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St John of The Cross – ” A warmth of nature”

On  December 14th St John of The Cross is remembered in the Common Worship Lectionary.

Here is my humble offering on this ” Poet and Teacher of The Faith”

On December 14th  in the Common Worhsip Lectionary St John of The Cross is given a feast day. Given how throughout his life he often had to confront some very dark human situations with the light of God, it seems appropriate to give him a few minutes reflection during this season of Advent. 

John was born in Spain in 1542 and learnt much about self-sacrificing love from his parents.

His father had come from a noble family, but when he married a weaver’s daughter, his family disowned him. After his father died, his mother kept the destitute family together as they wandered looking for work. But at a very early age, John learnt to cope with deprivation by focusing on his one great love – the love of God.

When the family finally found work, John still went hungry in the middle of the wealthiest city in Spain. At fourteen, John took a job caring for hospital patients who suffered from incurable diseases and madness. It was out of this poverty and suffering, that John learned to search for beauty and happiness not in the world, but in God’s love and light.

After John joined the Carmelite order, Saint Teresa of Avila asked him to help her reform movement. John supported her belief that the order should return to its life of prayer. But many Carmelites felt threatened by this reform, and some members of John’s own order kidnapped him.

He was locked in a cell six feet by ten feet and beaten three times a week by the monks. There was only one tiny window high up near the ceiling. Yet in that unbearable dark, cold, and desolation, his love and faith were like fire and light. He had nothing left but God — and God brought John his greatest joys in that tiny cell.

After nine months, John escaped by unscrewing the lock on his door and creeping past the guard. Taking only the mystical poetry he had written in his cell, he climbed out a window using a rope made of strips of blankets. With no idea where he was, he followed a dog to civilization. He hid from pursuers in a convent infirmary where he read his poetry to the nuns. From then on his life was devoted to sharing and explaining his experience of God’s love.

Many people would have become very cynical and hard hearted after suffering so much poverty and persecution.

Instead his experiences gave birth to a compassionate mystic, who lived by the beliefs that “Who has ever seen people persuaded to love God by harshness?” and “Where there is no love, put love — and you will find love.”

John left us many books of practical advice on spiritual growth and prayer that are just as relevant today as they were then. These books include:

Ascent of Mount Carmel

Dark Night of the Soul

Since joy comes only from God, John believed that someone who seeks happiness in the world is like “a famished person who opens his mouth to satisfy himself with air.” He taught that only by breaking the rope of our desires could we fly up to God. Above all, he was concerned for those who suffered dryness or depression in their spiritual life and offered encouragement that God loved them and was leading them deeper into faith.

St Cross’ mystical poetry is full of powerful images of the relationship between God and the Christian soul who seeks to become one with Him.  He often  writes about the darkness of night, an image for the darkness which we can feel inside of us when faced with suffering and spiritual dryness. In one of his poems “ The dark night” he describes a journey away from the darkness, climbing up a ladder, his only guide  “ one that in my heart burned bright as a day”. He reaches his beloved Christ  and then he finishes “ forgetting all, my quest ended, I stayed lost to myself at last. My face was pressed upon my Love, at rest, with all my cares upon the lilies cast”

There is much darkness in the world today- sometimes hearing about it or experiencing it first hand can lead us to feel very helpless and depressed. Yet a saint like St John can give us hope and inspiration. He  suffered greatly in his life and yet was constantly determined to seek God love and light in the worst situations, whether in his own  life or in the lives of others.  This advent  we wait to celebrate once again the light and love of God coming into our world. In Jesus.  May we in our prayers and in our deeds,  ask for  His light and love  to burn like a steady light in our hearts and minds,  and through us, out into the world.


Almighty God, in the darkness of  his worst moments, when he was  alone and persecuted, St John  found  you.  Help us to have faith  that you are there ,   especially in the times when you  seems absent and far away. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


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 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 is alive and reigns with you

In the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen


December 14, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized

1 Comment »

  1. Had read his books but never had heard anything about his life. Extremely grateful here in Pennsylvania.

    Comment by Paul de Uriarte | December 20, 2011 | Reply

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