Quote of the day, 10 January: St. John of the Cross

Torment and affliction is the second kind of damage the appetites cause in an individual.

A soul is tormented and afflicted when it reclines on its appetites just as is someone lying naked on thorns and nails. Like thorns, the appetites wound and hurt, stick to a person and cause pain.

Just as a peasant, covetous of the desired harvest, goads and torments the ox that pulls the plow, so concupiscence, in order to attain the object of its longing, afflicts the one who lives under the yoke of the appetites. This is evident in Delilah’s desire to know where Samson acquired such strength. Scripture states that the desire was such a fatigue and torment to him that he fainted away and almost died: Defecit anima ejus, et ad mortem usque lassata est [Cf. Jg 16:15-16, lit. “His soul fainted and was wearied even unto death”].

The appetite torments in the measure of its intensity. Thus there is as much torment as there is appetite, and the more numerous the appetites that possess a soul the greater in number are its torments.

Those who let their appetites take hold of them suffer torture and affliction like an enemy held prisoner. The Book of Judges contains a figure of this in the passage that narrates how the enemies captured mighty Samson, who was once the free, strong judge of Israel, and weakened him, pulled out his eyes, and chained him to grind at the millstone where he was grievously tortured and tormented [Cf. Jg. 16:21].

This same thing happens to a person in whom the enemy appetites reside and triumph. First these appetites weaken and blind, as we shall point out below, then they afflict and torment by chaining that person to the mill of concupiscence, for they are the chains by which a soul is bound.

God, then, with compassion for all those who through such labor and cost to themselves strive to satisfy the thirst and hunger of their appetites for creatures, proclaims through Isaiah:

Omnes sitientes, venite ad aquas; et qui no habetis argentum, properate, emite, et comedite: venite, emite absque argento vinum et lac. Quare appenditis argentum non in panibus, et laborem vestrum non in saturitate?
Is. 55:1-2

This is interpreted:

Come to the waters, all you who experience the thirst of your appetites; and you who have not the silver of your own will and desires, make haste; buy from me and eat; come and buy wine and milk (peace and spiritual sweetness) from me without the silver of your own will, without paying with labor as you do for the satisfaction of your appetites. Why do you offer the silver of your will for what is not bread (the bread of the divine Spirit) and waste the efforts of your appetites on what cannot satisfy them? Come, listen to me, and you will have the food you desire, and your soul will delight in abundance.

This coming to abundance is a going away from all the pleasures derived through creatures, because the creature torments while the Spirit of God refreshes.

Saint John of the Cross

The Ascent of Mount Carmel: Book One, Chapter 7 (excerpts)

John of the Cross, St. 1991, The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, Revised Edition, translated from the Spanish by Kavanaugh, K and Rodriguez, O with revisions and introductions by Kavanaugh, K, ICS Publications, Washington DC.

About our featured image: We see another stunning sunset over the Mediterranean at the foot of Mount Carmel in this photo by Maria Lupan on Unsplash

3 thoughts on “Quote of the day, 10 January: St. John of the Cross

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  1. PS. There was a certain cartoon strip in the 1970s. One strip had a boy asking his friend why his recumbent dog was yelping constantly. Friend says, “He’s lazy!”. Boy says, “He must be more than lazy – he seems to be in real pain?” – friend replies, “He’s just lazy – he’s lying on a thistle, and he won’t move!”. Humorous life lesson I still remember now. The above passage expounds the point marvellously.

  2. I was not ready for the Ascent when I read it, and found such passages very challenging, and could not see the beauty. Now I have lived a little more, I can relate to these passages more closely than to much of recent posting: it is exactly where my life is ‘at’. Our Holy Father certainly knew his stuff! If one may be so familiar…

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