December 14, 2015

December 14th – Memorial of Saint John of the Cross

St. John of the CrossSaint John of the Cross (1542-1591) was born and died in Spain. His parents were destitute and could not afford to give him training in any profession. Hence, John became the servant of the sick in the hospital of Medina. In 1563, he entered the Carmelite friars as a lay brother. Perceiving his unusual talents, the friars ordained him a priest. John was about to join the more severe Carthusians Order when the saintly Teresa [of Avila] persuaded him to remain and assist her in reforming the Carmelites.

The reform caused John much suffering and brought him many trials. These difficulties served to detach him from creature comforts. John had a great devotion to Our Lord's Passion and voluntarily sought out humiliations. When Our Lord asked him what reward he desired for his labors, John answered: "To suffer and to be despised for Thee." He died embracing the crucifix. Because of St. John's profound writings on mystical theology, Pope Pius XI proclaimed him a Doctor of the Church on August 24, 1926. [Video below.]

The Life of St. John of the Cross

St. John of the Cross [Spanish: San Juan de la Cruz] the Castilian son of a poor silk weaver of Fontiberos, Toledo, Spain, was born in 1542. His father, of noble birth, had married a woman beneath him in social standing. For that offense he had been entirely cut off by his family. As a result, John's father took up silk weaving, but struggled to earn a livelihood. Soon after John's birth, he died, worn out by the effort to support his wife and three children. The family was left in dire poverty and the children grew up undernourished, resulting in John's diminished physical stature.

Unable to learn a trade, John became the servant of the poor in the hospital in Medina, while pursuing his sacred studies. In 1563, at the age of twenty-one, he humbly offered himself as a lay-brother to the Carmelite friars. The friars, knowing his talents ordained him a priest. John would have entered the Carthusian Order, had not St. Teresa of Avila persuaded him to remain and help her in the reform of the Carmelites.

John became the first prior of the Discalced ["barefoot"] Carmelites. His reform, though approved by the general council, was rejected by the elder friars, who condemned him as a fugitive and apostate, and cast him into prison. After nine months' of brutal captivity, during which John nearly lost his life, he escaped. Twice more, before his death, he was shamefully persecuted by the friars, and publicly disgraced. This complete abandonment and humiliation by his brethren only deepened John's interior peace and devout longing for heaven.

St. John was a great contemplative. He is also known for his writings. St. John's poetry and studies on the growth of the soul are considered the height of mystical literature. His Spiritual Canticle and the Dark Night of the Soul are seminal masterpieces of Spanish poetry. St. John was proclaimed Doctor of the Church by Pope Pius XI in 1926. He is the patron of contemplative life, mystical theology, mystics, and Spanish poets.

Adapted excerpt from Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints © 1878 and Saints for Sinners by Alban Goodier, S.J.

Collect Prayer

O God, who gave the Priest Saint John an outstanding dedication to perfect self-denial and love of the Cross, grant that, by imitating him closely at all times, we may come to contemplate eternally your glory. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

St. John of the Cross' Mystical Verse
Mine are the heavens and mine is the earth. Mine are the nations, the just are mine and mine the sinners. The angels are mine, and the Mother of God, and all things are mine; and God himself is mine and for me, because Christ is mine and all for me. What do you ask, then, and seek my soul? Yours is all of this, and all is for you. Do not engage your self in something less or pay heed to the crumbs that fall from your Father's table. Go forth and exult in your Glory! Hide yourself in it and rejoice, and you will obtain the supplications of your heart.
From Sayings of Light and Love, 26-27 — St. John of the Cross

Who was St. John of the Cross?

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