Today is the feast of St. John of the Cross, 1542-1591. Back in the Middle Ages it was only those with noble blood who had the backing to become canonized saints, but John made it on his own. With his father dying when he was eight, John did clean up work at a Spanish hospital to earn enough to keep his mother and the little kids alive. When St. Francis Borgia opened a nearby school for the needy, John amazed his teachers with his swift learning.
The local Carmelites, impressed with his scholarship, enrolled him at the university of Salamanca where he studied with a scholar who, breaking a church ban against translating the Bible into Spanish, produced his version of “The Song of Songs”. While Jeremiah saw the Israelites as God’s loving bride, following him in the wilderness; the Song of Songs goes further. It sees one’s soul as a maiden longing for God’s sweet embrace. People not familiar with the book wonder how it got into the Bible. Here is its opening.
Let him kiss me with kisses of his mouth!
More delightful is your love than wine.!
John was to use this book as the inspiration for his two great spiritual works, “A Spiritual Canticle,” and “The Dark Night of the soul.”
In attaining to a heavenly embrace with God, John of the Cross can be compared with Neil Armstrong who walked on the moon. In enduring a stripping of his soul in the “Dark Night of the Soul” John was as heroic as Earnest Shackleton who survived eighteen months on Antarctic ice.
To launch his novices on their own great voyages of discovering God, John wrote The Ascent of Mount Carmel. The opening chapter insisted on the need for complete personal peace as the starting point of any journey to union with God. That chapter tells us that peace is the freedom from the frustration brought on by thwarted desires. It says the only way to avoid frustration is to not allow any desires to take root in our hearts.