December 13, 2016

Memorial of Saint John of the Cross, Spanish Mystic

St. John of the Cross December 14th, is the memorial of Saint John of the Cross, (1542-1591) the 16th century Spanish Carmelite priest, mystic-poet, theologian, and Doctor of the Church, who was instrumental in the Counter-Reformation. Born Juan de Yepes He was the youngest child of a poor silk weaver in the village of Fontiberos, Toledo, Spain. From the very start, John yearned for God.

His father was of noble birth; he had married much beneath him, and for that offense had been entirely cut off by his family. He took up silk weaving as his livelihood, but did not profit greatly from it. Soon after John was born, his father died, leaving the family in dire poverty.

His family was unable to pay for an apprenticeship. John became the servant of the poor in the hospital of Medina, while pursuing his sacred studies. In 1563, at the age of 21 he offered himself as a lay-brother to the Carmelite friars, who, knowing his intellectual gifts, ordained him a priest. He once contemplated entering the Carthusian Order, however, Saint Teresa of Avila persuaded him to remain and assist her in the reform of the Carmelites.

Shortly thereafter, he became the first prior of the Discalced Carmelites. His reform, though approved by the superior general, was rejected by the elder friars. They condemned the future saint as an apostate and cast him into prison. After nine months of intense suffering, he escaped. Twice more, before his death, he was shamefully persecuted by his brethren, and publicly disgraced. This total abandonment by creatures deepened his interior peace and longing for heaven.

St. John was a great mystic who frequently contemplated in prayer Christ’s Passion and Death on the cross. This excerpt from his work, the Spiritual Canticle, was composed while the saint was in prison. It is used in the Roman office of readings for his feast. It shows that the only path to profound knowledge of God is through tribulation and suffering. Despite its difficulties, the path of holiness is worth traveling. St. John encourages us to dig deeply into Christ:
We must then dig deeply in Christ. He is like a rich mine with many pockets containing treasures: however deep we dig we will never find their end or their limit. Indeed, in every pocket new seams of fresh riches are discovered on all sides. For this reason, the apostle Paul said of Christ: In him are hidden all the treasures of the wisdom and knowledge of God. The soul cannot enter into these treasures, nor attain them, unless it first crosses into and enters the thicket of suffering, enduring interior and exterior labors, and unless it first receives from God very many blessings in the intellect and in the senses, and has undergone long spiritual training.
It is widely held that St. John's poetry was influential on medieval thought and mystic literature generally. Although his complete poems add up to fewer than 2500 verses, two of them, the Spiritual Canticle and the Dark Night of the Soul, are considered masterpieces of Spanish poetry. He died in the monastery at Úbeda after a brief, but painful illness on December 14, 1591. He was proclaimed Doctor of the Church by Pope Pius XI on August 24, 1926. He is the patron of contemplative life, mystical theology, mystics, and Spanish poets. Almighty, ever living 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 unending glory and unrivaled love.

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