On December 14, the church will commemorate the life of St. John of the Cross, the doctor of the Church who first wrote about the “long dark night of the soul.”
John of the Cross was born in the 16th century into a family which had fallen out of wealth. His father, a silk trader, had been disowned by his own family for marrying a woman of a lower social class. The family survived as silk weavers, but John's father died while John was very young. The boy began to work in a hospital while attending school part time. It is said that he seemed incapable of learning any trade.
He entered the Carmelite Order, but became disillusioned and thought of leaving. Then he met St. Teresa of Avila. Together with the saint, he reformed the Carmelite order by founding the Discalced (literally“shoe-less”) Carmelites. At the time, many Carmelites had moved from a life of fasting, prayer and penance. They resented the reforms.
John was kidnapped by members of his own order and imprisoned in a small, cold and dark cell. He was beaten regularly. Yet in this time, he wrote some of his most profound poetry. Eventually, he escaped and was able to share some of his mystical writings with the world. He is famous for having written “The Ascent of Mt. Carmel,” “The Dark Night of the Soul,” and “The Spiritual Canticle.”
He died at the age of 49, and was canonized in 1726. In 1926, he was declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Pius XI.
Today he is considered one of the first, and greatest mystics.