I will have to admit…one of the hardest spiritual readings I have is that of St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila. These two were the great reformers of the Carmelite order. I want to share some of thoughts I gleaned from St. John of the Cross in this week’s reflection. The spirituality and teachings of the “Mystical Doctor of the Church” offer an example of a man whose burdens where lightened by a love for Jesus Christ. So…a little background…St. John was born near Avila, Spain, in 1542. On the day of his ordination he met the future St. Teresa of Avila. He served in Teresa’s convent as her confessor and spiritual director.
One of his books he is most remembered: “Dark Night of the Soul.”
Now, to the point: St. John focused on the “passive aspect” of the soul’s purification through God’s contribution. Human effort alone is incapable of reaching the deepest roots of a person’s bad inclinations and habits. It can halt them but not eradicate them completely. To do this, a special action is needed from God which radically purifies the spirit and disposes it to the union of love with Him. This process was described as “passive” by the 16-century saint because the process was carried out by the mysterious action of the Holy Spirit which “…consumes every impurity.” In this state the soul is subjected to every type of trial, as if it finds itself in a dark night. In “Dark Night” and his other major works, St. John of the Cross helps people to understand his vast and profound mystical doctrine, whose objective is to describe a sure way to achieve holiness…the state of perfection which God calls us all.
As the soul is in its active and passive moments, the process requires our determined effort…but it is God Who is the real center. All man can do is dispose himself and humble himself before the loving work of God in the soul. In this sense, John is for us a model of humble dedication and of faithful perseverance on the road to spiritual maturity. His was not an easy life….lived “on the clouds” of mysticism? Nope…rather…it was a “tough” life that can show people (even today)…that faith in Christ is not an extra weight to the already sufficiently heavy burden of our lives. No, if a man brings about in himself a great love, this love almost gives him wings. In this case, it is easier to deal with all of the bothers of life, because he carries within him a great light. This is the faith; being called by God and allowing ourselves to be loved by God in Jesus. It is the “light” that gives us strength to carry the burden. Sanctity is not a task to be accomplished on our own…but it is precisely this: ‘openness’…opening the windows of our souls so that the light of God might enter, not forgetting God because it is precisely in the openness to His light we find strength…we find the joy of the redeemed.
Let’s make this a good Lent. Less “me”…but more you and more God.