John de Yepes was born in 1542 in Fontiveros, a small town in Castile, Spain. His father died when he was very young, leaving his family in poverty. John did several jobs to help his mother and brother support the family (weaving wool and silk) and then he was in charge of caring for the sick in the hospital. He then received a literary training among the Jesuits. Very attracted to God, the young John wished to join the clergy. In 1563, he knocked on the door of the Carmelite convent and received the habit. He was ordained a priest in 1567 and obtained permission to follow the rule of Carmel in a stricter form. In Medina del Campo, John meets Sister Theresa of Jesus, who would become the great Saint Theresa of Avila. She had just founded her second monastery in this city. John was enthusiastic about the reform of Carmel undertaken by Sister Theresa. He first followed a year of theology in Salamanca and then joined it in Valladolid, where Theresa educated him. Then, John, now called John of the Cross, founded with two other brothers the first convent of Carmelite Carmelites in Duruelo. Together they promised "to live according to the primitive Rule of Saint Albert, corrected by Innocent IV, without mitigation". John devoted himself to the formation of the young brothers of the reform. In 1572, he was ordered to join Theresa of Jesus in Avila as confessor of the nuns of the Incarnation. His spiritual direction complemented Theresa's work.
After the death of Sister Theresa, a time of trial came for the Reformed Carmelites, and especially for John. The clothed Carmelites attacked the Discalced Carmelites, and several brothers are taken away as criminals. John received many punishments in order to make him deny the reforms, but he remained steadfast. Finally, they locked him in a dark closet, where he would stay nine months. John was sorely tried and felt the abandonment of God, yet from the depths of his suffering, a light came out and John entered into an intimate relationship with Christ, from which he drew intense joy. He expressed his feelings and his mystical life with magnificent poems.
Driven by an impulse, John decided to flee. He escaped and went to the monastery of the Discalced Carmelites, and then joined the hermitage of Calvario. At the monastery of Beas, John met Sister Anne of Jesus, who would be a great friend to him. John of the Cross began writing the Ascent of Mount Carmel and the Dark Night.
Arrived at the Monastery of Alcala, Father John was appointed Prior of Granada in 1581, then Provincial Vicar of Andalusia. At this time many convents were born: Córdoba, La Manchuela, Caravaca, and Sevilla. In 1591, new trials fell on John, resentments and jealousy came to overwhelm him, but he, who had asked for the grace to suffer them for Jesus, remained serene. They wanted to take his robe and deny him treatment during his last illness. John suffered and saw death approaching, but continued to praise God. He died in peace on December 13, 1591 while some brothers read him the Song of Songs.
John of the Cross, nicknamed the "mystical doctor", was canonized in 1726 and declared a doctor of the Church 200 years later, in 1926. In 1952, he was proclaimed the patron saint of Spanish poets. Saint John of the Cross is celebrated on December 14.
Saint John of the Cross was above all a poet; indeed, he revealed his spiritual experience through poetry. At the request of his spiritual sons and daughters, John commented on three of his poems: the Spiritual Song, the Dark Night, and the Vivid Flame of Love. The Ascent of Mount Carmel is one of these comments. The poems of Saint John of the Cross are of great spiritual depth, and Saint Teresa of the Child Jesus was inspired to write her own poems.
Saint John of the Cross left other magnificent poems (But it is by night, etc.), some letters, and various brief writings in the form of opinions or sentences of wisdom. Among them are the four great ascetic and mystical treatises and the short spiritual writings: Spirituality Advice, Degrees of Perfection, Words of Light and Love, Precautions and Opinions (to Carmelite monks).
For Saint John of the Cross, life is about finding God's presence in one's heart: it is about union with God through love. By discovering the love of God, man finds inner peace. John describes his own experience: "I stayed there and forgot," he said, "with my face bent over the Beloved." - Everything stopped for me, and I surrendered to him. - I confided to him all my worries - And forgot myself in the midst of the lilies.”
The way proposed by Saint John of the Cross to reach God is the imitation of Christ, Jesus is the teacher whom one must always know best in order to act in his own way. This is what John says about the spiritual path: "High is the mountain of perfection, deep the night to cross to reach the summit".
Witnessing his personal experience, John expresses the graces received during his spiritual night. “O night that guided me! - O night nicer than dawn! - O night who have united - Loved Him with His beloved - Who had been transformed into Him! , and again: "In that happy night, - I stood in secret, no one saw me, - And I saw nothing - To guide me only the light - That burned in my heart".
For Saint John of the Cross, love is the goal of all human life: "In the evening of our life, we will be judged on love".
“Take me, Lord, in the divine riches of your silence, fullness capable of filling everything in my soul.
Silence in me what is not you, what is not your pure, lonely, peaceful presence.
Impose silence on my desires, my whims, my dreams of escape, the violence of my passions.
Cover by your silence, the voice of my demands, my complaints.
Impermeate in your silence my nature too impatient to speak, too moved to external, noisy action.
Impose also silence upon my prayer, that it may be moved toward thee;
Bring your silence down to the depths of my being and bring this silence back to you as a tribute of love!
“What is happening on the other side, when everything for me will have fallen into eternity. I don't know. I believe, I believe only that a great Love awaits me. I know, however, that then, poor and destitute, I will let God weigh the weight of my life. But don't think I'm desperate. No, I believe, I believe so much that a great Love awaits me. Now that my hour is near, that the voice of eternity invites me to cross the wall, which I believed, I will believe it stronger in the footsteps of death. It is to a Love that I walk as I go, it is to his Love that I extend my arms, it is in life that I slowly descend. If I die, do not cry, it is a Love that takes me peacefully. What if I'm scared? Why not? Remind me often, simply, that a Love awaits me. My Redeemer will open to me the door of joy, of His Light. Yes, Father! Behold, I come to you as a child, I come to throw myself into your Love, your Love that awaits me.
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