Saint John Of The Cross

Themes

Saint John of the Cross – “I abandoned and forgot myself, laying my face on
my Beloved; all things ceased; I went out from myself, leaving my cares
forgotten among the lilies.” John of the Cross is one of the acknowledged
masters of mystical theology. It is thought among present day theologians that
there is no other writer who has had a greater influence on Catholic
spirituality than John of the Cross. He is a canonized saint of the Catholic
Church and was made a Doctor of the Church because of his extreme influence on
present day doctrine. His dedication as a leader in service is surpassed only by
his deep faith in the workings of the Trinity through Jesus on earth as a model
and the Holy Spirit as our guide to a life of spirituality. John of the Cross
was born Juan de Yepes in 1542 to a poor family of Spanish nobility. When John
was a boy, he attended a school for poor children, gaining a basic education,
and the opportunity to learn skills from local craftsmen. When he was 17, John
began to work at the Plague Hospital de la Concepcion, and its founder offered
to let him attend the Jesuit College, so long as he did not neglect his hospital
duties. From 1559 to 1563, John studied with the Jesuits, learning Latin, Greek,
and other subjects. He was offered the chance to study for the secular
priesthood, which would have given him material security, but he felt God was
calling him to Religious life. At age 20, he entered the Carmelite Order, being
clothed with the habit on February 24, 1563, and taking the name Juan de Santo
Matia (John of Saint Matthias). He was ordained in 1567, and said his first Mass
in Medina del Campo. During that trip, he first met Teresa of Avila, and she
encouraged him to promote her reform among the men’s Order. John spent much of
his time working for the reformation of the Carmelite Order and in the overall
service of others. However, there were said problems with his ideas of reform
from certain members of his Order. On the night of December 2, 1577, a group of
Carmelites, lay people, and men-at-arms broke into Johns quarters, seized
him, and took him away. The men led John away, handcuffed, and blindfolded, to a
monastery in Toledo. John stood accused of being rebellious and as an overall
threat to the Order. John would have to submit to the demands of the Order, or
undergo severe punishment. Nonetheless, John refused to renounce the reform in
which he so truly had faith. John was locked up in the monastery prison because
of his strong convictions toward reform. He was placed in a windowless dark room
of six by ten feet, with little light, and with little air. This hole of a cell
was exposed to the terribly cold winter months and the suffocating heat of the
summer months. This, aside for the beatings, the filth, the forced fasting, and
the lice, made it an unfavorable situation for anyone. However, John did not see
the situation as the rest of humanity would see it. John found the situation to
be a blessing because he was able to remove all of his earthly needs and
desires, and find the true place where God was hidden. God brought John his
greatest joys in those times of pain and suffering. In a sense, the oppressors
whom imprisoned John, gave him what he truly wanted. God. In time, John was able
to escape the prison cell in which he was held by physically unscrewing the
bolts on his door. Thought to be achieved miraculously by some, John was able to
creep past the guards, climb down the wall, and regain his freedom. From the
time of his escape until the time of his death, John devoted his life to the
sharing and explaining of his experience of the Lords grace and love.

“Saint John of the Cross, in the darkness of your worst moments, when you
were alone and persecuted, you found God. Help me to have faith that God is
there 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 to
again take up his mission of reform far away from the conflicts and threats that
impeded him prior. He never cared to go over the past and talk about his
imprisonment. He bore no animosity toward his oppressors; nor did he complain or
boast about the suffering that he had endured. Because of his experience, John
was now more than ever before, able to appreciate the natural world around him.

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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 of
nature spoke to him. God was present everywhere. “Come and see these little
creatures of God. How well they worship the Almighty!” John found it
impossible to ignore any person of the world who was in personal distress.


