Today we honor St. John of the Cross. In comparing his stories to that of other saints from the Middle Ages, John stand out for being a man with no nobility in his family line. His father died when John was eight, and for the next nine years John supported his mother and brothers with cleanup work at a hospital. Under those harsh conditions he read at night, and at seventeen won entrance into a Jesuit school. Joining the Carmelite Fathers at twenty-one, he was sent to the University of Salamanca where a professor had violated Church law by translating into Spanish the “Song of Songs” from the Old Testament.
Now, such books as the prophesies of Hosea and Jeremiah had pictured the mutual love of God and his people as a romance between a lover and his beloved. That metaphor was at its strongest in the “Song of Songs” where some lines sound almost like porno, but to John they gave voice to his soul’s romance with God. An example would be this line: “Let him kiss me with kisses of his mouth! More delightful is your love than wine.”
St. Teresa of Avilla happened to be present at John’s first Mass. Both of them had been finding the noisy comings and goings of convent life as a major distraction to their quiet prayer. As a smooth politician Teresa won the right for them to found convents and monasteries where the prayer life came first.
Ten years later a new Carmelite superior looked on those separate places of prayer as harmful. To rid John of his “Fancy Prayer ideas” the superior confine John to a narrow cell for nine month, even beating him. In that time John wrote one of the classics of Spanish literature, his “Dark Night of the Soul.” One verse went like this:
One dark night, fired with love’s urgent longings
Ah, the sheer grace of it,
I went out unseen, my house being now at rest.
By saying his house was at rest John was saying that people cannot enter into a deep love with God until they have done away with desires that interfere with their peace of mind. His major prose work “On the Ascent of Mount Carmel” instructs learners on how step-by-step they can gain that important peace of mind.