanish Christian Cabala. University of Missouri Press. Columbia,Missouri, The United States 1986. Three Mystics.
Father Bruno de J. M. , ed. Sheedand Ward Ltd. London, England 1952.
Wilhelmsen, Elizabeth. Knowledge andSymbolization in Saint John of the Cross. Verlag Peter Lang GmbH. Volume 41,Frankfurt, Germany 1993.
Wojotyla, Karol. Faith According to Saint John of theCross. Saint Ignatius Press. San Francisco, California, The United States 1981.The Bible