St John of the Cross


#1

Hi :slight_smile:

Recently I’ve been looking into the writings of the Carmelite Saints, such as St Therese, St Teresa of Avila, and St John of the Cross. I’ve read Story of a Soul, some of Interior Castle, and some quotes by St John… but now I also found out that he wrote poetry.

I’m kind of interested in his writings… what would you say his approach is (is it like St Teresa’s)? Are there any good books about him? what do you think of his poems?

God bless


#2

I discovered his poetry on a retreat with a Carmelite priest, and took up the study of Spanish so I could read the poetry in the original language. I recommend you get his complete works translated and edited by Kiernan Kavanaugh, which have the English and Spanish side by side.

I am no where near, and probably never will be this side of heaven, advanced spiritually to understand the deep meaning in his images, but I really need no other spiritual reading, this will keep me going for a long, long time.

Fr. Groeschel has short intro books to many good spiritual writers, including John, Teresa, Augustine etc., a good place to start to put the writer and his work in context of class Catholic spirituality. My I suggest the first book you get is “The Journey Toward God” by Fr. Benedict Groeschel, subtitled in the Footprints of the Great Spiritual Writers. Best intro to spiritual growth and to classic Christian spiritual directors and writers. Explains who these people are, the context of their work in their time in Church history and world history, and some brief samples of their work.


#3

His poems are very beautiful. I strongly recommend them.

His book, “The Ascent to Mount Carmel,” has very deep spiritual insights. It is excellent and a wonderful guide for how to resist sin, especially vanity, and pursue humility. It also talks about how to deal with mystical experiences when one has them, how to respond and discern. But I think for me, its greatest value has been seeing the way of humility.

There was one extremely scary section of it that had me feeling very nervous until I was told that this part was for people living in the Unitive relationship with God, the supreme spiritual state of life in Christ on Earth. He talked about abolishing all desires and every whim of fancy, making every last thing in us subject to God whether sinful or not. It was scary in that part because I could see I was a million light years from the degree of self-abandonment he was demanding, but it was a huge relief when I learned that this was for people in “the way of the perfect,” and I’m not there yet :). :hypno:

That part was certainly memorable, though.

He has a lot about resisting pride and vanity, and the insidious ways in which vanity can crawl into us and find a home. Those parts were really brilliant, and he presents a strong defense against sin and demons through his teachings of self-abandonment, including turning away from mystical experiences and rejecting them.

It’s a very impressive work. I’ve read Book 1 and am most of the way through Book 2. I stopped reading Book 2 a while ago when I got distracted, but I was almost done. It can be rather dry at times, and it sometimes feels overly repetitious, but it is extremely insightful.

The work is very different from St. Teresa of Avila, at least for me. St. Teresa of Avila uses one consistent metaphor throughout her book to elaborate on spiritual growth, while St. John of the Cross doesn’t as much. St. Teresa of Avila isn’t repetitious or dry, except, IMO, in her humble disclaimers (I get a bit tired of these), while “The Ascent” can be dry at times. But “The Ascent” is also much longer a book than “The Interior Castle” and it goes into much deeper analysis both on spiritual experiences and how to deal with them, and on the pathway to genuine humility. It’s definitely a book for the heavy reading category. Not one I’d just pick up and read pleasantly through whenever I’m in the mood for a good devotional read . . . more like one that I’d dig through, finding plenty of treasure but having to work my way to it rather than getting “easier stuff” all at once.

“The Interior Castle” is certainly very profound and good. It made a greater impact on me than any other book. It is an easier read and it doesn’t really plunge as deep into the holy mysteries as “The Ascent,” though. It’s worthwhile to read parts of it with “The Ascent,” or around the same time, because they sometimes treat on the same subject matter and the comparisons are useful. The two saints definitely had the same ideas, only St. John of the Cross elaborates a lot more, goes into much more careful detail, and explains a lot more than St. Teresa of Avila attempts to in her book.

