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He stood at only four feet ten inches tall, but John of the Cross was a powerhouse. A penitent writes, “Something shone through him or this witness saw something of God in him, lifting her eyes as it were beyond herself to look at and listen to him. Looking at him she seemed to see in him a majesty beyond that given to men of this world.” (Source, p.144) And our friend Teresa of Ávila said of him, he was “very spiritual and has great experience and learning.” She declared him to be “the father of my soul.” And writing to another nun, she says, “He is a divine, heavenly man. I assure you, my daughter, since he left us I have not found another like him in the whole of Castile, nor anyone else who inspires souls with such fervor to journey to Heaven. You would never believe how lonely I feel without him.” (Source, p. 145-6)
Much of John’s writings and work deal with the progress of the soul toward perfection, so it is only fitting that our Gospel reading spoke of the Holy Spirit: Jesus said, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.”
It is the Holy Spirit that guides us into all truth, but what we must also remember is that Christianity exists within the community. So, with regard to learning the things of God and the work of the Holy Spirit, when St. Paul tells us to “test everything,” (1 Thessalonians 5:21) he is not suggesting that we test everything against our own knowledge and understanding, but that we instead test it in the context of scripture, tradition and reason. We test things within the context of the Church. If we try and go it alone, if we try to practice our faith outside of the Church, then we are likely to deceive ourselves and fall into error. That is something that John of the Cross understood. He writes, “The virtuous soul that is alone and without a master, is like a lone burning coal; it will grow colder rather than hotter. Those who fall alone remain alone in their fall, and they value their souls little since they entrust it to themselves alone. If you do not fear falling alone, do you presume that you will rise up alone? Consider how much more can be accomplished by two together than by one alone.”
This then points to the fact that attending church is not something we do when it is convenient or when we don’t have anything else going on. For the safety of our soul, attending church and participating in corporate worship are essential. It is also the fulfillment of the first promise we make at our baptism and confirmation: “Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers.”
At the moment, I’m preaching to the choir—you are all here, but this is something that we must all be reminded of and remind others of. Billy Sunday said, “Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going to a garage makes you an automobile.” That is a true statement, but going to Church will at least get you in the place where you might just encounter God, who will then accomplish the rest.