John’s entire work is tensed towards eternity, towards the ‘other, better Indies’. As the friars at his bedside began the prayers for the dying, John checked them. “That is not necessary: read me something from the Song of Songs.” He was interpreting his death as a mystery of love.
He had written of death like this:
“The rivers of love which have long been flowing in the soul swell, bank up, like seas of love, as they press to pour into the ocean.”
Eternity meant to him love set free. That is where night is leading.
Iain Matthew, O.C.D.
The Impact of God, Chap. 10
At midnight on the night of 13-14 December 1591, Saint John of the Cross died in the discalced friar’s convent at Úbeda and entered fully into the mystery of love.
Matthew, I 1995, The Impact of God: Soundings from St. John of the Cross,Hodder & Stoughton, London.
Fray Antonio de Jesús, his companion since the beginnings of the order in Duruelo, stood before St John of the Cross and said: “Padre Juan, cheer up, trust in God and remember the deeds we did and the labors we endured in the beginnings of this religious life.”
John of the Cross, with a loud voice, apparently a bit exhausted, covered his ears with his hands:
In the town of Ubeda, St. John of the Cross asks for Viaticum on Wednesday, 11 December 1591, which he fervently receives. “I’m leaving this world,” he says to Fray Diego, who attends to him and doesn’t leave his side. John has kept a folder of letters under his pillow. These are the last letters he has received concerning the slanderous accusations brought against him by Fray Diego Evangelista at La Peñuela. Of his difficulty with Fray Diego he wrote:
Men do not do these things, but God, who knows what is suitable for us and arranges things for our own 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)
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.
The day after our arrival at Alba [i.e. 21 September], she was so greatly exhausted that the physicians feared, for the moment, that she could not live: a great sacrifice for me, the greater because I must remain in this world.
For, aside from the love I bore her and that she had for me, I had another great consolation in her company: almost continually I saw Jesus Christ in her soul and the manner in which He was united to it, as if it was his heaven. This knowledge filled me with the deep reverence one should feel in the presence of God.
Truly it was heavenly to serve her, and the greatest torture was to see her suffer.
I spent about fourteen years with her. Immediately, when I entered to receive the habit, she took me into her cell, and during the rest of her life I was always with her, except during her journey to Seville; for then, as has already been said, I was sick at Avila. And these fourteen years seemed to me less than one day.
The Saint, for her part, was so accustomed to my poor and awkward service, that she would not be without me. She showed this very plainly in the following circumstance.
I fell sick with a fever the very eve of the day when she was to leave for the visitation of her monasteries. I was not at all in a condition to undertake the journey.
She said to me: “Do not be disturbed, my child! I shall leave orders here to send you to me as soon as the fever leaves you.”
But at midnight, when she sent a religious to ask how I was, I found that I was free from fever.
She rose from her bed, came to me, and said: “It is true, my daughter, you no longer have any fever; we can easily undertake the journey. I hope it may be so, and I will recommend the matter to God.”
And so it was; we left in the morning.
During the five days preceding her death at Alba, I was more dead than alive. Two days before her death, she said to me once when we were alone: “My child, the hour of my death has come.”
This pierced my heart more and more. I did not leave her for a moment. I begged the religious to bring me what was necessary for her. I gave it to her. It was a consolation to her for me to do so.
In their translation for ICS Publications, Father Kieran Kavanagh and Otlio Rodriguez note that Fray Antonio de Jesús ordered Saint Teresa to travel from Medina to Alba de Tormes in order to settle some difficulties in the community. She and Blessed Anne of St. Bartholomew arrived in Alba de Tormes in the evening of 20 September.
Biographer William Thomas Walsh provides further detail concerning the account offered by Blessed Anne of St. Bartholomew. The journey was exhausting; there was little food; and when she reached Alba de Tormes, the prioress was so concerned about St. Teresa’s condition the prioress ordered her own foundress to go to bed. St. Teresa obeyed.
“Next morning she got up, walked about the convent, heard Mass, received Holy Communion with great devotion, and took a severe discipline. Thus she went on, getting up and resting in turn, attending Mass each day, until the Feast of Saint Michael, September 29. Then, after Mass, she had a hemorrhage which left her so weak that she had to be helped back into bed in the infirmary. She had asked to be placed there so that she could look through a certain window and see the priest saying Mass in the chapel beyond.”
