John of the Cross
Feast Day: December 14
Canonized: December 27, 1726
Beatified: January 25, 1675
Born in 1542, John was raised in Spain by a widowed mother who could barely provide for her sons. At a young age, he worked in a hospital and developed a great love for the poor and the sick. He sometimes felt that he was in the presence of Jesus when he was tending the patients. But John wanted to become even closer to God. He became a Carmelite friar when he was almost 20 years old.
John was disappointed that the Carmelites no longer lived by the strict Rule that they were known for, and he considered joining a more austere cloistered order. But Teresa of Avila, a Carmelite nun who became a famous saint and Doctor of the Church, told John that she had been given permission to begin convents based on the original Rule. She asked John to join her in this work.
Teresa and John’s reforms meet with anger and resistance. They called themselves “discalced,” or barefoot, Carmelites to make clear the differences between them and other Carmelites who opposed their stricter Rule. Some friars did not like the changes John suggested. They imprisoned John in a dark and dirty cell. It was in those terrible conditions that John wrote some of his most beautiful poetry and prayers. Through these nine months of being shut away, John became a mystic, a person who deeply experiences the spiritual presence of God in their lives. He wrote of the “dark night of soul,” an expression still used today to describe people’s doubts and challenges in their faith.
John escaped his tiny prison cell and returned to his work of reforming and founding new monasteries.
Even though John died long ago, in 1591, his spiritual writings and poetry are still read today by people who want to grow in relationship with the Lord. One of John’s most famous sayings is, “In the evening of life, we will be judged on love alone.” He was canonized in 1726 and was declared a Doctor of the Church in 1926.
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