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14th December – St John of the Cross

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

It is fitting that we celebrate St John of the Cross during Advent, as we hear anew the call of John the Baptiser. For these two Johns have much in common. John the Baptiser inaugurated a great religious awakening, but was thwarted and imprisoned by Herod Antipas, and later executed. His disciples wondered, would God fulfil his promises and save them yet?

St John of the Cross, Carmelite friar and priest, religious founder and reformer, mystic and Doctor of the Church, was similarly at the heart of great religious upheavals, this time in the sixteenth century. This John was also incarcerated, after he founded, along with St Teresa of Avila, the ‘Discalced’ (shoeless) Carmelites, to the chagrin of his lax superiors. First he was persecuted by his superiors, then later by the opposite ‘extremist’ camp of his own Discalced order. Reform is a thankless task.

But his reforms did last, thanks to his wisdom and sanctity. He called his brothers and sisters in religion to a simpler lifestyle, to prepare their hearts to receive the poor and humble Jesus. Like the Baptiser, John of the Cross was a fearless preacher of God’s word, and a mystic whose writings show an affinity with the desert mentality, especially his poems written from his prison cell: for God causes the whole earth to bud forth, ‘not creating it to be a waste, but designing it to be lived in’ (Is. 45:8, 18).

'Justice shall look down from heaven'
(Christ of St John of the Cross, by Salvador Dali)
Both Johns understood that the path to God is through self-emptying love, because God himself is self-emptying love. In his kenotic sacrifice on the Cross, Jesus uttered the Psalmist’s cry of abandonment (Ps. 22:2-3). We too must seek no support but the Cross, as we enter the ‘dark night of the soul’, and abandon ourselves to God’s mercy and will, trusting that he will fulfil his promises.

‘There is no just and saving God but me.’ (Is. 45:21) And what does the justice and salvation of God look like on earth? We only have to look at Jesus, who cures all our ills. ‘The blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.’ (Lk. 7:21-2)

Jesus is Lord! ‘In the Lord shall be the vindication and the glory of all the descendants of Israel.’ (Is. 45:25) We know that Jesus Christ is our vindication and glory, through his Cross and glorious Resurrection (cf. Acts 2:24). So, trusting that God will vindicate us too, let us join Jesus on the Cross, give ourselves up lovingly in the service of God’s kingdom, on earth as it is in heaven. Let truth spring out of the earth, and justice look down from heaven!

Rorate caeli desuper et nubes pluant iustum! (Is. 45:8)

Matthew Jarvis OP


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