This was the turning point that marked the “five days preceding her death” of which Blessed Anne of St. Bartholomew writes. Again, Walsh provides more detail.
Teresa spent all of the first night of October in prayer, and at dawn asked to have Fray Antonio of Jesus hear her confession. The first friar of her Reform was evidently much moved as he went in to hear the last self-accusation of a pure and virginal soul. The word went around the house that Christ had told her she was about to die. Some sisters told her afterward they had heard Fray Antonio say he would ask our Lord not to take her yet. “Never mind about that,” said Teresa. “I am no longer needed in this world.” The nuns all gathered at the bedside that day, and received her last counsels.
On October 3, the eve of Saint Francis, at about five o’clock, she asked for Viaticum. The nuns dressed her in her veil and white choir mantle, and lighted holy tapers in the infirmary. She was so weak that they had to turn her in the bed. While they waited for the priest, each holding a lighted candle, La Madre began to speak:
“Hijas mías y señoras mías, for the love of God I beg that you will take great care with the keeping of the Rule and Constitutions, and pay no attention to the bad example that this wicked nun has given you, and pardon me for it.”
When the priest arrived with the Blessed Sacrament, and she became aware that her Lord was entering the room, she raised her body on the bed without any help, as though to throw herself on the floor. The nuns who held her down noticed that a change had come over her countenance: it was beautiful and illuminated beyond description, much younger than her age warranted. “And clasping her hands, full of joy,” says Ribera, “this swan of utter whiteness began to sing at the end of her life more sweetly than they had ever heard her sing and spoke lofty things, amorous and sweet. Among others, she said, ‘Oh my Lord and my Spouse, now the desired hour is come. Now it is time for us to go. Señor mío, now is the time to set forth, may it be very soon, and may Your most holy will be accomplished! Now the hour has come for me to leave this exile, and my soul rejoices at one with you for what I have so desired!’“
Anne of St. Bartholomew, M; Bouix, M 1917, Autobiography of the Blessed Mother Anne of Saint Bartholomew, inseparable companion of Saint Teresa, and foundress of the Carmels of Pontoise, Tours and Antwerp, translated from the French by anonymous, H. S. Collins Printing Co., Saint Louis.
Thomas Walsh. W 1987, St Teresa of Avila: A Biography, TAN Books, Charlotte.
On Wednesday, the 25th of February 1959, at 9:25 a.m. Sister Geneviève of the Holy Face died at the age of 89 years and 10 months, and 63 years of religious profession.
With her Sisters continually and prayerfully keeping watch by her bedside, she had a peaceful night, happy with the deliverance drawing nigh. At dawn, she was a bit restless, but without any suffering.
“It really is today,” said the Mother Prioress.
“Today!” she repeated, as if she was savoring her joy.
“Yes, you fight, it’s a hard fight! But you will have the victory because Jesus is with you.”
In a tone of triumph, a blurry look in her eyes, but extremely lucid, Sister Genevieve continued: “Jesus!”
That was her last word. She expressed the tenderness of her entire life.
Today! — Jesus!
Read the complete account of her final day on our post, Adieu Céline
These last two days our dear invalid has grown considerably weaker, and this morning she wasn’t able to get up to take Holy Communion. Our beloved Sister is in a state of weakness, oppression, and anxiety which leads us to think that the end cannot be far off.
She was most touched by your parcel, but she eats so little now that she only tasted it. She has asked us to convey her gratitude for this kind gesture which moved her deeply.
Letter from Sister Marie-Louise de Gonzague Vétillart, V.H.M. to Saint Zélie Martin (excerpt) 19 February 1877
I’m enclosing a letter I just received a moment ago which doesn’t leave us any more hope, as you can see. Last week I sent some roasted goose to my sister since she’d wanted to eat some cooked in our house. I also sent her a pound of gumdrops and a dozen cakes, but Pauline wrote Marie that she gave almost all of them to her.
