Many of his followers said, “This is intolerable language. How could anyone accept it?”
Jesus was aware that his followers were complaining about it and said, “Does this disturb you? What if you should see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh has nothing to offer. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the outset who did not believe and who was to betray him.
He went on, “This is why I told you that no one could come to me except by the gift of the Father.” After this, many of his disciples went away and accompanied him no more. Then Jesus said to the Twelve, “What about you, do you want to go away too?”
Simon Peter answered, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the message of eternal life, and we believe; we have come to know that you are the Holy One of God.”
We can compare the soul in its ordinary condition in this state of transformation of love to the log of wood that is ever immersed in fire, and the acts of this soul to the flame that blazes up from the fire of love. The more intense the fire of union, the more vehemently does this fire burst into flames. The acts of the will are united to this flame and ascend, carried away and absorbed in the flame of the Holy Spirit, just as the angel mounted to God in the flame of Manoah’s sacrifice [Jgs. 13:20].
Thus in this state the soul cannot make acts because the Holy Spirit makes them all and moves it toward them. As a result all the acts of the soul are divine, since both the movement to these acts and their execution stem from God.
It seems to such persons that every time this flame shoots up, making them love with delight and divine quality, it is giving them eternal life, since it raises them up to the activity of God in God.
This is the language and these the words God speaks in souls that are purged, cleansed, and all enkindled; as David exclaimed: Your word is exceedingly enkindled [Ps. 119:139]; and the prophet: Are not my words, perchance, like a fire? [Jer. 23:29]. As God himself says through St. John, these words are spirit and life [Jn. 6:63]. These words are perceived by souls who have ears to hear them, those souls, as I say, that are cleansed and enamored. Those who do not have a sound palate, but seek other tastes, cannot taste the spirit and life of God’s words; his words, rather, are distasteful to them.
Hence the loftier were the words of the Son of God, the more tasteless they were to the impure, as happened when he preached the sovereign and loving doctrine of the Holy Eucharist, for many turned away [Jn. 6:60–61, 66, vide supra].
Those who do not relish this language God speaks within them must not think on this account that others do not taste it. St. Peter tasted it in his soul when he said to Christ: Lord, where shall we go? You have the words of eternal life [Jn. 6:68]. And the Samaritan woman forgot the water and the water jar for the sweetness of God’s words [Jn. 4:28].
Saint John of the Cross
The Living Flame of Love, Stanza 1, nos. 4–6
All scripture references are from The Jerusalem Bible Reader’s Edition, copyright © 1966, 1967 and 1968 by Darton, Longman & Todd, Ltd and Doubleday & Company, Inc. as accessed from The Internet Archive website.
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.
Featured image: The sacrifice of Manoah and his wife, parents of Samson is an oil on canvas painting executed ca. 1690 in France. The work is attributed to Noël Coypel (French, 1628–1707) and the Studio of Simon Vouet (French, 1590–1649). It comes from the collection of the Hood Museum at Dartmouth University, but sadly is not on view. Image credit: Hood Museum (Public domain)