Discalced Carmelite scholars Kieran Kavanaugh and Iain Matthew provide insights into the final months of the life of Saint John of the Cross, including the discalced Chapter of 1591 that saw John reduced to the state of an ordinary friar, holding no office or responsibility.
Nicolás Doria [Vicar General for the discalced friars] called an extraordinary chapter in June 1590 for the purpose of undertaking two controversial moves.
First, he wanted to abandon jurisdiction over the nuns, a reprisal against Madre Ana de Jesús who opposed his plans; Doria had hoped both to make changes in Teresa’s constitutions and to govern the nuns through a body of councilors rather than through one friar appointed to the task.
Second, he proposed the expulsion of Teresa’s close collaborator, Father Jerónimo Gracián, from the discalced Carmelites. Fray John [of the Cross, the discalced friars’ third councilor] spoke in opposition to both moves.
In the chapter the following year, different councilors were elected to assist Doria, and John remained without an office, a fact that was more a problem for others than for himself.
When the news got about, some began raising strong protests. But John looked at things differently, as he so often did, and expressed his mind in a letter to the prioress in Segovia:
Do not let what is happening to me, daughter, cause you any grief, for it does not cause me any. What greatly grieves me is that the one who is not at fault is blamed. Men do not do these things, but God, who knows what is suitable for us and arranges things for our good.
Think nothing else but that God ordains all, and where there is no love, put love, and you will draw out love.
Letter 26 to Madre María de la Encarnación in Segovia (excerpt)
Written from Madrid 6 July 1591
Doria, in what seemed a rebuff, sent John of the Cross back into Andalusia, to an isolated monastery called La Peñuela, a solitude like Duruelo or El Calvario.
However, John was to stay there only in preparation for a mission to Mexico where he was to lead a group of 12 friars.
Kieran Kavanaugh, O.C.D.
General Introduction, biographical sketch
The Mission to Mexico
Father Kavanaugh indicates that Doria earlier had planned to send Jerónimo Gracián to Mexico in 1585 to serve there as vicar. While Gracián was in Seville preparing to go to Mexico, orders came from the religious authorities in Portugal, commissioning him to make some visitations in Portugal. Others went in his stead.
Monsignor Jorge Antonio Palencia Ramírez de Arellano, the General Coordinator of Pastoral Care at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, provides additional details concerning the Mexican mission of the discalced friars:
The arrival of the Carmelites in Mexico was not easy; they presented themselves to the authorities of the viceroyalty, to the archbishop, and to other people they had to see, including the Viceroy himself, although the Carmelites had traveled with him from Spain in the same ship:
“They arrived in Mexico entering via the Guadalupe road, venerating the Immaculata of Tepeyac on Thursday, 17 November 1585, in whose hermitage they had to stop.”
Teresianum professor Iain Matthew, O.C.D. fills in further details concerning Doria’s plan for St. John of the Cross in Chapter 10 of his book, The Impact of God.
[H]e was on course for the mission in Mexico, ‘the Indies’. He asked for volunteers (significantly, ‘friends’) who would willingly go with him.
Some weeks later the volunteers’ signatures had been collected, but John’s own destination had changed. A letter of his to one of them (‘The letter consoled me immensely’) announces that John was embarking for ‘other, better Indies’, where the treasures are ‘eternal’, and was preparing his luggage for the voyage. He died later that year.
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.
Matthew, I 1995, The Impact of God: Soundings from St. John of the Cross, Hodder and Stoughton, Ltd, London.
Translation from the Spanish text is the blogger’s own work product.
Featured image: The monumental oil on canvas painting of The Virgin of Guadalupe, completed ca. 1700 in Mexico, is one of the treasures found in the Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields., which was featured in the museum’s 2009–2010 exhibition, Sacred Spain: Art and belief in the Spanish world. This detail from the painting depicts the angel who holds the resplendent garments of the Immaculate Virgin. Image credit: Public domain, courtesy of the Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields.
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