Finally, I think her death is imminent, and it makes me very sad. But on the other hand, I want my poor sister to be freed as soon as possible.
Letter from Saint Zélie Martin to her sister-in-law Céline Fournet Guérin (excerpt) 20 February 1877
Why are you very sad, and are crying? Every man whoever he be, has to die one day. Now it is my time. As I had the protection of the Holy Family, I have never lost the grace I received in the baptism. I dedicate our little congregation and each of you to this Holy Family. May the Holy Family reign in your hearts.
St Kuriakos Elias Chavara From the archives of the Carmelites of Mary Immaculate
When I am up above, will you let me help you, scold you even, if I see you are not giving everything to the Master? because I love you!
For the grace to give everything to the Master: It was the end of October when St. Elizabeth wrote the letter that has served as the prayerful foundation for our novena meditations. She was certain that she would die soon, and this letter to a dear friend served as her “spiritual testament.” At the head of the letter, she wrote this inscription: “Deus charitas est (God is love),” [I Jn 4:16] and she continued: “the hour is drawing near when I am going to pass from this world to my Father…” Totally surrendered to God, in an attitude of complete abandonment and self-giving to the Lord, she was prepared to meet her Spouse, the Bridegroom of her soul. Emptied of self, she was overflowing with divine love. She describes this as she writes: “Never was the heart of the Master so overflowing with love as at the supreme moment when he was going to leave his own! It seems to me as if something similar is happening in His little bride at the evening of her life, and I feel as if a wave were rising from my heart to yours! Dear Antoinette, in the light of eternity, the soul sees things as they really are.” And so, our novena comes full circle. Like St. Paul at his farewell to the elders of Ephesus, [cf. Ac 20:17-37] St. Elizabeth knows that what is essential counts. And, the example of self-giving and abandonment to Christ that she offers to us is the same example that we are called to offer to others. This is our vocation: to become great saints like Elizabeth of the Trinity. And to ensure that we are on the path to sainthood, she wants to help us in her own Totus Tuus way. Why not say yes? Say yes to holiness, yes to Elizabeth, say yes to Christ!
Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity Speaks
“When I am up above, will you let me help you, scold you even, if I see you are not giving everything to the Master? because I love you! … May He keep you wholly His, wholly faithful; in Him I will always be WHOLLY YOURS.”
In silent prayer, turn to Saint Elizabeth in your need. She is up above, ready to help you because she loves you. Ask her to show you how to give everything to the Master, Jesus Christ, in trust and love. Entrust yourself entirely to him as she did – he will keep you entirely his own!
O my God, Trinity whom I adore,let me entirely forget myself that I may abide in you, still and peaceful as if my soul were already in eternity; let nothing disturb my peace nor separate me from you, O my unchanging God, but that each moment may take me further into the depths of your mystery! Pacify my soul! Make it your heaven, your beloved home, and the place of your repose; let me never leave you there alone, but may I be ever attentive, ever alert in my faith, ever adoring and all given up to your creative action.
O my beloved Christ, crucified for love, would that I might be for you a spouse of your heart! I would anoint you with glory, I would love you — even unto death! Yet I sense my frailty and ask you to adorn me with yourself; identify my soul with all the movements of your soul, submerge me, overwhelm me, substitute yourself in me that my life may become but a reflection of your life. Come into me as Adorer, Redeemer, and Saviour.
O Eternal Word, Word of my God, would that I might spend my life listening to you, would that I might be fully receptive to learn all from you; in all darkness, all loneliness, all weakness, may I ever keep my eyes fixed on you and abide under your great light; O my Beloved Star, fascinate me so that I may never be able to leave your radiance.
O Consuming Fire, Spirit of Love, descend into my soul and make all in me as an incarnation of the Word, that I may be to him a super-added humanity wherein he renews his mystery; and you, O Father, bestow yourself and bend down to your little creature, seeing in her only your beloved Son in whom you are well pleased.
O my ‘Three’, my All, my Beatitude, infinite Solitude, Immensity in whom I lose myself, I give myself to you as a prey to be consumed; enclose yourself in me that I may be absorbed in you so as to contemplate in your light the abyss of your Splendour!