Today we celebrate St. John of the Cross, the Spanish Carmelite mystic and doctor of the Church.
St. John suffered much in his efforts to reform the Carmelite order. He was imprisoned twice and treated extremely cruelly during his second imprisonment, from which he escaped. Yet during that imprisonment he wrote many of his beautiful poems that celebrate God’s love.
After he recovered, he went about in the work of reform, only to be the target of ill-will from other members of the reform movement.
His was not a life of outward joy and consolation – but a life lived in the light of the Cross.
But he was faithful. As he wrote in Spiritual Canticle:
Many desire the consoling joy
to which the Cross leads,
But few desire the Cross itself.
Reading these words this morning I recalled a Jesuit priest who led me during a short retreat at the Creighton retreat center in Iowa. I was on a high after a visit to Palestine and Israel. He pointedly asked me:
Are you seeking the God of consolation or the consolation of God?
And yet, when we seek the God of consolation we can deal with the pains and sufferings of life, we can bear the Cross.
I think for people like St. John of the Cross it may come back to living life with a spirit of thanksgiving, gratitude, and gratuitousness.
In We Drink from Our Own Wells, Gustavo Gutiérrez writes
The experience of gratuitousness is the space of encounter wit the Lord. Unless we understand the meaning of gratuitousness, there will be no contemplative dimension in our lives. Contemplation is not a state of paralysis but of radical self-giving, as we saw in reading passages from John of the Cross. In the final analysis, to believe in God means to live our life as a gift from God and to look upon everything that happens in it as a manifestation of his gift. (p. 110)
That, perhaps is the secret of St. John of the Cross: encountering God’s love even in the midst of prison, living the Cross and being consoled and strengthened by the Cross of Christ who comes and seeks us.