“The Ascent,” is an extreme book. It’s powerful, deeply insightful, and to learn about the way of humility, I don’t know of any equal. It can be a difficult book, though, and it’s useful to read it with some assistance from other Catholics (esp. a Carmelite would help) because otherwise we can sometimes misunderstand it and some of his teachings might feel overwhelming if we don’t understand the correct approach to them, or where they are found in souls’ spiritual journeys toward God.

St. John of the Cross’s poetry is very different from “The Ascent to Mount Carmel.” It is vivid, lively, deeply passionate and loving, and full of rich beauty. It is lovely work and I’m sure you’d love it.


#4

i too am pondering my way through The Ascent of Mt. Carmel. Sometimes I can only make it through one or two paragraphs. It certainly insn’t a book that you can expect to read in a week or two. I have been at it for almost 3 months now. I am woking with a SD to answer some of my questions and concerns. I too was bothered by certain sections. I am about 1/3 the way through Book 2. MY SD said I was ready to read it, but sometimes I am not that sure. It is very deep and not an easy read. Anyone who thinks it is probably is not reading it the right way.


#5

As Lief already stated, St. John’s approach is very different from St. Teresa’s; her style is much more “homey” and she is far more revealing of her own interior life. St. John in his prose work is much more theological; this makes sense as he - unlike Teresa - was trained in theology. But whether reading his prose or his poetry one can recognize the sublimity of his thought (he’s my favorite of the two to read). In beginning to read his prose I would suggest starting with either Living Flame of Love or The Spiritual Canticle.


#6

For those just starting out with St. John, please keep in mind balance is so very important. Upon first impression (especially in the Ascent) he can come across very harsh and forbidding . . . but nothing could be farther from the truth. :slight_smile: Pay close attention to his qualifying words . . . that’s how you find balance. For example, when he goes to great lengths to expound upon the harms of a particular imperfection . . . keep in mind he means habitual imperfections. Likewise, when he describes mortifications that can be taken to extremes when taken literally . . . notice that he usually prefices such discussions with qualifiers like “be ever inclined to . . .” Reading him, again especially The Ascent, is like riding a bike. Lean to far to the left . . . you fall down. Lean to far to the right . . . you fall down. Balance is key.

As far as his poetry, it’s absolutely wonderful! :slight_smile: For those not familiar, his poetry serves as the “launch pad” for his mystical teaching in most of his major works. The poetry soars . . . but the commentary on it, as others noted, sometimes struggles. But that’s where the “meat” is.

I give you one example to give you a taste how sublime his poetry can be. Coincidently it describes the entirety of the spiritual life . . . from the purgative way to the illuminative way and finally the unitive way:


#7

. . . continued

Dave:)


#8

Spiritual Canticle is St. John’s version of Song of Songs. So beautiful and profound, a very expressive love story.

  1. She lived in solitude,
    and now in solitude has built her nest;
    and in solitude he guides her,
    he alone, who also bears
    in solitude the wound of love.

How well these a few lines point out the right direction to union!


#9

Fr. Thomas Dubay’s book Fire Within is a really good introduction to the spirituality of St. John and St. Teresa. It’s not really a beginner’s book, but he does a good job explaining some of the more obscure parts of their writing, and how to put their spirituality into practice. I found it was a really helpful book to read before I started reading St. Teresa. I haven’t started reading St. John yet, but I plan to.


#10

srhelena7.blogspot.com/


#11

[quote="puzzleannie, post:2, topic:174724"]
I discovered his poetry on a retreat with a Carmelite priest, and took up the study of Spanish so I could read the poetry in the original language. I recommend you get his complete works translated and edited by Kiernan Kavanaugh, which have the English and Spanish side by side.

I am no where near, and probably never will be this side of heaven, advanced spiritually to understand the deep meaning in his images, but I really need no other spiritual reading, this will keep me going for a long, long time.

