The Catholic Defender: St. John of the Cross, A Doctor of the Church
Evangelism has always been important to the Catholic mission in the world. Jesus sent the Church to go to all the nations saying, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age."
St. John of the Cross was born in Spain on June 24, 1541. His feast day December 14, is also the day of his death, or, his entry into eternal life. In his lifetime of just 49 years, this saint became a great reformer, mystic-poet, and theologian-priest. Indeed he lived up to his name “of the Cross” with heroic sanctity.
Ordained a Carmelite priest in 1567 at age 25, John met Teresa of Avila and like her, vowed himself to the primitive Rule of the Carmelites. As partner with Teresa and in his own right, John engaged in the work of reform, and came to experience the price of reform: increasing opposition, misunderstanding, persecution, imprisonment. He came to know the cross acutely—to experience the dying of Jesus—as he sat month after month in his dark, damp, narrow cell with only his God.
John of the Cross is known for his writings. He was mentored by and corresponded with the older Carmelite, Teresa of Ávila. Both his poetry and his studies on the development of the soul are considered the summit of mystical Spanish literature and among the greatest works of all Spanish literature.
When Jesus calls a person to serve Him, Jesus will give the means to do His will. No matter the stumbling blocks a person might have, Jesus always supplies the means. I love what St. Teresa of Calcutta is often quoted as saying, "It is not our success that is most important, what is important is our faithfulness". The reason being is that the Lord will make use of your efforts for His Glory.
St. John of the Cross was born at Fontiveros, Old Castile Spain in 1542 at a time when trouble swirled in the Spanish Church. The Protestant Reformation had just begun it's assault on the Catholic Church when God raised up great Saints to respond to this threat. History recalls this movement the "Counter-Reformation" where great Saints like St. John of the Cross was effective bringing many back to the Church.
St. James gave this scriptural passage, "My brethren, if any one among you wanders from the truth and some one brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins."
When you go to Confession, the Mercy Seat of God, the Lord takes those sins you confess and He throws them into the sea of forgetfulness and He remembers them no more.
St. John was born Juan de Yepes y Alvarez with a Jewish background. His parents were converts to the Catholic Faith whose father, Gonzalo worked as an accountant to relatives who were well to do. In 1529, he married Catalina, raised an orphan, which placed Gonzalo in a lower class among his family. St. John's father died in 1545 while he was about three years old.
So St. John's early years were hard as his mother tried to raise her three sons with very limited means forced to work as a weaver. St. John's older brother, Luis died when he was five years old, so his only sibling left was Francisco. Tough as this is, I am reminded that God is in control! Jesus as Shepherd of the Sheep has great plans for St. John of the Cross.
St. John was sent to a school for poor children being given the basics in education but what was most important was the school's foundation teaching Christian doctrine, charity, which ultimately launched St. John toward's the priesthood.
This is a great example how God can use the work of those who serve the poor as many of these schools have done. Much of my own foundation I thank my Mother who sent me to a Catholic School in Blue Springs Missouri, St. John La Lande. I can certainly relate with much of St. John of the Cross.
God bless those Augustinian nuns who inspired St. John of the Cross preparing him for what God had in His plans, yes, I remember the nuns that use to teach our Catholic school and I certainly remember the famous ruler they often spoke with. In Catholic school, there is a lot of discipline.
St. John would volunteer much of his time serving the sick at a local hospital and studied at a local Jesuit college between 1559-1563 and then finally entered into a Carmelite Order. With this path, St. John would come into contact with St. Teresa of Avila and when those two got together, you can know that they sent hemorrhage and shock waves in the kingdom of Darkness.
Billed as the greatest healer since Jesus Christ, João treated more people in one day than a large hospital did in a month. He could make paraplegics walk and the blind see, and he took on all comers: the incurable and the untreatable, the bereft and the neglected, the cases modern medicine had discarded.
St. John of the Cross became an expert on biblical studies to include Hebrew and Aramaic languages. This would be important when dealing with the misinformation being pushed by the Protestants who were rampaging Europe at the time.
St. John was ordained a priest in 1567, giving him the ordination that embodied him to proclaim salvation to the captives, to bring the gifts of the Sacraments to the people. On one occasion, St. John was praying in the Monastery of the Incarnation in Avila, he was meditating up in the loft overlooking the sanctuary when he received a vision. Jesus Christ crucified appeared to him which inspired him for the rest of his life.
When ever God is doing something it always seems that the Devil always tries to be disruptive where he can and in St. John's life, the Carmelite Order was going through hard times as leaders actually had St. John imprisoned for disobeying orders, which he had been following the orders of those of his superiors. There was great tensions taking place within the Carmelite community. Ultimately, Pope Gregory XIII signed a decree, titled "Pia Consideratione", which authorized a separation between the Calced and Discalced Carmelites.
St. John suffered greatly during his imprisonment, but he was able to write some of his poems and writings. In the midst of this horrible trial, God was able to bring into light where St. John accepted his cross. Through St. John's experience, the cross became the great symbol of the resurrection. He lived out the words of Jesus in the Gospel.
St. John wrote, "Where there is no love, put love -- and you will find love." This was his motto throughout his life where ever he found challenges in his life. He would also write, "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."
In June 1588, St. John was elected third Councilor to the Vicar General for the Discalced Carmelites but being sent to Doria in June 1591 to an isolated monastery he became ill when he died on 14 December 1591 of erysipelas.
Erysipelas has been traced back to the Middle Ages, where it was referred to as St. Anthony's fire, named after the Christian saint to whom those afflicted would appeal for healing. Around 1095, the Order of St. Anthony, was formed in France to care for those with the ailment. This was a horrible affliction.
St. John died as age 49 and through his writings he continues to speak God's message for the world. He faced much upheaval in his life but he was able to find God through his isolation. St. John was canonized a saint in 1726 by Pope Benedict XIII and listed as one of the thirty-six Doctors of the Church.
Words to live by From St. John of the Cross:
“The endurance of darkness is the preparation for great light.” “The soul that is quick to turn to speaking and conversing is slow to turn to God.” “It is best to learn to silence the faculties and to cause them to be still so that God may speak.” “Who teaches the soul if not God?”
“What we need most in order to make progress is to be silent before this great God with our appetite and with our tongue, for the language he best hears is silent love.”
Faith “is like the feet wherewith the soul journeys to God, and love is the guide that directs it.”
“Contemplation is nothing else but a secret, peaceful, and loving infusion of God, which if admitted, will set the soul on fire with the Spirit of love.”
“To saints, their very slumber is a prayer.”
“In the evening of life, we will be judged on love alone.”
“In tribulation immediately draw near to God with confidence, and you will receive strength, enlightenment, and instruction.”
"Little children, you are of God, and have overcome them; for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world." 1 John 4:4