December 14

St. John of the Cross

St. John of the Cross

A Yearning of the Heart

St. John of the Cross, given the name Juan de Yepes y Alvarez, was born in 1542 in Fontiveros, a small village near Avila in Old Castille, Spain. His parents were Gonzalo de Yepes and Catalina Alvarez. Their family was very poor because Gonzalo, who was from a noble family in Tolde, had been disowned and thrown out of his home for marrying Catalina who was a humble silk weaver. Catalino died when John was still young. His mother found work weaving which helped her to raise her children.

When he was 9 years old, John, his mother and his brother moved to Medina del Campo, a center for commerce and culture, not far from Valladolid. He attended the Colegio de los Doctrinos, while he carried out menial tasks for the nuns of the Church and Convent of the Maddalena. Later on, because of his exceptional qualities and intelligence, he was admitted first as a male nurse to the Hospital of the Conception, then to the newly founded Jesuit College at Medina del Campo.

He went to the College when he was 18. For three years, he studied humanities, classical languages and rhetoric. Towards the end of his formation, John had a clear view of his vocation: he wanted to enter religious life. Among the many religious orders in Medina, he felt he was called to Carmel.

The Carmelite Journey

John began his novitiate with the Carmelites of Medina in the summer of 1563. He took the religious name Juan de Santo Matia (John of St. Matthias). The succeeding year, he went to the University of Salamanca, a prestigious center for studies, where he studied philosophy and the humanities for three years. In 1567, he was ordained to the priesthood and returned to Medina del Campo to celebrate his first Mass with his family.

There, John and Teresa of Jesus met for the first time. Teresa explained to him her plan of initiating a reform in Carmel, which included the male branch of the Order. John was so enthralled by Teresa’s ideas that he became a great supporter and champion of her endeavor.

John and Teresa worked together for several months, sharing ideas and proposals aiming to start the first house of Discalced Carmelites as soon as possible. On December 28, 1568, it was opened in Duruelo, in the Province of Avila. The first reformed male community consisted of John and three other companions. Each of them took a new name, and it was from that time that John called himself “John of the Cross”.

Disorder Within the Order

However, the reform of the Order was not welcomed by all. In 1577, accused unjustly, John was seized and imprisoned in the Carmelite Convent of the Ancient Observance in Toledo. Imprisoned for months, John was subjected to physical and moral mistreatment. In his imprisonment, he composed the well-known Spiritual Canticle. In the night between the 16th and 17th of August 1578, he escaped and sought refuge at the Monastery of Discalced Carmelite Nuns in Toledo.

Teresa and her companions celebrated John’s freedom with great joy. After recovering, John was assigned to Andalusia where he spent 10 years in different convents, especially in Granada. He was given more responsibilities in his Order until he became vicar provincial and finished the draft of his spiritual treatises. Then, he returned to his native land as a member of the General Government of the Teresian religious family which already enjoyed full juridical autonomy.

His Final Years

John stayed in the Carmel of Segovia where he served in the office of community superior. He was relieved of all responsibilities and was assigned to the new religious Province of Mexico in 1591. While preparing for the long journey with his companions, he retired to a secluded convent near Jaén, where he fell seriously ill. He faced great suffering with serenity and peace. John of the Cross died between the 13th and 14th of December 1591. His remains were transferred to Segovia. He was beatified in 1675 by Pope Clement X and was canonized in 1726 by Pope Benedict XIII. His feast day is December 14.

Five Interesting Facts About St. John of the Cross

  1. St. John of the Cross is the patron saint of mystics and contemplatives and of Spanish poets.
  2. St. John of the Cross was declared a Doctor of the Church in 1926 by Pope Pius XI. He is also called the “Mystical Doctor”.
  3. St. John of the Cross became an expert in the Bible. He dared to translate the Song of Songs into Spanish, an act which was controversial since the Church forbade the translation of the Bible from Latin.
  4. St. John of the Cross had a vision of Christ and made a drawing that remains to this day called “Christ from Above.” The little drawing shows Christ on the cross, looking down on him from above. The image has been preserved for centuries.
  5. One of St. John of the Cross’ celebrated works is the poem “Dark Night of the Soul”. This poem narrates the journey of the soul from its bodily home to its union with God.

Prayer to St. John of the Cross

O God, who gave the Priest Saint Johnan outstanding dedication to perfect self-denialand love of the Cross,grant that, by imitating him closely at all times,we may come to contemplate eternally your glory.Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,one God, for ever and ever. Amen.