Fr. Groeschel has short intro books to many good spiritual writers, including John, Teresa, Augustine etc., a good place to start to put the writer and his work in context of class Catholic spirituality. My I suggest the first book you get is "The Journey Toward God" by Fr. Benedict Groeschel, subtitled in the Footprints of the Great Spiritual Writers. Best intro to spiritual growth and to classic Christian spiritual directors and writers. Explains who these people are, the context of their work in their time in Church history and world history, and some brief samples of their work.

[/quote]


#12

Catholic “Married” father with 6 kids (under age of 6) recently started to lose lots of weight, shaved his head, has become overly quiet, spends minimal time with wife and kids, places holy/prayer cards on business colleagues desks and neighbors cars, walks through neighborhood … praying bible.

He spends almost every night away from home … at church, visiting Spiritual Director, attending Charismatic Prayer and other Prayer meetings. He used to go home at lunchtime to be with wife and kids but now goes to Adoration. So … kids no longer have a father and mom struggles with caring for the 6 kids.

We think he is depressed. However, when asked if he is ok, he states he is on a journey of “Dark Night of The Soul” with St. John of the Cross. He doesn’t look healthy. Seems sad, lonely, and confused. He says his vocation is love and never mentions fatherhood.

Our family is worried about him, but he won’t speak with anyone. We continue to pray for him, but we’re wondering how long the “Dark Night of The Soul” might last and if/what else we can be doing to support him.

Sound familiar? If so, we’d appreciate guidance.


#13

That’s sad . . . :frowning: Maybe get in touch with his Spiritual Director and tell the man graciously that this fellow’s first responsibility remains to his family, and that they badly need him. The Spiritual Director should already be telling the man this.


#14

Catholic “Married” father with 6 kids (under age of 6) recently started to lose lots of weight, shaved his head, has become overly quiet, spends minimal time with wife and kids, places holy/prayer cards on business colleagues desks and neighbors cars, walks through neighborhood … praying bible.

He spends almost every night away from home … at church, visiting Spiritual Director, attending Charismatic Prayer and other Prayer meetings. He used to go home at lunchtime to be with wife and kids but now goes to Adoration. So … kids no longer have a father and mom struggles with caring for the 6 kids.

We think he is depressed. However, when asked if he is ok, he states he is on a journey of “Dark Night of The Soul” with St. John of the Cross. He doesn’t look healthy. Seems sad, lonely, and confused. He says his vocation is love and never mentions fatherhood.

Our family is worried about him, but he won’t speak with anyone. We continue to pray for him, but we’re wondering how long the “Dark Night of The Soul” might last and if/what else we can be doing to support him.

Sound familiar? If so, we’d appreciate guidance.


#15

" Some burden themselves with indiscreet penances and with many other disorderly exercises of their own self-will, putting their confidence in such acts and believing they can thereby become saints. If they used half the same diligence in mortifying unruly appetites and passions they would advance more in one month than in many whole years with the other exercises."

JOHN OF THE CROSS


#16

[quote="kathleen52, post:14, topic:174724"]
Catholic “Married” father with 6 kids (under age of 6) recently started to lose lots of weight, shaved his head, has become overly quiet, spends minimal time with wife and kids, places holy/prayer cards on business colleagues desks and neighbors cars, walks through neighborhood … praying bible.

He spends almost every night away from home … at church, visiting Spiritual Director, attending Charismatic Prayer and other Prayer meetings. He used to go home at lunchtime to be with wife and kids but now goes to Adoration. So … kids no longer have a father and mom struggles with caring for the 6 kids.

We think he is depressed. However, when asked if he is ok, he states he is on a journey of “Dark Night of The Soul” with St. John of the Cross. He doesn’t look healthy. Seems sad, lonely, and confused. He says his vocation is love and never mentions fatherhood.

Our family is worried about him, but he won’t speak with anyone. We continue to pray for him, but we’re wondering how long the “Dark Night of The Soul” might last and if/what else we can be doing to support him.

Sound familiar? If so, we’d appreciate guidance.

