Saint Brigid Religious Education
100 Mayflower Street
West Hartford, CT 06110
John of the Cross
Feast day: December 14
Born in Spain in 1542, John learned the importance of self-sacrificing
love from his parents. His father gave up wealth, status, and comfort
when he married a weaver's daughter and was disowned by his noble
family. After his father died, his mother kept the destitute family
together as they wandered homeless in search of work. These were the
examples of sacrifice that John followed with his own great love, God.
When the family finally found work, John still went hungry in the middle
of the wealthiest city in Spain. At fourteen, John took a job caring for
hospital patients who suffered from incurable diseases and madness. It
was out of this poverty and suffering, that John learned to search for
beauty and happiness not in the world, but in God.
After John joined the Carmelite order, Saint Teresa of Avila asked him
to help her reform movement. John supported her belief that the order
should return to its life of prayer. But many Carmelites felt threatened
by this reform, and some members of John's own order kidnapped him. He
was locked in a cell six feet by ten feet and beaten three times a week
by the monks. There was only one tiny window high up near the ceiling.
Yet in that unbearable dark, cold, and desolation, his love and faith
were like fire and light. He had nothing left but God, and God brought
John his greatest joys in that tiny cell.
After nine months, John escaped by unscrewing the lock on his door and
creeping past the guard. Taking only the mystical poetry he had written
in his cell, he climbed out a window using a rope made of strips of
blankets. With no idea where he was, he followed a dog to civilization.
He hid from pursuers in a convent infirmary where he read his poetry to
the nuns. From then on his life was devoted to sharing and explaining
his experience of God's love.
His life of poverty and persecution could have produced a bitter cynic.
Instead it gave birth to a compassionate mystic, who lived by the
beliefs that "Who has ever seen people persuaded to love God by
harshness?" and "Where there is no love, put love, and you will find
John left us many books of practical advice on spiritual growth and
prayer that are just as relevant today as they were then. These books
include: Ascent of Mount Carmel , Dark Night of the Soul and A Spiritual
Canticle of the Soul and the Bridegroom Christ .