St John Of The Cross
again and so, in the Spring of 1591, before leaving Segovia, he invited his brother Francisco down from Medina for a last visit. Francisco later recalled that during their last hours together John confided to him that the Lord spoke to him one day when he was praying before a picture of Jesus carrying His cross. In return for a small service John had done for Him, Jesus invited him to "ask me what you like, for I will grant it." John replied: "Lord, what I should like you to give me is trials to suffer for you, and to be despised and esteemed as of little worth."l In the five months between the Chapter of Madrid and December 14, 1591, when he died in Ubeda in Andalusia, his request was answered in full.
The Last Days
During the three years that he served on the General Consulta, John opposed Nicholas Doria, the Vicar-General of the Discalced Carmelite friars and nuns, on two crucial issues. Doria wanted to place the Carmelite nuns outside of the jurisdiction of the friars and to remove the habit of the Reform from Jerome Gracián, the first provincial of the Discalced and an outspoken critic of Doria's policies. When John protested both propositions, the imperious Doria was unable to tolerate such opposition from one of his consultors. Moreover the Carmelite nuns were requesting that John be appointed their superior to govern them in the name of the Order,
lVida y Obras, pp. 300-301; Life, pp. 267-69.
but independent of Doria's General Consulta. By the time the chapter opened in Madrid on June 1, 1591, John was clearly a threat to Doria's government of the Order. Using his powerful influence over the chapter delegates, Doria arranged to have John removed from office. when the chapter votations were over, John was neither definitor, nor consultor, nor delegate superior to the nuns, nor prior of Segovia. After nearly thirteen continuous years of administrative responsibilities, John's desire to be free of office was now a reality.
John also knew when he was not wanted. Accordingly, when a request for 12 friars for the Mexican missions came before the chapter, John volunteered. The chapter accepted his offer. With John in Mexico, Doria could rule the Discalced without opposition. Following the Chapter of Madrid, Doria assigned John to Andalusia to prepare for his departure to the New World.
John arrived in Andalusia in August, 1591. He took up residence at La Peñuela, a monastery located in an isolated spot in the Sierra Morena mountains, where the friars devoted themselves to prayer, study, manual labor, and occasional pastoral ministry in the nearby town of Linares.
This schedule suited John perfectly. He continued to provide spiritual direction by letter for such persons as Doña Ana del Mercado y Peñalosa and Madre Ana de San Alberto.1 He
lSee letters nos. 28-31 in Collected Works, pp. 704-5.
also worked on his revisions of The Spirtual Canticle and The Living Flame of Love. Free from the pressures of office, passing each day in prayer and writing, La Peñuela was the realization of a dream. On September 21, he wrote to Doña Ana: "I am indeed very happy in this holy solitude." 1
While John was enjoying the contemplative existence, an incredible attempt was being made to drive him from the Discalced reform. Six years earlier, as vicar-provincial of Andalusia, John corrected two young friars, Diego Evangelista and Francisco Crisóstomo, for devoting too much time to the external work of preaching and not enough to prayer. Now, in 1591, Fray Diego Evangelista was a general definitor and the person Doria assigned to investigate the activities of Jerome Gracián. As he conducted his investigations throughout the Carmelite convents of Andalusia, Diego also took it upon himself to prove that John of the Cross had been indiscreet in his relationships with the Carmelite nuns. So intense was his determination to find evidence damaging to John's reputation that the nuns in Granada destroyed his letters to protect them from misinterpretation by the self-appointed inquisitor.
John thus paid dearly for his spiritual direction of the Carmelite nuns. Twelve years earlier, the friars of the Ancient Observance accused him of disobedience for fulfill-
lCollected Works, p. 705.
ing his office as confessor to the Incarnation convent in Avila. For this they threw him into jail where he nearly died. Now, after 24 years of devoted service to Teresa and her daughters during which time he had been regular confessor for the nuns at Beas, Granada, and Segovia, he was accused of indiscretion with the women of Carmel by a 31-year-old friar who intended to take the habit of the Reform away from him.1
John was fully aware of Diego Evangelista's activities, but he refused to defend himself. He felt secure in the knowledge of his own innocence and his belief that no one could harm him. He wrote in this vein to Padre Juan de San Alberto, a Carmelite friar in Málaga:
... Son, do not let this grieve you, for they cannot take the habit from me save for being incorrigible or disobedient. I am very ready to amend all I may have done wrong and obey in whatever penance they may give me.2
Furthermore, John saw in this persecution his opportunity to practice the love he preached to others. His letter to one of the Carmelite nuns at Segovia thus reflects his own attitude towards Diego Evangelista:
Have a great love for those who contradict and fail to love you, for in this way love is begotten in a heart that has no love. God so acts with us,
lLeroy, "Quelques Traits," pp. 38-43. See also Brenan, St. John of the Cross, pp. 76-81.
2Collected Works, p. 706.
for He loves us that we might love by means of the very love He bears toward us.1
In addition to the suffering caused by Diego Evangelista, John's health was also failing. He developed a fever within a month after his arrival at La Peñuela. By late September, the fever was accompanied by an inflammation in his leg. When his condition required medical attention, John chose to go to Ubeda for treatment to a monastery where Fray Francisco Crisóstomo, the other friar John reprimanded six years earlier, was superior.
