Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Doctor of God's Love

St. John of the Cross

1542 - Juan de Yepes born to Gonzalo de Yepes & Catalina Alvarez
1545 - John's father, Gonzalo, dies
1545-46 - Family moves to Toledo, then back to Fontiveros
1547 - John's brother, Luis, dies
1548-51 - Family moves to Arévalo, then to Medina del Campo
1551-58 - Attends school; apprentice in various trades; acolyte at La Magdalena
1559-63 - Studies humanities and philosophy with Jesuits; works in the hospital in Medina
1563 - Enters novitiate at Carmelite Monastery at Medina
1564 - Profession as a Carmelite
1564-68 - Attends University of Salamanca: 3 years in the arts, 1 year in theology
1567 - Named prefect of students; ordained priest in July at Salamanca; first meets Teresa of Avila in September or October
1568 - Finishes theology at Salamanca; begins work with Teresa of Avila in the first house of discalced Carmelite friars;
accompanies Teresa to Valladolid (August) and stays several months to learn Teresa's way of life; moves to Durelo (October) to set up a monastery; appointed subprior and novice master at first house for discalced friars at Duruelo
(November 28)
1572-77 - Vicar and confessor at the Monastery of the Incarnation at Avila
1577-1578 - Abducted and imprisoned by his Order for 9 months for being too strict; composes poems: The Spiritual Canticle, For I Know Well the Spring, The Romances, and On the psalm "Super flumina Babylonis"
1579 - Founds the university college in Baeza and becomes rector
1580 - John's mother, Catalina, dies
1582 - St. Teresa of Avila dies in Alba de Tormes, October 4
1591 - John of the Cross dies at Ubeda, December 14
1675 - Clement X beatifies John of the Cross, January 22
1726 - Canonized a saint by Benedict XIII, December 27
1926 - Declared a Doctor of the Church by Pius XI, August 24

This may sound a bit suggestive, but I relate it only because it actually happened.  In 1964 our class of newly ordained priests was sent to St. Anthony's Parish in Detroit, MI, for a year-long Tirocinium (beginners' training): regular parish duties; daily and weekend Masses in nearby parishes; counselling; teaching religion at St. Anthony's Elementary and High Schools; taking classes at the University of Detroit; and helping set up a neighborhood social service program. One of my classmates, who taught in the high school as I did, opened one of his classes by asking: "Who can give me a four-letter word describing something very important in our lives, something which we all like to do."  Predictably, his question was met with a flurry of self-conscious snickers and giggles from adolescents whose hormones were raging full blast at that time.  The cogs in their dirty little minds were in overdrive suggesting another word, but one farthest from my classmate's mind just then.  He was thinking of the word "love".

"Love" is a commonly used word, especially in church circles.  How could it not run the risk of becoming devalued of its deepest connotations.  Thanks to people like John of the Cross, open minds and hearts are able to capture the true richness and beauty of love, especially as it relates to God.  I wish I had been much more open during my early seminary days.  John of the Cross, mistakenly, had the reputation then of being too profound, to heady for the likes of us lowly seminarians. When, finally, we were deemed ready to be exposed to his teaching (within the last year or so of our theological training), the presentation was so dry that many of us literally fell asleep as the professor droned on.  Sadly, he didn't even notice, or if he did, he never called us on it, as he proceeded with his lifeless presentation!  It was only recently, when I was in my 60's, that I finally picked up and completed reading John of the Cross' major works.  I was astounded! In a good rendering (try the ICS translation by Kieran Kavanaugh, OCD and Otilio Rodriguez, OCD) it's not only fairly easy reading, but one can't help being tremendously inspired by its uplifiting poetic character.

Some samples:  

From The Sayings of Light and Love, 60: (see above) "A la tarde te examinarán en el amor."  "When evening comes, you will be examined in love."

From The Spiritual Canticle, 19:  "andando enamorada, me hice perdidiza y fui ganada."  "...stricken by love, I lost myself, and was found."

From The Dark Night, 5:  "¡Oh noche que guiaste! ¡Oh noche amable más que el alborada! ¡Oh noche que juntaste
Amado con amada, amada en el Amado transformada!"  "O guiding night! O night more lovely than the dawn!
O night that has united the Lover with his beloved, transforming the beloved in her Lover."

From Letter 26 To Madre María de la Encarnación, discalced Carmelite in Segovia, July 6, 1591:
"Think nothing else but that God ordains all, and where there is no love, put love, and you will draw out love..."

In June, 1998, I visited the Convento de la Encarnación in Avila, Spain, home to both St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross.  The tour of the three open rooms was very moving.  From various objects on display, I gather that Teresa and John must have been rather short people!  It was exciting to view writings from the very hand of "La Santa", as well as John's original drawing of the Cross (shown above), a chalice which he used, and the chair where he sat to hear confessions.  Regarding the latter, when I returned from the trip, I wrote to my former boss, spiritual director, and dear friend, Fr. Bob Lechner, C.PP.S., about my visit to Encarnación.  He wrote back: "If my memory is reliable, I sat where John of the Cross sat to hear the nuns' confessions.  [Fr.] Jack Behen [another C.PP.S. priest] tells me that this makes my buns second-class relics.  Do with that what you can."  



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