However, John did not limit himself to only assisting others who were seeking
spiritual enlightenment, but he looked for ways to help those with material
needs 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 lengths
to help out his fellow man in the least. Further, this lifestyle of service did
not end at the material needs of others, but transmitted in the physical needs
of the sick. Taking pains to show the most delicate sympathy for the sick, he
knew how to care for them, comfort them, and give them hope. He would not allow
the question of money to interfere with his desire to give his sick friars the
best possible care. He was a true leader in service. “It was out of this
poverty and suffering, that John learned to search for beauty and happiness not
in the world, but in God.” But Johns deepest concern was for those
persons who were suffering in their spiritual life. In his oral teachings, John
used 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 them
achieve that spiritual understanding. In his spiritual direction of others, John
focused on the communion with God in faith, hope, and love. Ultimately, the way
to 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 value
when suffered with and for Christ. John recognized that we could not understand
the truth of Christ without the Holy Spirit, the basis of our personal
spirituality. He wanted everyone to find comfort in the thought that however
severe it may be, purification is still the work of God’s gentle hand, clearing
away the debris of attachment and making room for the divine light. Hard
physical labor in the service of others attracted him because he knew how
important it was for him to achieve that true spiritual awareness. John did what
needed to be done. “What more do you want, o soul! And what else do you
search for outside, when within yourself you possess your riches, delights,
satisfaction and Kingdom — your Beloved whom you desire and seek? Desire Him
there, adore Him there; Do not go in pursuit of Him outside yourself. You will
only become distracted and you won’t find Him, or enjoy Him more than by seeking
Him within you.” One of the main sources that gave John of the Cross his
great inspiration was the Bible. The Bible, which he cherished most of all
worldly objects, helped him understand the mystery of the three Persons of the
Trinity. This further understanding of the Trinity allowed John to help himself
and 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 that
cherished understanding in which he received through his personal pains and
suffering. This spiritual journey was and is for every person. For John, the
Bible served as a living and unfailing wellspring. Its waters pervade the entire
being of this mystical thinker, poet, and writer. The Bible was his hymnal, his
meditation book, a book for travel, for contemplation, and for writing.


Scriptural quotations throughout his works show how deeply he had assimilated
the Divine Word, but he never keeps to a single exegetical style; and the reader
might find this disconcerting. For John, he was able to visualize ways in which
the biblical texts could assist him in his ministry of spiritual direction. The
Bible 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 a
guide through the journey of life. John discovered a close alliance between
biblical history and his own personal history, and was able to use that
connection of past experiences with his own personal experiences. John of the
Cross was a very influential individual in the Catholic Church who further
extended the lifestyle of service in which Christ instilled. Although most
people would gather that John might have been angered or disillusioned by his
imprisonment, persecution, and suffering throughout his life, rather Johns
reaction was quite the opposite. These painful events in his life transformed
him 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 with
the Blessed Trinity. Through suffering like Christ suffered, John was able to
achieve that spiritual enlightenment. John fell ill at the end of his life in a
very small village on a service trip to Mexico. John died as he had prayed for
throughout his ministry of service: without honors, without material comfort,
and with great suffering. These pains and great suffering were voluntarily taken
up to exemplify the suffering of Christ. His persecutions throughout his life
were voluntarily taken up taken up to exemplify the suffering of Christ. This
was his faith, and this was how he lived and died. “Whoever wishes to come
after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” John of the
Cross was 49 when he died. He was beatified in 1675, canonized as a saint in
1726, and declared a Doctor of the Church in 1926. His life was a never-ending
pursuit 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 his
spiritually enlightened understanding of the life and actions of Christ. He was
truly a Man for Others.


Bibliography
Payne, Steven. John of the Cross and the Cognitive Value of Mysticism. Kluwer
Academic 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. Sheed
and Ward Ltd. London, England 1952. Wilhelmsen, Elizabeth. Knowledge and
Symbolization in Saint John of the Cross. Verlag Peter Lang GmbH. Volume 41,
Frankfurt, Germany 1993. Wojotyla, Karol. Faith According to Saint John of the
Cross. Saint Ignatius Press. San Francisco, California, The United States 1981.


The Bible