Wednesday, December 13, 2006

S. Juan de la Cruz

The lover of the Beloved, St. John of the Cross.
This image is one of my favorites of the saint - it's a poor reproduction however, the original is much richer in color and somewhat darker. Yet I love how he is portrayed, as well as his physical countenance - much as I imagine him. So many painters today like to portray him rather dark complected or even Moorish. He was a Spaniard. Spaniards are European - he looked like this I believe.
Why do I love him so much?
(He was a little guy - you maybe could have picked him up and hugged him. Holy Mother made fun of him and called him "half a friar". Therefore I was always pleased that Fray Juan de la Miserie painted her as he did, eliciting her comment, "You made me ugly". Holy Mother had some issues with vanity and status - she admits that.)
His writings are so accessible, yet lofty and learned, his mystical insights into biblical passages are ever so enlightening - even enthralling.
He was so full of charity and deeply humble. As Novice Master, he always made a noise with his rosary to forewarn the novices of his approach.
Imprisoned for the reform of Carmel, he was the model of patience and charity, and mercy.
This painting depicts the moment Our Lord invited him to ask for any grace, and John made his request, "To suffer and be despised". At the end of his life this was fulfilled even then. When he was dying, he lived at a house wherein the Prior disliked him and was a source of great suffering. Although at the end, the Prior was reconciled to the saint.
St. John plumbed the depths of suffering in his lived experience. So many people mistake him for a sort of mystical sado-masochist - nothing is further from the truth. St John of the Cross and his doctrine are all radiance and light, charity and love. Love is his doctrine, love of Jesus crucified - not suffering for suffering sake - that is a perversion. Nevertheless suffering is the lot of all mankind in this vale of tears, love alone transforms it into that which is redemptive and unifying with the Divine. This is his secret.
He was a practical mystic, fully engaged in the everyday duties of life, employing himself in the most mundane duties of the monastery, with special solicitation for the ill and infirm.
Never ever be intimidated by this saint, nor his writings. His writings were food for the soul of St. Therese of the Child Jesus, the saint of "The Little Way", which I always maintain is the pure doctrine of St. John made palatable for little, as well as lofty souls in modern times.
For Advent, consider this tender poem of his:
"The Virgin, weighed
With the Word of God
Comes down the road:
If only you will shelter her." -S. John of the Cross
This is from the man who danced in ecstasy as he placed the Divine Infant Jesus in the creche, after the monastery posada, one Christmas eve.
Love him and read him - don't try to be him, just let his doctrine ruminate in your soul, let him teach you how to follow Jesus upon that narrow way that leads to life. He is the gentlest of guides.
St. John of the Cross, pray for me that I might be converted and begin to follow Jesus. Pray for all souls who seek salvation in Jesus Crucified, yet are tempted to despair of the rugged road, and their own weakness and failings. Never has it been known that you rejected the sinner who turns to you for help in this dark night of faith!
(I never understood why Holy Mother Teresa of Jesus turned to Gratian rather than St. John - although they were compatriots and co-reformers, and she esteemed him greatly. Something to ask when we get to heaven I guess. I didn't like Gratian myself, and always attributed her fondness for him to Teresa's vanity - Oh! my! gosh! How presumptuous of me! Nevertheless, I always found her a bit "over the top" in her esteem for Gratian.)


  1. Clare9:14 PM

    I don't think it was vanity that drew St. Teresa to Gratian. He was the "son" of hers who needed mothering; she loved and worried about him like a mother hen. And given some of the less than stellar moves he made in the Order, she was right to worry.

    On the other hand, St. John of the Cross, was the one to whom she was most connected and trusted. However, they had fewer opportunities to speak to each other face to face than she and Gratian.

    That's my take anyway....


  2. Thank you Clare, that's very insightful - I tend to be too flip.
    Happy feast day!

  3. You flip? (she types with a wink and a giggle)

    Perhaps, but spiritually astute. Most run screaming from the writings of St. John of the Cross. Yet, you captured the essence of how to read his writings in so few words; nothing short of amazing.

    And the other thing about St. Teresa and Gracian that I forgot. The Lord gave him to her as a spiritual director and she pledged unfailing obedience. He tried her many times with that "power" he was given. And she knew it. How she was so obedient I have NO idea....

    O and belated apologies for confusing Cistercians with Carthusians in a previous comment. The mind plays tricks after 50 you know...

    Now I'll stop being wordy, head back into the shadows and go read your new stuff.

    (Pardon for being so late with this reply....)


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