St. John of the Cross
Doctor of the Church and Founder of Discalced Carmelite Friars
Feast Day: 14 December

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Who was John?

Reflections by St John of the Cross

Quotes of St John of the Cross

St John of the Cross's message for today

Hymn and prayer to St John of the Cross

Further Reading

Who was John?
A brief biography
(taken from "A Little book of St John of the Cross by Don Mullen")

St John of the Cross, Juan de Yepes, was born at Fontiveros, near Avila, Spain, in 1542. He was the youngest of three sons. His paternal grandparents were successful merchants who rejected his father, Gonzalo, for marrying his mother, Catherine Alvarez, whom they considered below their rank. For love of Catherine, Gonzalo forfeited a rich heritage. Their decision to love each other, with its resulting poverty, left an indelible mark on the young saint. Thus, love and poverty became two inexhaustible sources of strength and inspiration in the religious life of John of the Cross. 

His parents worked as weavers but shortly after John's birth, Catherine was left a widow. With her young children Catherine, a devout woman, moved to Medina del Campo where they endured continuing hardship and poverty. While there John attended school and later helped in a hospital, where he demonstrated the stirrings of a lifelong kindness and compassion.

He joined the Carmelite Order in 1563, taking the name John of St Matthias and the following year began his studies at the prestigious University of Salamanca. In 1567, the year of his ordination, he met St Teresa of Avila. Teresa was on a mission of reforming the Carmelite Order of nuns and encouraged John to do likewise among the friars. This he began in 1568, symbolically changing his religious name to John of the Cross. His mission of reform encountered support and forceful opposition. He was twice kidnapped and imprisoned, on the second occasion for nine months in the monastery of Toledo.

He escaped to the south of Spain where, for several years, he founded reformed communities. The new reformed Order experienced many difficulties which John, as elected assistant General, tried to resolve with tact and discretion. He kept his legendary peace of heart even in June 1591, when he was completely discharged, following rivalries and calumnies. He fell seriously ill and died on 14 December 1591 at Ubeda.

John of the Cross was canonised on 27 December 1726 and made a Doctor of the Church in 1926.

Reflections of St John of the Cross

Seeking the Beloved
It should be known that the Word, the Son of God, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, is hidden by His essence and presence in the innermost being of the soul. A person who wants to find Him should leave all things through affection and will, and enter within himself in deepest recollection. The kingdom of God is within you (Lk17:21). You are the temple of God (2 Cor 6:16).
Since He whom my soul loves is within me, why don't I find Him or experience Him? Anyone who is to find a hidden treasure must enter the hiding place secretly, and once he has discovered it, he will also be hidden as the treasure is hidden. Remaining hidden with Him you will experience Him in hiding, that is in a way transcending all language and feeling. Seek Him in faith and love... They will lead you along a path unknown to you, to the place where God is hidden.

Singleness of Heart
He who is in love is said to have his heart stolen or seized by the object of his love, for his heart will go out of self and become fixed on the loved object. Thus his heart or love is not for himself, but for what he loves. Accordingly, the soul can know clearly whether or not she loves God purely. If she loves Him, her heart or love will not be set on herself or her own satisfaction or  gain, but upon pleasing God and giving Him honour and glory. In the measure she loves herself that much less she loves God. When God is loved He very readily answers the requests of His lover. Nothing is obtained from God except by love.

The Exaltation of the Soul
In this interior union, God communicates Himself to the soul with such genuine love that no mother's affection, in which she tenderly caresses her child, no brother's love, nor friendship is comparable to it. The tenderness and truth of love by which the immense Father favours and exalts this humble and loving soul reaches such a degree... that the Father Himself becomes subject to her for her exaltation, as though  He were a slave and she His god. So profound is the humility and sweetness of God! In this communication of love, He exercises in some way that very service that He says in the Gospel - He will render to His elect in heaven, that is: girding Himself and passing from one to another, He will minister to them (Lk 12:37).

Quotes of St John of the Cross

Love consists not in feeling great things but in having great detachment and in suffering for the Beloved.
To Monastics
Trials will never be lacking in religious life, nor does God want them to be. Since he brings souls there to be proved and purified, like gold, with hammer and the fire, it is fitting that they encounter trials and temptations... and the fire of anguish and affliction.
The Presence of God
Endeavour to remain always in the presence of God.
It is great wisdom to know how to be silent and to look at neither the remarks, nor the deeds, nor the lives of others.

We think others are like ourselves and we judge others according to what we ourselves are, since our judgment arises from within us and not outside us...
Hence it is that when we are careless and asleep in God's presence, it seems to us it is God who is asleep and neglectful of us!
God dwells secretly in all souls and is hidden in their substance, for otherwise they would not last.
Do not omit mental prayer from any occupation, for it is the sustenance of your soul.
Never give up prayer, and should you find dryness and difficulty, persevere in it for this very reason.  God often desires to see what love your soul has, and love is not tried by ease and satisfaction.
God's Glory
Strive for the greater honour and glory of God in all things.

St John of the Cross' message for the 21st Century

To follow...

Hymn to St John of the Cross
written by Sr Mary Kevin, Kilmacud Carmel
Hail Carmel's Doctor, great Saint John,
Raising your standard of the Cross,
Leading our spirits daily on
To Heavenly gain from earthly loss!

Lit by a living flame of love,
Guide of our Mother's founding zeal,
E'en though the ascent at times be steep,
Dark night will fade on Carmel's peak.

Your burning Canticles of Praise
Tell how the Father-God above
Spoke his eternal saving Word,
Spoke through the Spirit of their Love.

Light of Therese's Little Way,
Aid us along our pilgrim road,
Seeking that great and endless day
Which heart of man cannot fore-know.

you endowed our Father
St John of the Cross
with a spirit of self-denial
and a love of the cross.
By following his example
may we come to the
eternal vision of your glory.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.

St John of the Cross,
pray for us.

Further Reading


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