After a few days in Ubeda, John's condition became so serious that he was confined to bed, never again to leave it. Regularly, and without anesthetic, he endured the harsh medical treatment of that age which involved cauterization and bloodletting. Despite the efforts of the doctors, his disease spread to his back where a large tumor appeared. To compound his discomfort, the superior of the monastery visited John regularly to remind him of the expense and inconvenience his treatment was costing the monastery.
By early December, it was certain John was dying. When informed of this, he uttered the words of the psalmist: "laetatus sum in his quae dicta sunt mihi, in domum Domini ibimus."2 The longing to see God which John expressed in a
2Vida y Obras, p. 340; Life, p. 300.
poem written years earlier was now about to be fulfilled:
This life that I live Is no life at all, And so I die continually Until I live with You; Hear me, my God: I do not desire this life, I am dying because I do not die.1
On December 13th, he received the last sacraments. Then, shortly before midnight, with the entire community gathered about his bed and after they had recited the psalms for the dying, John requested that the Canticles of Canticles he read to him. As the bells rang for midnight office, John exclaimed that he would say his matins in heaven. In the first few minutes of December 14th, 1591, he kissed his crucifix, saying, "In manus tuas, Domine, commendo spiritum meum."2 An instant later, he died.
John's request of the Lord to suffer and to be despised was fully granted in his last illness and the treatment he received from Diego Evangelista and Francisco Crisóstomo. As excruciating as the physical pain of his last days must have been, it appears slight when compared to the inhumanity he experienced at the hands of his two Carmelite brothers. Although Francisco begged John's pardon before he died, Diego continued his defamation of John after his death. "If he were not dead," Diego said of John a few months later, "the
lCollected Works, p. 720.
2Vida y obras, p. 344; Life, pp. 303-4.
habit would have been taken off his back, and he would have been driven out of the Order."l Sanctity is best proven, not by one's endurance of physical pain, but by one's response to such perversities of human nature as revenge and jealousy. John did not defend himself against the revenge and jealousy of his Carmelite brethren, for he believed, as he wrote to Maria de la Encarnacíon the previous July after he had been left without office by the chapter fathers at Madrid, that
Men do not do these things, but God, who knows what is suitable for us and arranges things for our good. Think nothing else but that God ordains all, and where there is no love, put love, and you will draw out love. . . 2
John accepted his final humiliation with as much love as possible to prove his worthiness for heaven. "At the evening of life," he once told his fellow Carmelites, "you will be examined in love."3 When he entered eternal life on December 14, 1591, John of the Cross was ready, probably more than most men, for that final examination.
Summary and Conclusions
This biographical sketch demonstrates that spiritual direction was John of the Cross' principal pastoral ministry
1Bruno, St. John of the Cross, p. 336.
2Collected Works, p. 703.
3Sayings of Light and Love, no. 57, Collected Works, p. 672
and traces both his development as a spiritual director and, to some degree, the manner in which he performed this ministry.
The early years of John's life disposed him for a religious and priestly vocation and an intense ascetical and mystical life. His theological education, his close association with Teresa of Avila, and his own intrepid desire for union with God adequately prepared him for the ministry of spiritual direction. For over two decades he provided spiritual guidance for numerous persons of diverse backgrounds and vocations, leading them always toward a closer union with God through prayer and mortification of inordinate desires.
John's prose writings are an enduring fruit of his spiritual direction. Through these writings, he has for four centuries offered spiritual guidance to persons who have turned to these pages for enlightenment. To complete our picture of John as a spiritual director, we will turn to these writings to examine his theory of spiritual direction.
Before turning to his writings, it should be noted, in conclusion,that during his lifetime John made little external impact upon his own generation. Unlike Teresa of Avila, he was virtually unknown outside the Carmelite Order. Unlike Jerome Gracián and Nicholas Doria, he did not dominate the flow of events in the early days of Discalced Carmelite Reform. His contribution was primarily spiritual and took
place almost unnoticed within the hearts of men and women. This biographical sketch suggests that he preferred it that way, for his one desire throughout life was to be hidden from creatures, free to be alone with God, an aspiration he expressed so tersely in his Suma de Perfecci6n:
Olivido de lo criado Memoria del Criador Atenci6n a lo interior Y estarse amando al Amado. Forgetfulness of creation, Remembrance of the Creator Attention to what is within And to be loving the Beloved.1
And yet, today, four centuries later, he is an honored man. His Church recognized the holiness of his life by officially canonizing him a saint in 1726 and the universal value of his writings by proclaiming him a Doctor of the Church in 1926. His native Spain honors him among her foremost writers and poets. Throughout Spain today, there are tributes to this humble and obscure man--a plaza in his honor in Madrid, his statue among those of the great Spanish saints in the monumental basilica at Valle de los Caídos, an almost continuous stream of visitors to his marble tomb in Segovia. Traveling through the towns where he was born, lived, and died--Fontiveros, Medina de Campo, Avila, Granada, La Peñuela (now La Carolina), and Ubeda--one finds monuments, statues, and plaques in his honor. The lessons here, I believe, are that human
lCollected Works, p. 737.
greatness is ultimately interior, an achievement in the depths of one's inner life which may not always be recognized by one's contemporaries; further, that true genius seldom remains hidden, for humanity's need for light and guidance is so great that it impels men and women to search out and enshrine those whose thoughts, words, and actions give meaning and direction to human existence; and, finally, that God always rewards in full measure those who serve Him faithfully, sometimes even in this world.
End of Chapter on LIFE
pp 100-110 Begins chapter on DOCTRINAL OVERVIEW
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