We Can Know St. John of the Cross by the Words of St. Teresa of Jesus

St. John of the Cross, an outstanding contemplative, confessor and Doctor of the Church, and whose feast is celebrated on 14 December, undertook the reform of the Order of Carmel with St. Teresa of Jesus.

Newsroom (14/12/2021 19:35, Gaudium Press) Born in the province of Avila, Spain, St. John of the Cross’ first formation took place in Medina del Campo, where he studied with the Jesuit Fathers. He wished, however, to become a Carmelite and entered this Order at the age of 21, receiving his theological education in Salamanca. In 1567 he was ordained a priest and celebrated his first Mass.

Called to an austere and sublime contemplative life, this young religious man was soon disappointed by the monastic relaxation of Carmelite convents.

Deciding instead to seek out the Carthusian Order – within which he could expand his soul’s yearnings – he met St. Teresa and accepted her challenge to promote the reform of Carmel.

As is often the case for those who strive with zeal for religious observance, his work earned him ill treatment and slander, even to the point of being imprisoned in Toledo.

During this period of harsh trials, the flame of his mystical poetry was kindled in him. His famous writings date from then, such as “Ascent of Mount Carmel”, “Dark night of the Soul”, “Spiritual Canticle”, “Living flame of Love”, and others.

For more than twenty years he consecrated himself to an existence full of asceticism and fruitful contemplation. He died at the age of 49, on 14 December 1591.

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Description of John of the Cross

St. Teresa considered him “one of the purest souls that God has in His Church“, and another of her contemporaries described him thus: “A man of medium height, of good physiognomy, serious and venerable face. His manner was very pleasant and his conversation very profitable for those who listened to him. He was a friend of recollection and spoke little. When he reprimanded as a superior, which he often did, he acted with sweet severity, exhorting with paternal love”.

Letter of St. Teresa of Jesus to Mother Anne of Jesus

“I found it amusing, daughter, to see how you complain without reason, because you have my Father there, Friar John of the Cross, who is a heavenly and divine man; for I tell you, my daughter, that since his departure for there, I have not found in all Castile another like him, who has so much fervour for the way to Heaven. You cannot imagine how much I miss him. Look, what a great treasure you have in that Saint. All the women of that house should speak to him about their souls, and you will see how much they will profit from him and how far advanced they will be in all things spiritual and perfect, because Our Lord has given him special grace for this.

“Be assured that I would like to have here my Father, Brother John of the Cross, who is truly the father of my soul and one of those who would do me the most good through his communication. Do so, my daughters, with all confidence, for I assure you that you can have him as you have me, and this will give you great satisfaction, for he is very spiritual and of great learning and experience. He is greatly missed here by those who have grown accustomed to his doctrine. Give thanks to God Who has allowed you to have him so close to you. I am going to write to him to ask him to help you, which he will do in case you have any need, for I know his great charity.”

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Compiled by Sandra Chisholm

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