They say there’s nothing new under the sun, and this age-old adage bears weight in the spiritual realm as well. As humanity collectively – or individually – struggles with different aspects of our fallen human nature through the centuries, certain themes rise and fall in a cyclical timelessness.
And so it is that a great 16th century reformer like Saint John of the Cross can provide insight on some of the most popular spiritual themes of 2017.
There is no doubt that Saint John would stand shoulder to shoulder with Cardinal Sarah in proclaiming the importance of silence in the spiritual life. The heart of Carmelite spirituality lies in this silent interior encounter with the great Lover of our souls!
“The Father spoke one Word, which was His Son, and this Word He always speaks in eternal silence, and in silence must It be heard by the soul.”
“It is best to learn to silence the faculties and to cause them to be still so that God may speak.”
“The soul that is quick to turn to speaking and conversing is slow to turn to God.”
“What we need most in order to make progress is to be silent before this great God with our appetite and with our tongue, for the language he best hears is silent love.”
On the Benedict Option:
Saint John was no Benedictine – instead he went arguably one step further as one of the most pivotal reformers of the Discalced Carmelite order, a religious order that lives a cloistered and silent lifestyle away from the world in order to better facilitate encounter with the living God. Detachment from the world and its distractions is a key theme of his spirituality, and one that fits in well with the movement towards reassessing how we engage modern culture:
“Abide in peace, banish cares, take no account of all that happens, and you will serve God according to his good pleasure and rest in him.”
“Strive to preserve your heart in peace; let no event of this world disturb it.”
“It is great wisdom to know how to be silent and to look at neither the remarks, nor the deeds, nor the lives of others.”
While Saint John died 326 years before the appearance of Our Lady at Fatima, the heart of her message – prayer and sacrifice – is something with which he was intimately acquainted. Saint John stands with our Blessed Mother in suggesting to do the same!
“He who avoids prayer is avoiding everything that is good.”
“Whenever anything disagreeable or displeasing happens to you, remember Christ crucified and be silent.”
“Whoever does not seek the cross of Christ doesn’t seek the glory of Christ.”
On Christian Suffering:
Suffering is a perennial theme of every person’s walk with Jesus. Saint John, who encountered such trials in life as losing his father as an infant and being kidnapped, unjustly imprisoned, and routinely beaten for 9 months by fellow monks opposed to reform, well knew the centrality of the cross to any authentic Christian spirituality.
“The endurance of darkness is the preparation for great light.”
“The road is narrow. He who wishes to travel it more easily must cast off all things and use the cross as his cane. In other words, he must be truly resolved to suffer willingly for the love of God in all things.”
“Would that men might come at last to see that it is quite impossible to reach the thicket of the riches and wisdom of God except by first entering the thicket of much suffering, in such a way that the soul finds there its consolation and desire. The soul that longs for divine wisdom chooses first, and in truth, to enter the thicket of the cross.”
“Love consists not in feeling great things but in having great detachment and in suffering for the Beloved.”
On Pope Francis:
Much speculation and opinion has flown about this year, both positive and negative, regarding the Holy Father. Saint John, who as a reformer was no stranger to conflict and turmoil within the Church, would promote prudence, humility, and charity in discourse.
“Conquering the tongue is better than fasting on bread and water.”
“In the evening of life, we will be judged on love alone.”