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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Saint John of the Cross - December 14

Saint John of the Cross
Doctor of the Church
December 14

Saint John of the Cross was born in 1542 the third and last child of Gonzalo and Catalina de Ypes. Gonzalo died when Saint John was an infant leaving Catalina a weaver by trade to support her three sons. After the death of the second of the three de Ypes sons, Catalina moved with Francisco the oldest and John to Medina del Campo.

The de Ypes sons were very close to their mother, but it was poverty that forced Saint John to seek his education away from home. His primary education was earned at an orphanage. After graduation he lived and worked at the hospital of Nostra Senora de la Concepcion where he was allowed to attend Jesuit College. Graduating in 1563 at age 21, he entered the Order of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Medina del Campo and took the name, John of St. Mathias.

At age 25, still a newly ordained Carmelite, St. John felt drawn to the Carthusian order. At the same time he met 52 year old St. Teresa of Avila who convinced him not to leave and also to help her launch a reform of the Carmelite order called the Discalced (shoeless) Carmelites. Under the new Discalced order John became known as John of the Cross.

In 1577 a dispute arose between the two Carmelite orders (the Mitigated Observance and the Carmelites of the Reform). John a member of the reform order was taken prisoner by the Mitigated Observance and held in a ten by six foot cell for nine months. Saint Teresa attempted to have him freed, but no one would reveal where he was being held. It was during his captivity that Saint John of the Cross composed and committed to memory a poem of 40 stanzas, The Spiritual Canticle of the Soul and the Bridegroom, a dialogue between the bride (the soul) and the bridegroom (Christ), based on the Song of Songs.

St. John of the Cross also wrote The Dark Side of the Soul, a narrated journey of the soul from her bodily home to her union with God. A year after writing this poem he wrote a commentary with the same title explaining the meaning of his poem verse by verse.

Throughout the life of St. John of the Cross he knew that no matter how dark life might seem, God was never far away because due to our baptism, God as the Holy Spirit dwells in our souls.  He wrote, “Be joyful in your interior recollection with Him. Desire Him there, adore Him there, do not go in pursuit of Him outside of yourself, you will only become distracted and weary…”

Ultimately St. John of the Cross lived and taught the gospel paradox, that the cross leads to resurrection, darkness to light, and denial to self to union with God. “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” (Matthew 16:25) Saint John of the Cross died at in 1591, canonized as a saint in 1726 by Pope Benedict XIII and raised to a Doctor of the Church by Pope Pius XI in 1926.

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