Monday, December 15, 2003

St. John of the Cross


St. John of the Cross' solemnity is celebrated today by the Discalced Carmelites. His day is listed in the calendar as December 14 but as that was a Sunday in Advent, it is transferred to the next day for the Carmelites of the discalced reform.

Poor St. John gets a pretty bad press. Everyone thinks he's so gloomy: all that "nada, nada, nada" and "attempt to desire the more difficult way". It's an essential part of St. John but not the whole story and not so gloomy in its context. (Nada, nada, nada is not an end in itself. But it is necessary so that when empty you can be filled with Todo, todo, todo!)

St. John had a very romantic family background. From Fr. Pius Sammut, O.C.D.'s God is a Feast:


We do not know either the day or the month when he was born. We only know the years: 1542. Juan de Yepes Alvarez was born in Fontiveros, a village near Avila. Dry in the summer, cold and arid in the winter. His parents' marriage was a poem of love. Gonzalo de Yepes, coming from a rich family of Toledo fell in love with Catalina Alvarez - beautiful girl endowed with many human traits but not a penny to call her own. His family opposed vigorously a marriage which would degrade their son to a lower social class. They threatened to disinherit him. He felt that love is more important than money and he did not heed their threats. Gonzalo married Catalina and became penniless. Thus, this young man who had been used to the cozy life of a gentleman, suddenly found himself in a situation where he had to fend for himself. He learnt the art of weaving silk, which was his wife's trade. It was hard work which did not pay well. Indeed, for some time they even had to struggle against hunger.

They had three sons: Francisco (1530) , Luis (date of birth unknown), and Juan. When John was six, his father became very ill. He was bed-ridden for two years thus using up all the family's savings. His death meant that life became much harder for the de Yepes family. The familiar situation was made worse by a famine which affected the whole of Castille.


It would've made a great Puccini opera. The Catholic Encyclopaedia has a full treatment of his life here.

Some quotations from St. John selected by the Terre Haute, Indiana Carmel and published in "Quoteworthy: St. John of the Cross":

"With what procrastination do you wait, since from this very moment you can love God in your heart."

"There is no way to catch in words the sublime things of God. . . .The appropriate language for the person receiving these favors is that he understand them, experience them within himself, enjoy them, and be silent."

"At the evening of life, you will be examined in love."

"Think nothing else, but that God ordains all. And where there is no love, put love and you will draw out love. . . ."

"Strive to preserve your heart in peace and let no event of this world disturb it. Reflect that all must come to an end."