Pope John Paul II
Apostolic Letter Of His Holiness John Paul II
To The Very Reverend Father Felipe Sainz De Baranda Superior General Of The Order Of The Discalced Brothers Of The Blessed Virgin Mary Of Mount Carmel On The Occasion Of The IV Centenary Of The Death Of Saint John Of The Cross, Doctor Of The Church
1. Master in the faith and witness to the living God, Saint John of the Cross is present in the memory of the Church, especially today as we celebrate the IV Centenary of his passing to glory, which took place on 14 December 1591, when he was called from his convent of Ubeda to the house of the Father.
The Church finds joy in attesting to the abundant fruits of holiness and wisdom that this her son continues to bear through the example of his life and the light of his writings. Indeed, his person and his teachings draw the interest of people from the most diverse religious and cultural surroundings. He understands them and speaks to the deepest aspirations of the human person and of the believer. Therefore, I cherish the hope that this jubilee celebration may serve to increase the lustre of his central message—the theological life in faith, hope and love—and to make it more widely known.
This message, meant for everyone, is the special heritage of the Teresian Carmel which rightly considers St. John of the Cross its Father and Spiritual Master. It is also its pressing task. John’s example makes him the pattern of Carmelite life. His writings are a treasure to be shared with all those who seek the face of God today. His doctrine speaks to our times, most especially in Spain, his native land, whose literature and name he honors with his magisterium of universal reach.
2. I myself have been especially attracted by the experience and teachings of the Saint of Fontiveros. From the first years of my priestly formation, I found in him a sure guide in the ways of faith. This aspect of his doctrine seemed to me to be of vital importance to every Christian, especially in a trail-blazing age like our own which is also filled with risks and temptations in the sphere of faith.
Europe was still bathed in the afterglow of the celebration of the fourth centenary of the birth of the Carmelite Saint (1542-1942) and rising from its ashes after the dark night of war when, in Rome, I wrote my doctoral thesis in theology on the subject of Faith according to St. John of the Cross (1). In it, I devoted special attention to an analytical discussion of the central affirmation of the Mystical Doctor: Faith is the only proximate and proportionate means for communion with God. Even then I felt that John had not only marshalled solid theological doctrine, but that, above all, he had set forth Christian life in terms of such basic aspects as communion with God, the contemplative dimension of prayer, the strength that apostolic mission derives from life in God, and the creative tension of the Christian life lived in hope.
During my November 1982 visit to Spain, I had the joy of extolling the Saint’s memory against the evocative backdrop of the Roman aqueduct at Segovia. I visited his tomb and venerated his remains. There I once again voiced the great message of faith, the essence of his teaching for the Church, for Spain and for Carmel: the message of a vigorous, living faith which seeks and finds God in His Son Jesus Christ, in the Church. in the beauty of creation, in quiet prayer, in the darkness of night, and in the purifying flame of the Spirit (2).
3. It is fitting, as we celebrate the fourth centenary of his death, that we should once again sit at the feet of this Master. By a happy coincidence, he is our traveling companion for this crossroads of history at which we stand. We are at the threshold of the year 2000. Twenty-five years separate us from the closing of the Second Vatican Council which began and sustained the renewal of the Church in her purity of doctrine and sanctity of life. As the Council affirms, “It is the function of the Church to render God the Father and his incarnate Son present and as it were visible, while ceaselessly renewing and purifying herself under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This is brought about chiefly by the witness of a living and mature faith, namely, one that is so well formed that it can see difficulties clearly and overcome them” (3).
The presence of God and of Christ, a renewing purification under the guidance of the Spirit, and the living of an informed and adult faith—is this not in reality the heart of the teaching of St. John of the Cross and his message for the Church and for men and women of today? Unless we renew our faith and brighten its flame, we will not be able to face any of the great tasks which face the Church. Only faith enables us to experience the salvific presence of God in Christ in the very centre of life and of history. Faith alone reveals to us the meaning of the human condition and our supreme dignity as sons and daughters of God who are called to communion with Him (4). Faith is the heartbeat of the new evangelization, for it re-evangelizes believers and opens them more and more to the teachings and light of Christ.
4. St. John of the Cross is known in the Church and in the world of culture for many things. He is a man of letters and a poet of the Castilian language. He is an artist and humanist. He is a man of deep mystical experiences. He is a theologian and spiritual exegete. He is a spiritual master and director of consciences. As a master or guide on the journey of faith, he brings light, through his example and doctrine, to all those who seek to experience God through contemplation and through self-sacrificing service to their brothers and sisters. In his elevated poetical production and doctrinal tracts—The Ascent of Mt. Carmel, The Dark Night, The Spiritual Canticle, and The Living Flame of Love—as well as in his brief and pithy writings—The Sayings of Light and Love, The Counsels, and his letters—the Saint has left us a great synthesis of spirituality and of Christian mystical life. Yet from among this rich fare set forth by him, I wish to fix our attention on his central message: living faith which is the guide of the Christian, his only light in the dark nights of trial, an ardent flame fed by the Spirit.