[/quote]

Hi Kathleen -

I think your instincts are right. This is something probably much closer to depression than the Dark Night. There is nothing in St. John's teaching that would validate the withdrawl from the duties of one's state in life. For a married man, duties as husband and father will always come first. I'm a Secular Carmelite and I can tell you for sure that if we saw anything like this occuring in one of our members we would be quite alarmed. St. John of the Cross is all about striking balance . . . and what you describe has the appearance of an unhealthy imbalance. Especially when you factor in your comments about being sad, lonely, not speaking to anyone and so on.

Souls enduring the Dark Night suffer terribly in a very interior way . . . but they are fully functioning with regard to their duties. In fact they perform them in an almost heroic manner despite their sufferings. For all practical purposes, no one would really know a soul is enduring the Dark Night . . . outside the individual himself and one's director. Remember, these are souls being brought to perfection here on earth and they suffer their trials with loving acceptance. Love of God and neighbor (in this case family) is the only thing important to such souls . . . they scarcely even think of themselves. Something quite different than what you seem to describe.

My prayers are with you and this family,
Dave


#17

Many thanks for your expertise and guidance.


#18

[quote="kathleen52, post:12, topic:174724"]
Catholic “Married” father with 6 kids (under age of 6) recently started to lose lots of weight, shaved his head, has become overly quiet, spends minimal time with wife and kids, places holy/prayer cards on business colleagues desks and neighbors cars, walks through neighborhood … praying bible.

He spends almost every night away from home … at church, visiting Spiritual Director, attending Charismatic Prayer and other Prayer meetings. He used to go home at lunchtime to be with wife and kids but now goes to Adoration. So … kids no longer have a father and mom struggles with caring for the 6 kids.

We think he is depressed. However, when asked if he is ok, he states he is on a journey of “Dark Night of The Soul” with St. John of the Cross. He doesn’t look healthy. Seems sad, lonely, and confused. He says his vocation is love and never mentions fatherhood.

Our family is worried about him, but he won’t speak with anyone. We continue to pray for him, but we’re wondering how long the “Dark Night of The Soul” might last and if/what else we can be doing to support him.

Sound familiar? If so, we’d appreciate guidance.

[/quote]

I agree with the others here. I saw my early-in-conversion self in the man described here. Thankfully I found balance after five or six months of such behavior. The writings of St John of the Cross are profound and powerful in their ability to stir the soul to repentance, piety, and the pursuit of holiness.

One thing that helped me very much to find balance and a proper perspective was regular fellowship in a local Catholic Men's Fellowship group. Maybe there is one (some) in your area. It is a phenomenon that has sprung up all around the country the last several years. While the emphasis is on men's spirituality, the main push of these groups is to empower men to be better disciples of Christ, better husbands, fathers, uncles, etc. My cradle-catholic wife was pretty shocked with my conversion and quite skeptical after twenty some years of being married to a quietly belligerent, pseudo-agnostic. She understood right away the steadying influence fellowship with other Catholic family men was having on me, and has been very supportive in my Catholic Men;s Fellowship activities since. There are numerous local and regional conferences going one yearly around the country. Perhaps this is something you could urge the "family" man in question to consider checking out.


#19

CAF Friend,

Many thanks for your guidance and recommendations.

Peace,
Kathleen


#20

[quote="4EverHis, post:1, topic:174724"]
Hi :)

Recently I've been looking into the writings of the Carmelite Saints, such as St Therese, St Teresa of Avila, and St John of the Cross. I've read Story of a Soul, some of Interior Castle, and some quotes by St John.. but now I also found out that he wrote poetry.

I'm kind of interested in his writings.. what would you say his approach is (is it like St Teresa's)? Are there any good books about him? what do you think of his poems?

God bless

[/quote]

St. John of the cross builds on St. therese of avile and viceversa. What you don't undertand in one the other clarifies. That has been my experience whith their writings. John of the cross dark night of the soul is a very deep book but you need to read the seconed part first and the first part seconed for it to really make sense. it is a discourse of his poetry which he leads to you in a mystical meditation.


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