To step free from enslavement, we need a love which fills us at the point we thought the enslaving loves were filling us. To transcend our mediocrity, we need a love which touches us at the threshold of our fear. John presents a God whose love does that.
Iain Matthew, O.C.D. The Impact of God: Soundings from St. John of the Cross
Matthew, I 1995, The Impact of God: Soundings from St. John of the Cross, Hodder & Stoughton, London.
Although I have sent a letter by way of Baeza concerning the outcome of my journey, I am happy that these two servants of Señor Don Francisco are passing because of the opportunity it affords of sending these lines, which I am more certain will reach you.
I mentioned in the other letter how I desire to remain in this desert of La Peñuela, where I arrived about nine days ago and which is about six leagues north of Baeza. I like it very much, glory to God, and I am well.The vastness of the desert is a great help to the soul and body, although the soul fares very poorly. The Lord must be desiring that it have its spiritual desert.Well and good if it be for his service; His Majesty already knows what we are of ourselves. I don’t know how long this will last, for Father Fray Antonio de Jesús threatens from Baeza that he will not leave me here for long. Be that as it may, for in the meanwhile I am well off without knowing anything, and the life of the desert is admirable.
This morning we have already returned from gathering our chickpeas, and so the mornings go by. On another day we shall thresh them. It is nice to handle these mute creatures, better than being badly handled by living ones.God grant that I may stay here. Pray for this, my daughter. But even though I am so happy here, I would not fail to come should you desire.
Take care of your soul and do not confess scruples or first movements or imaginings in which the soul does not desire to be detained. Look after your health, and do not fail to pray when you can.
I already mentioned in the other letter, though this one will reach you first, that you can write to me by way of Baeza since they have mail service there. You can address the letters to the Discalced Fathers in Baeza; I have notified them to send the letters on to me.
Regards to Señor Don Luis and to my daughter, Doña Inés.
May God give you his Spirit as I desire. Amen.
From La Peñuela, August 19, 1591 Fray John of the Cross
[Letter 28 to Doña Ana del Mercado y Peñalosa]
Saint John of the Cross wrote Letter 28 to Doña Ana “about nine days” after he arrived from Segovia. Translator and editor Father Kieran Kavanaugh, O.C.D. notes that it was for Doña Ana that John of the Cross wrote The Living Flame of Love. Read more about Saint John’s stay in La Peñuela here.
Kavanaugh, K, Rodriguez, O & John of the Cross 1991, The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, ICS Publications, Washington DC.
To Padre Jerónimo Gracián, Madrid Avila, 21-22 August 1578
… I tell you that ever-present to me is what they did with Fray John of the Cross, for I don’t know how God bears with things like that; even you don’t know everything about it.For all these nine months he was held in a little prison cell where small as he is, he could hardly fit. In all that time he was given no change of tunic, even though he had come close to the point of death. Only three days before his escape the subprior gave him one of his shirts. He underwent harsh scourges, and no one was allowed to see him.
I experience the greatest envy.Surely our Lord found in him the resources for such a martyrdom. And it is good that this be known so that everyone will be all the more on guard against these people. May God forgive them, amen.
An investigation should be conducted to show the nuncio what those friars did to this saint, Fray John, without any fault on his part, for it is a pitiful thing. Tell this to Fray Germán; he will do it because he’s quite mad about this …
Teresa de Jesús
Saint John of the Cross escaped from his prison cell in Toledo during the night of 17-18 August 1578. We share the following editorial notes from Father Kieran Kavanaugh:
“These are two fragments from one letter. They reflect Teresa’s first impressions on learning of St. John of the Cross’s escape from his prison cell in Toledo and of what he suffered there.”
The nuncio at the time was the Italian Archbishop Filippo (Felipe) Sega. Father Kavanaugh’s editorial note is too tantalizing to excerpt, so we present it in its entirety.
Born in Bologna, he became Bishop of Ripa and nuncio to Flanders before being appointed nuncio to Spain in 1577 as successor to Ormaneto. He entered Spain with a bias against Teresa and her reform, the source of which was Cardinal Buoncompagni, a relative of his and nephew of the pope. But the entire conflict that had developed in Spain among the Carmelites was so complex that he had little inkling of what he was getting into. He supported Tostado who was seeking to put into effect the decisions of the chapter of Piacenza. It was he who called Teresa “a restless, gadabout woman.”
