Of Spanish decent, St. John of the Cross was a contemporary of St. Teresa of Avila with whom he helped reform the Carmelite Order. A great mystic, he was declared a Doctor of the Church because of his many writings on prayer and the spiritual life.
Born June 24, 1542, St. John of the Cross lived a very poor childhood and received the Carmelite habit in 1563 at Medina. After profession he obtained approval from his superiors to follow the original Carmelite rule without the mitigations granted by various popes. Soon after his first Mass in 1567, St. John met St. Teresa of Avila who convinced him to assist her in the establishment of a monastery of friars carrying out the primitive rule of Discalced Carmelites. In 1568 with two other companions, St. John initiated the reform among friars in Valladolid, Spain. At St. Teresa’s request, St. John of the Cross later moved to Avila and for five years was the director and confessor to the Convent of the Incarnation. The reform spread rapidly but through political subterfuge, St. John was ordered by his provincial to return to Medina. When he refused he was imprisoned for more than nine months in a narrow, stifling cell and was punished most severely. He made a miraculous escape in 1578 and continued to found monasteries of the reform against much opposition. His constant prayer, “to suffer and to be despised,” was literally fulfilled almost to the end of his life. St. John of the Cross has left us many important works including “The Ascent of Mount Carmel” and “The Dark Night of the Soul.” He taught that the perfect emptying of the soul in the present life leaves it free to act with wonderful energy; that in a way the soul obtains a share in God’s omnipotence as is shown in the marvelous deeds of so many saints. St. John was austere in the extreme but from his writings and from the testimony of those who knew him he was a man overflowing with charity and kindness, a poetical mind deeply influenced by all that is beautiful and attractive. St. John of the Cross died on December 14, 1591 and his body remains incorrupt. His feast day is November 24.
More can be read about St. John of the Cross and his spirituality in our past newsletters.
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