Acta Sanctorum: St. John of the Cross (Dec 14)
December 14, 2023
Fr. John Colacino C.PP.S.

December 14
St. John of the Cross
Life. (1542-1591)

The “ideal man” of the Renaissance was one who was an expert in everything. But nobody can be a complete expert. The Spaniard John Yepes (St. John of the Cross) was all thumbs when he tried to learn how to weave. But after he entered the Carmelites in 1563 he blossomed into one of history’s greatest spiritual geniuses.

Already given to much self-denial when he became a Carmelite, John got permission to follow the order’s original, stricter rule of life. When he was about to celebrate his first Mass, he met St. Theresa of Avila. Entrusted with the reform of the Carmelites, both women and men, Theresa asked him to head a house of observant Carmelites at Duruelo. He accepted the task gladly, and the reformed group, because they wore sandals rather than shoes, came to be known as the “Discalced” (“shoeless”) Carmelites.

On moving to Duruelo, John changed his religious name from John of Matthias to John of the Cross. The change was intentional and prophetic. He spent the rest of his life seeking to imitate Christ by accepting, even seeking, every possible humiliation.

Much of that humiliation came from those of his fellow Carmelites who disapproved of his campaign for the stricter rule. Thus in 1577 some confreres seized him and demanded that he renounce his reformist efforts. When he said he could not, for he was acting on papal authority, they beat him bloodily, denied him the privilege of saying Mass, and imprisoned him for nine months in a dark monastic cell six by nine feet. Eventually he escaped and carried on his work elsewhere. But he did not blame his misguided persecutors. Indeed, it was while in prison that he wrote “The Spiritual Canticle,” the first of his many important treatises on spirituality, composed in exalted prose and poetry.

Little by little the Carmelite reform gained ground; but even as he grew older, experiencing the heights of prayer, St. John was mistreated by some of his fellow Carmelites. On the basis of mere suspicion, the Carmelite vicar general stripped him of his offices and sent him to a remote monastery. Another friar, playing “private eye,” sought out possible evidence to discredit Father John. Other Carmelites became timid about being thought too friendly towards him. When John took seriously ill in September 1591, his superior denied him sufficient medical care and refused him visitors. Fortunately, the general superiors learned of this neglect and rebuked the guilty man. But when John of the Cross died on December 14, 1591, he was still under a cloud in his own religious order.

All that changes after his death. St. Teresa had said, years before, “The people take him for a saint, and in my opinion he has been one all his life.” Now even his previous enemies among the Carmelites hailed the deceased friar as truly holy. In 1726 Pope Benedict XIII canonized him; and two centuries later Pope Pius XI declared him, by reason of his spiritual writings, a “doctor of the Church.”

Activist Catholics may not be attracted to a saint like John of the Cross because he embraced passivity and self-immolation. “Seek preferably,” he had advised, “not the easiest, but the hardest. Not what comforts you but what grieves you. Not what is best in anything but what is worst.”

Few of us are called to such a radical program, even though we surely realize that God always rewards such self-giving with strength to carry on, and rare graces besides. But St. John of the Cross still reminds us by his life that Jesus calls on us all, according to the measure of grace He grants to each of us, to heed His command, “Learn of Me for I am meek and humble of heart.”

--Father Robert F. McNamara

Scripture.    1 Corinthians 2:1-10a
When I came to you, brothers and sisters, proclaiming the mystery of God, I did not come with sublimity of words or of wisdom. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear and much trembling, and my message and my proclamation were not with persuasive words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of spirit and power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.  Yet we do speak a wisdom to those who are mature, but not a wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age who are passing away. Rather, we speak God’s wisdom, mysterious, hidden, which God predetermined before the ages for our glory, and which none of the rulers of this age knew for, if they had known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But as it is written:
What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard,
  and what has not entered the human heart,
  what God has prepared for those who love him,
this God has revealed to us through the Spirit.

(Year B). One dark night,
fired with love's urgent longings
- ah, the sheer grace! -
I went out unseen,
my house being now all stilled.

In darkness, and secure,
by the secret ladder, disguised,
- ah, the sheer grace! -
in darkness and concealment,
my house being now all stilled.

On that glad night
in secret, for no one saw me,
nor did I look at anything
with no other light or guide
than the One that burned in my heart.

This guided me
more surely than the light of noon
to where he was awaiting me
- him I knew so well -
there in a place where no one appeared.

O guiding night!
O night more lovely than the dawn!
O night that has united
the Lover with his beloved,
transforming the Beloved into his Lover.

Upon my flowering breast,
which I kept wholly for him alone,
there he lay sleeping,
and I caressing him
there in a breeze from the fanning cedars.

When the breeze blew from the turret,
as I parted his hair,
it wounded my neck
with its gentle hand,
suspending all my senses.

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.

Musical Selection
Oh, Living Flame of Love
Tenderly wound my soul
To its deepest inner heart
Without oppression!
Come consumate our love
Tear through the veil of our union
If it be your will, come and rend
The veil of the temple!
Oh, lamps of fire
In deep caverns of feeling
Once obscured and blind
Are now leading
In the warmth and the passion
Of your love
Yet gently Your hand does wound
As You rend through the veil of my temple
Come and take this life that I give
So that I might come to live in this our dying
Oh, Living Flame of Love
Tenderly wound my soul
To its deepest inner heart
Without oppression!
O God, 
the judge of all, 
who gave your servant John of the Cross 
a warmth of nature, a strength of purpose 
and a mystical faith that sustained him even in the darkness: 
shed your light on all who love you 
and grant them union of body and soul 
in your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, 
who lives and reigns with you, 
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
God, for ever and ever. Amen. (English Missal)