John of the Cross put everything else aside in his love for God.

Monday, 12/14/15

Today we honor St. John of the Cross, whose great passion was love for Christ. Born in north-central Spain around the year 1560, his family was one of the low-class converted Jews; and after his father’s deathwhen John was nine, he had to take odd jobs for supporting his mother and siblings.

He got a job doing clean-up at a hospital, where, in his mid-teens, he was able to attend a primary school founded by St. Francis Borgia, who would follow Ignatius Loyola, as superior general of the Jesuits. 

His quickness at learning got him into classes at the University of Salamanca, where he took up studies in Philosophy and Theology. One of his professors made a Spanish translation of the Bible’s “Song of Songs.” It reads like a maiden’s pining for her loved-one, but it was composed to be the pining of a soul for God. And John saw it that way. The following lines do not seem to have any place in the Bible. But they are there.

Let him kiss me with kisses of his mouth! More delightful is your love than wine. Your name spoken is a spreading perfume –That is why the maidens love you.”

After winning acceptance to the Carmelite Fathers, John was ordained a priest at twenty-five.  Like a young man in love, he could think of nothing so much as delving deeper into his love for God; and in his free time, he longed to get away from all the usual monastery chatter.

His desire for solitude came to the attention of Teresa of Avilla, a Carmelite nun twenty years older than John; and cooperating, they won authorization to establish monasteries and convents  where ne could pray uninterrupted.

John wrote a manual for those wanting advanced prayer life. Since Mount Carmel, on the Mediterranean just east of Bethlehem, had long been a place favored by hermits, John called his book, “The Ascent of Mont Carmel.”

The opening chapter advises the reader to find true peace of soul by training him or herself to not want anything. It works, but it isn’t easy.

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