St. John of the Cross

Solemnity: 14 Dec.

John de Yepes was born in 1542 at Fontiveros in Spain and entered the Carmelite Order in 1563. St. John was a contemporary of St. Teresa and with her, he reformed the Carmelite friars. He was an enormously gifted man who could turn his hand to many things, being at different times of his life a hospital worker, a poet, a writer, a builder of houses and aqueducts, a spiritual director - and all this in the midst of a deeply contemplative prayer life as a Carmelite friar.

John was not the inventor of a new doctrine nor should he be called the Doctor of the Night, but a wise man who framed his doctrine in clear and precise principles. For St. John the supernatural life pivots on two hinges: the soul and God. God is like a seed infused in the depths of the soul, where he dwells and whence he governs the soul and with it the whole person, so that God and the soul constitute in a sense one thing, thus making it possible to say with St. Paul, "It is no longer I that live, but Christ lives in me" (Gal 2:20). This transforming union takes place when the will submits completely to God's will and is achieved by an absolute turning away from everything that does not come from God. He exacts an integral spiritual poverty, necessary for one who wishes to come into the possession of the all who is God. John of the Cross emphasised that even the slightest hint of attachment, including spiritual attachment, hinders a per-son from reaching union with God. John had a very keen psychological insight into the minds of people. His doctrine is most relevant today in our materialistic world and he is more widely read than ever before.

John's outstanding works are: Ascent of Mount Carmel, Dark Night of the Soul, The Spiritual Canticle, and The Living Flame of Love. His writings are translated into many languages and are widely read by Christians of various denominations and by Buddhists and Hindus. He died at Ubeda in 1591. St. John was declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Pius XI in 1926.


Principal Events in the Life of St. John of the Cross

1542 Born Juan de Yepes at Fontiveros, near Avila, Spain.
1563 John took the habit of the Carmelite Friars in Medina.
1564 Made Profession as a Carmelite, then entered the University Salamanca to study arts and theology.
1567 Ordained a priest. Later that year he met St. Teresa at Medina then returned to University at Salamanca.
1568 28 November John took the vows of the Reform at Duruelo.
1577 On the night of December 2, John is kidnapped by the Carmelites of the Ancient Observance and carried off to the Carmelite priory at Avila. After a short time he is taken prisoner to the priory at Toledo.
1577-8 In Toledo prison, John begins writing poetry to express his inner spirit and for his own consolation.
1578 Sometime in August John escapes to the convent of the Discalced Carmelite nuns in Toledo. In October, John attends a meeting of the Discalced superiors at Almodovar. They decide to send him to El Calvario as Vicar.
1578-9 During his time at El Calvario he begins his commentary entitled Ascent of Mount Carmel.
1579 John founds a college of the Reform at Baeza and remains as rector for the next three years. During this time he continues his ministry of the written word.
1581 John attends the Alcala Chapter of the Reform, arriving on March 3 or 4. He is appointed third definitor and prior of the Granada house of Los Martires. In November John meets St. Teresa Avila. This was to be their last meeting.
1582 Toward the end of January, John arrives at Los Martires in Granada. He is elected prior, and continues his writing-including the last five stanzas of the “Spiritual Canticle” poem (with it commentary), the finishing touches on the Ascent of Mount Carmel, and the whole of theLivingFlame of Love.
1585 In May, the Lisbon Chapter appoints John second definitor and vicar
1587 In April, the chapter of Valladolid re-appoints John prior of Los Martires.
1588 In August, John attends the chapter of the Reform in Madrid, and is elected first definitor. Later that month, John takes up his new role as prior of Segovia, the house that would become the headquarters for the government of the Reform. John acts as deputy for Fr. Doria, during the latter’s absences.
1590 In June, John is re-elected first definitor at the extraordinary chapter held in Madrid.
1591 On June 1, the eve of Pentecost, the general chapter opens in Madrid. John is left without office and sent to La Penuela to prepare for assignment to Mexico. He arrives at La Penuela in August. Within a few weeks, John falls victim to severe fever. On September 22 he leaves La Penuela for Ubeda. John of the Cross dies at Ubeda on December 14.


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