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St. John of the Cross shows that faith gives man 'wings,' says Pope
By Alan Holdren
St. John of the Cross
St. John of the Cross

.- The spirituality and teachings of the “Mystical Doctor of the Church” offer an example of a man whose burdens where lightened by a love for Christ, Pope Benedict XVI said during today’s general audience.

The Pope spoke of the 16th-century St. John of the Cross, continuing his series of general audience teachings on doctors of the church.

John was born near Avila, Spain in 1542 and ordained a priest in 1567. On the day of his ordination he met the future St. Teresa of Avila. As Pope Benedict pointed out in his Jan. 2, 2011 audience, the two later carried out a difficult but fruitful reform of the Carmelite order.

It was during the 1570s that John of the Cross served in Teresa’s convent as her confessor and spiritual director. They were years of “close collaboration and spiritual friendship that enriched them both,” said the Pope.

Also at this time Teresa produced her most important written works, he explained. And, despite great suffering at times and even undergoing torture while he was unjustly jailed, John also began writing and developing his “mystical doctrine.”

After a lifetime of service throughout central and southern Spain, John of the Cross was chosen to embark on a new mission to Mexico in 1591. However, he became ill and died while preparing to make the voyage.

His last words came while he and his Carmelite brothers recited the morning prayer. “Today,” he told them, “I’m going to sing the Office in heaven.”

The Carmelite priest was eventually canonized in 1726 by Pope Benedict XIII. In 1926, Pius XI made him a Doctor of the Church. He is remembered now as the “Doctor mysticus,” or mystical doctor, Pope Benedict said.

His major works focus on the purification of the soul and the complete union of man with God through the Trinity.

In one of his volumes, titled “Dark Night of the Soul,” St. John focused on the “passive aspect” of the soul’s purification through God’s contribution, noted the Pope.

“Human effort alone, in fact, is incapable of reaching the deepest roots of a person’s bad inclinations and habits,” he explained. “It can halt them but not eradicate them completely.

“To do this, a special action is needed from God which radically purifies the spirit and disposes it to the union of love with Him.”

Pope Benedict explained that this process was described as “passive” by the 16-century saint because the process was carried out by the mysterious action of the Holy Spirit which “consumes every impurity.”

“In this state,” said the Pope, “the soul is subjected to every type of trial, as if it finds itself in a dark night.”

In “Dark Night” and his other major works, St. John of the Cross helps people to understand his “vast and profound mystical doctrine, whose objective is to describe a sure way to achieve holiness, the state of perfection to which God calls all of us,” he added.

In both its active and passive moments, the process “requires our determined effort, but it is God who is the real center, “ explained the Pope. “All man can do is dispose himself and humble himself before the loving work of God in the soul.

“In this sense, John is for us a model of humble dedication and of faithful perseverance on the road to spiritual maturity.”

His was not an easy life, lived “on the clouds” of mysticism, said the Pope. Rather it was a “tough” life that can show people still today that faith in Christ is not an “extra weight to the already sufficiently heavy burden of our lives.

“If a man brings about in himself a great love, this love almost gives him wings,” said the Pope. In this case, it is easier to deal with “all of the bothers of life, because he carries within him a great light.”

“This is the faith,” said the Pope, “being called by God and allowing ourselves to be loved by God in Jesus Christ.”

It is the “light” that gives us strength to carry the burden, he concluded. “And sanctity is not a task to be accomplished on our own ... but it is precisely this ‘openness,’ opening the windows of our souls so that the light of God might enter, not forgetting God because precisely in the openness to his light we find strength, we find the joy of the redeemed.”


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