Thursday, December 14, 2006

Excerpt re: St. John of the Cross...

In the end, however, I may as well have the courtesy to admit one thing: St. John of the Cross is not everybody�s food. Even in a contemplative monastery there will be some who will never get along with him�and others who, though they think they know what he is about, would do better to let him alone. He upsets everyone who thinks that his doctrine is sup posed to lead one by a way that is exalted. On the contrary, his way is so humble that it ends up by being no way at all, for John of the Cross is unfriendly to systems and a bitter enemy of all exaltation. Omnis qui se exaltat humiliabitur. His glory is to do without glory for the love of Christ.

John of the Cross is the patron of those who have a vocation that is thought, by others, to be spectacular, but which, in reality, is lowly, difficult, and obscure. He is the patron and the protector and master of those whom God has led into the uninteresting wilderness of contemplative prayer. His domain is precisely defined. He is the patron of contemplatives in the strict sense, and of their spiritual directors, not of contemplatives in the juridical sense. He is the patron of those who pray in a certain way in which God wants them to pray, whether they happen to be in the cloister, the desert, or the city. There fore his influence is not limited to one order or to one kind of order. His teaching is not merely a matter of "Carmelite spirituality", as some seem to think. In fact, I would venture to say that he is the Father of all those whose prayer is an undefined isolation outside the boundary of "spirituality". He deals chiefly with those who, in one way or another, have been brought face to face with God in a way that methods cannot account for and books do not explain. He is in Christ the model and the maker of contemplatives wherever they may be found.

When this much has been said, enough has been said. St. John of the Cross was not famous in his own lifetime and will not be famous in our own. There is no need that either he, or contemplation, should be famous. In this world in which all good things are talked about and practically none of them are practised, it would be unwise to make contemplative prayer a matter for publicity, though perhaps no harm has been done, thus far, by making its name known. God himself knows well enough how to make the thing known to those who need it, in his designs for them.

Let it suffice to have said that this Spanish saint is one of the greatest and most hidden of the saints, that of all saints he is perhaps the greatest poet as well as the greatest contemplative, and that in his humility he was also most human, although I have not said much to prove it. I know that he will understand that this article about him was written as a veiled act of homage, as a gesture of love and gratitude, and as a disguised prayer. He knows what the prayer seeks. May he grant it to the writer and to the readers of these words.

Saints for Now, ed. Clare Booth Luce (Sheed & Ward 1952)

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