Imprisoned and flogged by his own religious brothers, Saint Teresa’s companion in the reform of Carmel said that it was in prison that he learned the great value of suffering.
Newsdesk (17/12/2022 5:59 PM, Gaudium Press) The life of the great Carmelite, St. John of the Cross, born Juan de Yepes, was marked by suffering, by divine protection, by mystical graces that a certain erroneous view considers exclusive to certain saints, when in reality, the mystical life is for all the faithful.
Small in stature but giant in spirit, the son of an aristocrat, he was born in 1542. But his father died soon after his birth, leaving the family in poverty. He, the youngest of three brothers, had to be taken at a very young age to the Colegio de la Doctrina, a kind of orphanage in Medina del Campo.
Miraculous incidents of protection throughout his childhood
Juan de Yepes was playing with other children of his age, six years old, by a pond, when he lost his balance and fell sinking into the water. However, inexplicably he began to float, and on coming to the surface he saw Our Lady holding out her white hand to him. He rejected the Virgin’s hand because it seemed too pure to him, and that he was not worthy to touch her. Then a neighbouring farmer came along and took the boy out of the water.
The devil had wanted him very much since he was a child.
One day, arriving in Medina, a huge monster came out of a pond, threatening to devour the child. But the boy reacted as a wise Christian, made the Sign of the Cross, and the monster disappeared, melting into the dirty water.
Another time, when John was already an altar boy at the convent of Magdalena, a friend attacked him and made him fall into a well. But to everyone’s surprise, the boy was seen to be floating, and he himself asked for a rope, which he tied around his waist and by which he was rescued. Later, he said that the Virgin had sustained him in the water — for the second time already in his short life.
His studies; He enters Carmel.
From the convent of Magdalena he went to the Conception Hospital, where he served as an assistant nurse, collected alms for the hospital and, in his spare time, studied at the College of the Society of Jesus.
And although they wanted him to be ordained and remain as hospital chaplain, as soon as John finished school he asked to enter the city’s Carmelite convent, where he took the name John of St. Matthias. He was then sent to Salamanca to finish his theology course.
His first Mass was celebrated in Medina del Campo, for which he prepared himself with great fervour for days in advance and with fasting. Those present felt that something special had been worked in the already virtuous friar.
Years later, God wanted to reveal, through a nun, what had happened at the first Mass of Saint John of the Cross, to the joy of all who admired him, and to testify to the power of grace.
The nun was waiting for Friar John Matthias to finish attending to another person, and then to continue with her, when, being in prayer, the Lord manifested to her the great holiness of the saintly priest, Friar John, and revealed to her that when he had said his first Mass, his innocence was restored, being placed in the state of a two-year-old child, without falsehood or malice, confirming him in grace like the Apostles so that he would not sin and would never offend God.
Meeting with Saint Teresa
Soon after his first Mass, he met his great partner in the reform of Carmel, Saint Teresa of Jesus.
She had just founded a convent in Medina, a reformed Carmelite convent, when she heard about the friar, and by an inner inspiration understood that he would be the founder of the reform of the men’s branch of the Carmelite work.
He was already being inspired to a more austere life and wanted to become a Carthusian monk, but Teresa told him about the restoration of Carmel according to the first rule. Then the friar received a grace, confirming to him that he should support Mother Teresa in this great task.
This is how Friar John of St. Matthias became Friar John of the Cross, and became the first friar to receive the habit of the Carmelite reform.
Life of suffering, love of suffering
When Saint Teresa was chosen as prioress of the ancient monastery of La Encarnación, she took Saint John as confessor to the religious.
But it was precisely there that he became the victim of the confrontation between the Calced Carmelites and the Discalced Carmelites. The Calced arrested him, locked him in a cold cell in the Toledo convent, giving him only bread and water, and often flogged him several times a week.
Saint John of the Cross suffered this martyrdom for nine months. Afterwards he declared, “Do not be alarmed if I show such love for suffering; God gave me a great sense of its merit and value when I was in prison in Toledo.” It was in prison that he composed some of his most remarkable poems.
One day, by divine inspiration, he escaped from prison. He made a rope of cloth which, as he was descending, began to tear. The friar fell from a height from which death would normally result, but miraculously the stones on the ground became as pillows and he was able, free, to resume his work: forming novices, spiritually guiding the already professed, and others, but always occupying secondary positions in the order.
Saint Teresa loved him very much and called him “little saint Friar John”, whose “little bones will work miracles”, because he was “celestial and divine”.
He went to the Chapter of the Discalced in 1591, when some friars, who had a suspected animosity towards the friar, were chosen as superiors. His worst adversary was Father Diego Evangelista, who, encouraged by the spirit of darkness, began a campaign of defamation against the saint.
Saint John was sent to an isolated friary near Sierra Morena, but then, already ill, he asked to be sent to the friary of Ubeda, administered by one of his fiercest enemies: he wanted to suffer completely.
In the convent he was isolated and no one was allowed to visit him.
His leg gradually filled with tumours, which had to be extracted by a doctor who removed the blood and pus, which, surprisingly, exuded a sweet smell. The doctor collected this material in gauze, applied it to other patients and cured them.
The prior continued to persecute the patient and hardly gave him anything to eat.
The saint diminished like a candle, and died on December 14th, 1591.
He was canonized by Benedict XIII in 1726.
Pius XI made him a doctor of the Church.
Compiled by Roberta MacEwan