Sega considered the discalced friars who took part in the chapter of Almodóvar in 1578 delinquents and rebels, never listened to their defense, and imprisoned their leaders in different monasteries of the observant Carmelites.
Through the intervention of the king, an investigating committee was set up, and the friars as a result were placed under the care of Angel de Salazar, a former provincial of the observant Carmelites in Castile. Salazar dealt with the matter gently and promoted greater peace between the two groups of friars. Sega then mellowed somewhat and acquiesced when the discalced formed a separate province. After leaving Spain, he served in Portugal, Germany, and France. He was made a cardinal in 1591 and died in Rome.
Finally, we share Father Kavanaugh’s note concerning Fray Germán: “Fray Germán de San Matías was a confessor for the nuns at the Incarnation along with John of the Cross. He was taken prisoner at the same time as John, but very soon afterward broke free from his captors.”
Kieran Kavanaugh, K, Rodriguez, O, and Teresa, 1976, The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila, ICS Publications, Washington DC.
God desires the least degree of obedience and submissiveness more than all those services you think of rendering him.
Saint John of the Cross Sayings of Light and Love, No. 13
On 10 August 1591 Saint John of the Cross transferred from the friars’ convent in Segovia to the solitude of La Peñuela, where at last he was relieved of all offices in the order; once again he was a humble friar, forgotten, despised, and neglected… as he had always desired.
His superior was the Provincial, Father Antonio de Jesús, with whom he had begun the reform under the guidance of Saint Teresa many years earlier in their humble abode in Duruelo.
Although John was able to pray gloriously in the solitude of rocks and forest, difficulties lay ahead; within weeks he would develop erysipelas, a skin infection on his foot that would lead to septicemia. By December, consumed by penances, trials, and his disease, Saint John of the Cross would be dead.
We have the very wisdom and the very beauty and the very fortitude of God in shadow,because the soul here cannot comprehend God perfectly. Since the shadow is so formed by God’s size and properties that it is God himself in shadow, the soul knows well the excellence of God.
What, then, will be the shadows of the grandeurs of his virtues and attributes that the Holy Spirit casts on the soul? For he is so close to it that his shadows not only touch but unite it with these grandeurs in their shadows and splendors, so that it understands and enjoys God according to his property and measure in each of the shadows. For it understands and enjoys the divine power in the shadow of omnipotence; and it understands and enjoys the divine wisdom in the shadow of divine wisdom; and it understands and enjoys the infinite goodness in the shadow of infinite goodness that surrounds it, and so on. Finally, it enjoys God’s glory in the shadow of his glory.
Who can express how elevated this happy soul feels here, how exalted, how much admired in holy beauty?
I believe love does not allow us to pause for long here on earth, and besides Saint John of the Cross says so definitively; he has a wonderful chapter in which he describes the death of souls who are victims of love, the last assaults He gives them, then all the rivers of the soul, which are so immense they already resemble seas, go to lose themselves in the Ocean of divine love. Little sister, Saint Paul says that “our God is a consuming Fire.” If we remain always united to Him by a simple, loving gaze of faith; if, like our adored Master, we can say at the end of every day: “Because I love my Father, I always do what pleases Him,” He will really be able to consume us, and like two little sparks we will lose ourselves in the immense Furnace, free to burn there for all eternity.
Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity Letter 293 to Clémence Blanc (excerpt) Beginning of July, 1906
… 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 …
Saint John of the Cross Letter 26 to Madre María de la Encarnación 6 July 1591
The Lord gives us so much to do these days that we can hardly keep up with it all.
At the time I left Granada for the foundation in Córdoba, I wrote to you in haste. And afterward, while in Córdoba, I received your letters and those of the gentlemen who were going to Madrid and who must have thought they would meet me while I was at the meeting of definitors. But you know this meeting never took place because we were waiting for the completion of these foundations and visitations. The Lord gives us so much to do these days that we can hardly keep up with it all. The foundation for the friars in Córdoba was completed with greater applause and solemnity throughout the entire city than was ever given there to any other religious order. All the clergy and confraternities of Córdoba gathered, and the Most Blessed Sacrament was brought with great solemnity from the Cathedral. All the streets were beautifully decorated, and the people acted as though it were the feast of Corpus Christi. This took place on the Sunday after Ascension Thursday. The Bishop came and preached, praising us highly. The house is situated in the best district of the city, in the neighborhood of the Cathedral.
