Saint John Of The Cross Essay, Research Paper
Saint John of the Cross
“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.”
John of the Cross is one of the acknowledged masters of mystical theology. It is thought among present day theologians that there is no other writer who has had a greater influence on Catholic spirituality than John of the Cross. He is a canonized saint of the Catholic Church and was made a Doctor of the Church because of his extreme influence on present day doctrine. His dedication as a leader in service is surpassed only by his deep faith in the workings of the Trinity through Jesus on earth as a model and the Holy Spirit as our guide to a life of spirituality.
John of the Cross was born Juan de Yepes in 1542 to a poor family of Spanish nobility. When John was a boy, he attended a school for poor children, gaining a basic education, and the opportunity to learn skills from local craftsmen. When he was 17, John began to work at the Plague Hospital de la Concepcion, and its founder offered to let him attend the Jesuit College, so long as he did not neglect his hospital duties. From 1559 to 1563, John studied with the Jesuits, learning Latin, Greek, and other subjects. He was offered the chance to study for the secular priesthood, which would have given him material security, but he felt God was calling him to Religious life. At age 20, he entered the Carmelite Order, being clothed with the habit on February 24, 1563, and taking the name Juan de Santo Matia (John of Saint Matthias). He was ordained in 1567, and said his first Mass in Medina del Campo. During that trip, he first met Teresa of Avila, and she encouraged him to promote her reform among the men’s Order.
John spent much of his time working for the reformation of the Carmelite Order and in the overall service of others. However, there were said problems with his ideas of reform from certain members of his Order. On the night of December 2, 1577, a group of Carmelites, lay people, and men-at-arms broke into John’s quarters, seized him, and took him away. The men led John away, handcuffed, and blindfolded, to a monastery in Toledo. John stood accused of being rebellious and as an overall threat to the Order. John would have to submit to the demands of the Order, or undergo severe punishment. Nonetheless, John refused to renounce the reform in which he so truly had faith.
John was locked up in the monastery prison because of his strong convictions toward reform. He was placed in a windowless dark room of six by ten feet, with little light, and with little air. This hole of a cell was exposed to the terribly cold winter months and the suffocating heat of the summer months. This, aside for the beatings, the filth, the forced fasting, and the lice, made it an unfavorable situation for anyone. However, John did not see the situation as the rest of humanity would see it. John found the situation to be a blessing because he was able to remove all of his earthly needs and desires, and find the true place where God was hidden. God brought John his greatest joys in those times of pain and suffering. In a sense, the oppressors whom imprisoned John, gave him what he truly wanted. God.
In time, John was able to escape the prison cell in which he was held by physically unscrewing the bolts on his door. Thought to be achieved miraculously by some, John was able to creep past the guards, climb down the wall, and regain his freedom. From the time of his escape until the time of his death, John devoted his life to the sharing and explaining of his experience of the Lord’s grace and love.
“Saint John of the Cross, in the darkness of your worst moments, when you were alone and persecuted, you found God. Help me to have faith that God is there especially in the times when God seems absent and far away. Amen.”
After his time in the monastery prison and his eventual escape, John was able to again take up his mission of reform far away from the conflicts and threats that impeded him prior. He never cared to go over the past and talk about his imprisonment. He bore no animosity toward his oppressors; nor did he complain or boast about the suffering that he had endured. Because of his experience, John was now more than ever before, able to appreciate the natural world around him. John was now able to listen to all of nature through his senses; the flowers, the whistling breezes, the night, the dawn; all were manifestations of the Lord. This seemed to be one of John’s only vices, if it could fairly be called that. John could not easily resist the enchantment of nature. John was ver much human. The rushing streams, the flowers in the field, the vast mountains, and all of nature spoke to him. God was present everywhere.
“Come and see these little creatures of God. How well they worship the Almighty!”
