Tuesday, December 15, 2009

St. John of the Cross on the Eucharist

I have started reading the writings of St. John of the Cross in The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, translated by Kieran Kavanaugh, O.C.D and Otilio Rodriguez, O.C.D. After reading St. Therese, I find myself going to her Carmelite forebears as I seek to increase the fervor of my spiritual life. This is a struggle for me, because my spiritual life (such as it is) often stays on an intellectual, abstract plane (this is my comfort zone).

I was reading St. John's poem, Stanzas of the soul that suffers with longing to see God. The first stanza begins:

I no longer live within myself
and I cannot live without God,
for having neither him nor myself
what will life be?
It will be a thousand deaths,
longing for my true life
and dying because I do not die.


The goal of our spiritual lives must be to go outside of ourselves and into God. The paradox of dying to ourselves and living for God is that we find ourselves, our "true life." As St. Matthew writes, "Then Jesus told his disciples, 'If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it'" (Matthew 16:24-25). The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that this is not an either/or proposition, but a both/and one. Quoting St. Gregory of Nazianzus, the Catechism tells us that immersing ourselves in God puts us fully in touch with our humanity: "The grace of the Kingdom is 'the union of the entire holy and royal Trinity...with the whole human spirit'" (CCC, paragraph 2565).

St. John has an interesting perspective on Eucharistic adoration in stanza 5 of this poem:

When I try to find relief
seeing you in the Sacrament
I find this greater sorrow:
I cannot enjoy you wholly.
All things are affliction
since I do not see you as I desire,
and I die because I do not die.


We learn about how deep this affliction was by how much he loved Jesus in the Eucharist. In the Biographical Sketch in The Collected Works, we are told that Corpus Christi was one of his favorite feast days (p. 27). "On arriving at a monastery he always made it a point first to greet the sick after his visit to the Blessed Sacrament" (p. 24). "His greatest suffering during the imprisonment in Toledo was being deprived of the Eucharist. The Blessed Sacrament was 'all his glory, all his happiness, and for him far surpassed all the things of the earth.' The one privilege he accepted when major superior in Segovia was the cell closest to the Blessed Sacrament" (p. 27).

I find such solace and peace most of the time in Eucharistic adoration. However, St. John reminds me that if I truly perceived (as much as we finite creatures can perceive) Who is before me and how much He loves me, then I would ache with love to be united with Him.

While I enjoy the solace and peace, I pray for the ache and longing, so that I may progress along the road of spiritual growth.

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