Saint John of the Cross Letter 5 to Madre Ana de San Alberto, prioress of Caravaca Sevilla, June 1586
On 18 May 1586 St. John of the Cross founded the convent of Córdoba of the Discalced Carmelite friars. Although St. John founded the convent “in the neighborhood of the Cathedral” in 1586, a few years later the community transferred to a convent near the Puerta del Colodro just north of the old city wall called the Muralla de la Axerquía. [Source: Efemérides Carmelitanas]
Have a great love for those who contradict and fail to love you, for in this way love is begotten in a heart that has no love. God so acts with us, for he loves us that we might love by means of the very love he bears toward us.
Saint John of the Cross Letter 33 to a discalced Carmelite nun in Segovia Ubeda, October-November 1591
John of the Cross helps me to believe that God exists. He helps me to believe that death is not the end, that there is more to life than biology. He helps me to trust that God loves us and means to bring us to eternal life in heaven. In short, he helps me to believe that Christ is risen.
The dominant figure in American decorative arts for more than half a century, Louis Comfort Tiffany founded several firms to satisfy the strong demand for his art glass, metalwork, pottery and furniture. Tiffany’s enthusiasm for sensuous materials and striking colors found full expression in his stained-glass windows. From 1877 through the 1920s, he and his craftsmen produced thousands of windows for churches, institutions and homes across the United States.
Upon the death of her husband in 1901, the widow of United States president Benjamin Harrison commissioned Tiffany to create a window in his memory. The window, the lower half of which appears here, was installed in 1905 at the First Presbyterian Church, 16th and Delaware Streets, Indianapolis, where the president had served as an elder for more than 40 years. Absorbed in scores of projects, Tiffany probably left the window’s conception to his team of talented designers, contributing his own thought before giving final approval. The design shows Michael, the Angel of the Resurrection, signaling the dead to rise at Christ’s second coming. In keeping with the romanticism of the time, Tiffany’s heroic angel is dressed in the chain mail suit of a crusading knight and seems like a figure from Sir Walter Scott’s novels…
Mine are the heavens and mine is the earth. Mine are the nations, the just are mine, and mine the sinners. The angels are mine, and the Mother of God, and all things are mine; and God himself is mine and for me, because Christ is mine and all for me. What do you ask, then, and seek, my soul? Yours is all of this, and all is for you. Do not engage yourself in something less or pay heed to the crumbs that fall from your Father’s table. Go forth and exult in your Glory! Hide yourself in it and rejoice, and you will obtain the supplications of your heart.
Saint John of the Cross Prayer of a Soul Taken with Love Sayings of Light and Love, No. 27
I would like to respond by living on earth as the Blessed Virgin did
At the moment I am reading some very beautiful pages in our blessed Father Saint John of the Cross on the transformation of the soul in the three Divine Persons. Monsieur l’Abbé, to what an abyss of glory we are called! Oh! I understand the silence, the recollection of the saints who could no longer leave their contemplation; thus God could lead them to the divine summits where union is made perfect between Him and the soul who has become His bride, in the mystical sense of the word. Our blessed Father says that then the Holy Spirit raises it to so wonderful a height that He makes it capable of producing in God the same spiration of love that the Father produces in the Son and the Son in the Father, the spiration that is the Holy Spirit Himself!
To think that God calls us by our vocation to live in this holy light! What an adorable mystery of charity! I would like to respond to it by living on earth as the Blessed Virgin did, “keeping all these things in my heart,” burying myself, so to speak, in the depths of my soul to lose myself in the Trinity who dwells in it in order to transform me into itself. Then my motto, “my luminous ideal,” as you said, will be accomplished: it will really be Elizabeth of the Trinity! . . .
Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity Letter 185 to Abbé Chevignard 28 November 1903
Before I go into holy silence, I feel compelled to send you heartfelt thanks for the charming Easter package. Our dear Mother <M. Josefa>, Mother Subprioress <Teresa Renata> and I happily unpacked it together, and on Holy Saturday night, an Easter rabbit and an Easter candle were stationed in every cell of the novices. I received the beautiful wooden candlestick with the large Easter candle, although I surmise this large light was intended for the Novice Mistress <Teresa Renata>. It will burn for me now during my retreat, when I make my meditation in the solitude of my cell, away from the community. Our holy Father John of the Cross will be my guide: the Ascent of Mount Carmel.
Probably I will be allowed to begin early on Friday. I would like most of all to remain in solitude until the morning of the Clothing, but there is a possibility that I will be called out the day before at the request of guests from out of town. I look forward with so much joy to the silence. As much as I love the Divine Office and as loath as I am to be away from the choir even for the shortest of the Hours—the basis of our life, after all, is the two hours of meditation provided by our schedule. Only since I’ve been enjoying this privilege do I know how much I missed by not having it outside. Our Reverend Mother will surely be glad to send along [with this letter] the ritual for the Clothing ceremony. It will be so much better if you can read it before it takes place—even though you cannot be present yourself.
May I beg you, together with your community, to help us with a very important intention? On the 11th, the General Chapter of the Congregation of Beuron will begin in Gerleve. We know there are very important questions to solve. Will you join us in prayers to the Holy Spirit for a successful outcome? I am also a bit interested in it personally. If Father Archabbot <Raphael Walzer> can close the Chapter on the 14th, he will be on time here to conduct the Clothing. But that, of course, is a small matter compared to all that is at stake there. I hardly need to say that I tell you this in confidence. I believe you will be happy to help because of your love for the Benedictine way of life.
Particular thanks for the Easter Prefaces: they are helping me celebrate the beautiful octave. And above all, thank you again for your love that I have in no way earned.
Always faithfully mindful of you, your grateful
Letter 168 to Mother Petra Brüning, OSU, Dorsten Original in Convent Archive of Ursuline Sisters, Dorsten
Should we strive for perfect love, you ask? Absolutely. For this we were created.
“Pure love” for our Holy Father John of the Cross means loving God for his own sake, with a heart that is free from all attachment to anything created: to itself and to other creatures, but also to all consolations and the like which God can grant the soul, to all particular forms of devotion, etc.; with a heart that wants nothing more than that God’s will be done, that allows itself to be led by God without any resistance. What one can do oneself to attain this goal is treated in detail in the Ascent of Mount Carmel. How God purifies the soul, in the Dark Night. The result, in the Living Flame and the Spiritual Canticle. (Basically, the whole way is to be found in each of the volumes, but each time one or other of the stages is predominant.)
He will not fail to give grace if we faithfully do the little we can do
Should we strive for perfect love, you ask? Absolutely. For this, we were created. [Perfect love] will be our eternal life, and here we have to seek to come as close to it as possible. Jesus became incarnate in order to be our way. What can we do? Try with all our might to be empty: the senses mortified; the memory as free as possible from all images of this world and, through hope, directed toward heaven; the understanding stripped of natural seeking and ruminating, directed to God in the straightforward gaze of faith; the will (as I have already said) surrendered to God in love.
The little — taken absolutely, is for us a great deal
This can be said very simply, but the work of an entire life would not attain the goal were God not to do the most essential. In the meantime, we may be confident that he will not fail to give grace if we faithfully do the little we can do. The little—taken absolutely, is for us a great deal. And while we are about it, we have to be careful not to wish to judge for ourselves how far we have come. Only God knows that. That brings me to Psalm 18 (so simple, as I understand the phrase). What we recognize of ourselves, and of our faults and behavior, is only the illuminated surface. The depth they come out of is to a large extent hidden from ourselves. God knows that depth and can purify it. The ab alienis can probably be understood in different ways. I think of it principally as what burdens us through unknown faults. But one could also think of that in which we are implicated by others. Delictum maximum probably is not to be understood as anything definite. To me it seems to point far more to Divine Mercy’s immensity and Salvation’s almighty power, for to them nothing is too great.
Saint Edith Stein
Letter 311 to Sister Agnella Stadtmüller, O.P. (Excerpts) Written from the Carmel of Echt, 30 March 1940