Saturday, 14 December 2013
John of the Cross
Born in Spain, his father had been disowned by his noble family after marrying a weaver's daughter. Following his father's death, his mother kept the destitute family together as they wandered homeless in search of work. When the family finally found work, John still went hungry in the middle of the wealthiest city in Spain. At fourteen, John took a job caring for hospital patients who suffered from incurable diseases and madness.
After John joined the Carmelite order, Saint Teresa of Avila asked him to help her reform the movement. John supported her belief that the order should return to its life of prayer. But many Carmelites felt threatened by this reform, and some members of John's own order kidnapped him. He was locked in a cell six feet by ten feet and beaten three times a week by the monks. There was only one tiny window high up near the ceiling.
After nine months, John escaped by unscrewing the lock on his door and creeping past the guard. Taking only the poetry he had written in his cell - the Spiritual Canticle - on paper passed to him by one of the friars guarding his cell, he climbed out of a window using a rope made of strips of blankets. He hid from pursuers in a convent infirmary where he read his poetry to the nuns.
After returning to a normal life, he went on with the reformation and the founding of monasteries for the new Discalced Carmelite order. In the years that followed he would write the Dark Night of the Soul and the Ascent of Mount Carmel, amongst other influential works.
He died on 14 December 1591, of erysipelas.
O God, the judge of all,
who gave your servant John of the Cross
a warmth of nature, a strength of purpose
and a mystical faith
that sustained him even in the darkness:
shed your light on all who love you
and grant them union of body and soul
in your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.