Sermon: John of the Cross


St. John of the Cross died on this day in 1591 at the age of 49. He was a true friend and contemporary of Teresa of Avila. Together, they worked to reform the Carmelite order, which they were a part of, enforcing a much stricter application of the rule. All did not appreciate that enforcement, and John was persecuted and eventually imprisoned by—not the authorities, but by fellow monks who disagreed with him.

His life is an example to us, but the writings he left behind are perhaps his greatest gifts. Of these, he is best know for, Dark Night of the Soul. It began with the writing of a poem, but then he was asked by fellow monks—those who did not want to throw into prison—to write a commentary explaining the work. The commentary of the first three stanzas of eight is all that remains (if there ever was more) and is practical in its approach to prayer.

Today, I would like to share the poem with you. Many translations are available; I’m not sure who gave us this one. When reading the poem, think of prayer. Think of entering into a place of darkness where without light, the fire burning in your heart is your guide that leads you to union with God. Once with God, it is not about speaking to Him but being with him.

Into the darkness of the night
With heart ache kindled into love,
Oh blessed chance!
I stole me forth unseen,
My house being wrapped in sleep.

Into the darkness, and yet safe
By secret stair and in disguise,
Oh gladsome hap!
In darkness, and in secret I crept forth,
My house being wrapt in sleep.

Into the happy night
In secret, seen of none,
Nor saw I ought,
Without, or other light or guide,
Save that which in my heart did burn.

This fire it was that guided me
More certainly than midday sun,
Where he did wait,
He that I knew imprinted on my heart,
In place, where none appeared.

Oh Night, that led me, guiding night,
Oh Night far sweeter than the Dawn;
Oh Night, that did so then unite
The Loved with his Beloved,
Transforming Lover in Beloved.

On my blossoming breast,
Alone for him entire was kept,
He fell asleep,
Whilst I caressed,
And fanned him with the cedar fan.

The breeze from forth the battlements,
As then it tossed his hair about,
With his fair hand
He touched me lightly on the neck,
And reft me of my senses in a swoon.

I lay quite still, all mem’ry lost,
I leaned my face upon my Loved One’s breast;
I knew no more, in sweet abandonment
I cast away my care,
And left it all forgot amidst the lilies fair.

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.” If we are to hear and know those things the Spirit would teach us, then in prayer, we must follow the flame of our heart, which will guide us into that union with God where we can learn even more about our Savior.

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