John found it impossible to ignore any person of the world who was in personal distress. However, John did not limit himself to only assisting others who were seeking spiritual enlightenment, but he looked for ways to help those with material needs as well. John was a selfless man who lived for the service of others. There were countless examples and stories of how John would go to great lengths to help out his fellow man in the least. Further, this lifestyle of service did not end at the material needs of others, but transmitted in the physical needs of the sick. Taking pains to show the most delicate sympathy for the sick, he knew how to care for them, comfort them, and give them hope. He would not allow the question of money to interfere with his desire to give his sick friars the best possible care. He was a true leader in service.
“It was out of this poverty and suffering, that John learned to search for beauty and happiness not in the world, but in God.”
But John’s deepest concern was for those persons who were suffering in their spiritual life. In his oral teachings, John used to point out that the more you love God, the more you grow spiritually. Further, the growth that he desired was to include all people and help them achieve that spiritual understanding. In his spiritual direction of others, John focused on the communion with God in faith, hope, and love. Ultimately, the way to truly receive that spiritual life was to follow those teachings of faith, hope, and love as Christ did. Pain for John was not a misfortune but a value when suffered with and for Christ. John recognized that we could not understand the truth of Christ without the Holy Spirit, the basis of our personal spirituality. He wanted everyone to find comfort in the thought that however severe it may be, purification is still the work of God’s gentle hand, clearing away the debris of attachment and making room for the divine light. Hard physical labor in the service of others attracted him because he knew how important it was for him to achieve that true spiritual awareness. John did what needed to be done.
“What more do you want, o soul! And what else do you search for outside, when within yourself you possess your riches, delights, satisfaction and Kingdom — your Beloved whom you desire and seek? Desire Him there, adore Him there; Do not go in pursuit of Him outside yourself. You will only become distracted and you won’t find Him, or enjoy Him more than by seeking Him within you.”
One of the main sources that gave John of the Cross his great inspiration was the Bible. The Bible, which he cherished most of all worldly objects, helped him understand the mystery of the three Persons of the Trinity. This further understanding of the Trinity allowed John to help himself and encourage others to achieve such a level of enlightenment. As stated prior, John spent his entire life in the service of others and sought to spread that cherished understanding in which he received through his personal pains and suffering. This spiritual journey was and is for every person.
For John, the Bible served as a living and unfailing wellspring. Its waters pervade the entire being of this mystical thinker, poet, and writer. The Bible was his hymnal, his meditation book, a book for travel, for contemplation, and for writing. Scriptural quotations throughout his works show how deeply he had assimilated the Divine Word, but he never keeps to a single exegetical style; and the reader might find this disconcerting.
For John, he was able to visualize ways in which the biblical texts could assist him in his ministry of spiritual direction. The Bible offered John a viable expression of his own personal spiritual experience. The Bible was a confirmation of his theological reform and ministry. Further, John was able to enjoy and follow the practice of using scriptural passages as a guide through the journey of life. John discovered a close alliance between biblical history and his own personal history, and was able to use that connection of past experiences with his own personal experiences.
John of the Cross was a very influential individual in the Catholic Church who further extended the lifestyle of service in which Christ instilled. Although most people would gather that John might have been angered or disillusioned by his imprisonment, persecution, and suffering throughout his life, rather John’s reaction was quite the opposite. These painful events in his life transformed him into a man of charity who held a deep compassion for those who suffered. John saw a clear vision of the beauty of God’s creation and its intimacy with the Blessed Trinity. Through suffering like Christ suffered, John was able to achieve that spiritual enlightenment.
John fell ill at the end of his life in a very small village on a service trip to Mexico. John died as he had prayed for throughout his ministry of service: without honors, without material comfort, and with great suffering. These pains and great suffering were voluntarily taken up to exemplify the suffering of Christ. His persecutions throughout his life were voluntarily taken up taken up to exemplify the suffering of Christ. This was his faith, and this was how he lived and died.
“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”
John of the Cross was 49 when he died. He was beatified in 1675, canonized as a saint in 1726, and declared a Doctor of the Church in 1926. His life was a never-ending pursuit of that ministry of service and compassion that Christ instilled prior. John of the Cross was and still is a man to be patterned after because of his spiritually enlightened understanding of the life and actions of Christ. He was truly a Man for Others.
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