John of the Cross
St. John of the Cross (born 1542, died 1591) was born in Old Castile, Spain. John was reformer, mystic poet and theologian priest. He founded the Discalced Carmelites for friars with St. Teresa of Avila. He is unmatched in his mystical life and had a total submission to God in all things. His virtues, gifts and holiness were extraordinary. John's writings were eloquent, his poetical mind deeply influenced by all that is beautiful and attractive. He lived a life of poverty and of suffering. John always said ""Do not seek Christ without the cross." The only Doctor of the Church with the title 'of the Cross' following his name. John is also called the Doctor of Mystical Theology.
Born John de Yepes, youngest child of father Gonzalo de Yepes and mother Catherine Alvarez. John's father was disinherited by his noble family for marrying a simple weaver's daughter. After his father died, his mother kept the destitute family together as they wandered homeless in search of work. John often went hungry and learned at an early age the meaning of sacrifice. He was a good student at a poor school in Medina del Campo. He chose to follow the Carmelites that recently established a mission in Medina. John was sent to Salamanca for the higher studies, and was ordained priest in 1567.
John met Teresa of Jesus (Avila) and like her vowed himself to reform and the primitive Rule of the Carmelites. He filled various posts in different places until St. Teresa called him to Avila as director. As the movement spread confusion reigned, do to contradictory orders issued by the general chapter versus the Apostolic nuncio. St. John was ordered by his provincial to return to Medina. When he refused to do so, members of John's own order kidnapped him. In this time in Spain's history, the Inquisition ruled. He was locked in a cell six feet by ten feet and beaten three times a week by the monks for nine months. His cell was unbearable, dark, cold, and desolate with only a small window near the ceiling as light. All he had left in his life was God and this became his greatest joy where he wrote his mystical poems.
John escaped by unscrewing the lock on his door and creeping past the guard. He climbed out a window using a rope made of strips of blankets. John hid from pursuers in a convent infirmary where he read his poetry to the nuns. From this point on, he devoted his life to sharing and explaining his experience of God's love. "Where there is no love, put love and you will find love."
Mystic of God's Love
The favors and blessings that John received from God are all clearly seen in his writings and the legacy he has left. John received from God the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit in great abundance; wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, fortitude, piety and fear of the Lord. He was so caught up and absorbed in God. St. John says that Love is repaid by Love alone and again: Love is only repaid by Love. This perfect spirit of charity reveals how God works and lives in us all. In time, he came to full realization of the Gospel Mark 8:34b “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” Perfection only achieved in denying oneself completely and yielding oneself to suffer everything for the love of Christ. John learned to search for beauty and happiness not in the world, but in God. He became a man overflowing with charity and kindness. John showed the path of union with God: rigorous discipline, abandonment, purification.
St. John of the Cross left behind treasured masterpieces for all generation to follow.
- Ascent of Mount Carmel (agony leads to ecstasy)
- Dark Night of the Soul (written soon after his escape from prison, a full treatise on mystic theology)
- A Spiritual Canticle of the Soul and the Bridegroom Christ (expressing the ecstasy of the mystical union with God)
Pope John Paul II was strongly influenced by his works and wrote one of his doctoral dissertations on St John of the Cross.
At age 49, his illness forced his removal to the monastery of Ubeda, Andalusia. He died in 1591. The beatification took place on January 25, 1675, and the canonization on December 27, 1726. John was made a Doctor of The Church by Pope Pius XI August 24, 1926. God has preserved his remains incorrupt to this day.