Faith, as the Saint so well shows by his life, inspires adoration and praise. It anchors every human person in a real world permeated with the presence of surpassing realities. Therefore I wish, with the light of “the Holy Spirit who is the Teacher” (5) and in harmony with the sapiential style of Friar John of the Cross, to comment upon some aspects of his doctrine touching on faith. I want to share his message with the men and women who are living today at this hopeful and challenging hour of history.
The historical context
5. It fell to Friar John of the Cross to live in historical circumstances that offered him rich possibilities which spurred the full development of his faith. During his lifetime (1542-
1591), an intense and creative religious age begins in Spain, Europe, and America. It is the age of the evangelical expansion of the Catholic Reform. It is also a time of accord, of ruptures in the unity of the Church, and of internal and external conflicts. The critical juncture urges a response. The Church holds a great Council to teach and reform, the Council of Trent. She evangelizes a new continent, America. She invigorates the Christian roots of an old world, Europe.
These situations and events mark out the context in which the life of John of the Cross unfolds. He spends his childhood and youth in extreme poverty and has to make his way by working with his hands in Fontiveros, Arevalo and Medina del Campo. He follows a Carmelite calling and receives a higher education in the halls of the University of Salamanca. Immediately alter a providential meeting with Saint Teresa of Jesus, he embraces the Reform of Carmel and begins a new form of life in the first convento of Duruelo. The first male Discalced Carmelite, he shares the ups and downs and difficulties of his religious family as it comes to birth. Imprisonment in Toledo, the solitude of El Calvario and La Penuela in Andalusia, his apostolate in the monasteries of nuns, and his work as Superior weather him. His mature personality emerges in a lyric outpouring of poetry, in his written commentaries, in his simple conventual life, and in his itinerant apostolate. Alcala de Henares, Segovia and Ubeda are names which evoke the fullness of his interior life, of his priestly ministry, and his spiritual magisterium.
This rich experience enables him to face the state of the Church of his time with an open attitude. He is aware of what is taking place. In his writings he alludes to heresies and errors. At the end of his life he offers to go to Mexico to preach the Gospel. He is preparing to carry out his purpose when sickness and death cut him short.
6. John de Yepes’ response to the grave spiritual needs of his time is to embrace a contemplative vocation. He is not washing his hands of his human and Christian responsibilities. On the contrary, in taking this step he is committing himself to living with full awareness the very heart of the faith by seeking the face of God, by listening to His word and putting it into practice, and by surrendering himself to the service of his neighbor.
John shows us that the Christian can find complete fulfilment in the contemplative life. The contemplative does not limit himself to spending long stretches in prayer. The companions of the Carmelite Saint and his biographers give us a dynamic picture of him. As a youth, John learned to nurse the sick and to lay bricks and stones and to work in the orchard and adorn the church. As an adult, he discharges responsibilities in government and formation, attentive always to the spiritual and material needs of his brethren. He goes on long journeys by foot in order spiritually to assist his sisters, the Discalced Carmelite Nuns, for he is convinced of the value of their contemplative life for the Church. His attitude may be summed up by a basic conviction: It is God and God alone that gives value and meaning to every activity, “For where God is unknown, nothing is known” (6).
His special vocation as a contemplative Carmelite enabled him to serve the Church and her needs in the best way through his life and writings. And so Friar John lived in the company of his brothers and sisters in Carmel in prayer and silence, in service and sober simplicity and renunciation which were steeped in faith, hope and love. With St. Teresa of Jesus, he realized and shared the fullness of the Carmelite charism. Together they continue to be in the Church eminent witnesses of the living God.
The task of forming believers
7. Faith promotes communion and dialogue with the brethren in order to help them to travel the paths that lead to God. Friar John was an authentic former of believers. He knew how to introduce people to familiar conversation with God by teaching them to discover His presence and His love in all circumstances, whether favorable or unfavorable, in moments of fervour and in periods of apparent abandonment alike. illustrious souls such as Teresa of Jesus drew near to him. He guided her through the last stages of her mystical ascent. There were also persons of great spirituality, representatives of the faith and popular piety, like Ana de Penalosa, to whom he dedicated the Living Flame of Love. God fitted him for this mission as spiritual guide and moulder of believers.
John of the Cross had to invent for his time a doctrinal system and practical approach to teaching faith in order to liberate it from perils that would waylay the faithful. There was the peril of excessive credulity on the part of those who lacked discernment and trusted more in private visions and subjective movements than in the Gospel and the Church. On the other hand there was the radical unbelief and hardness of heart which made it impossible for others to open themselves to mystery. The Mystical Doctor avoids these pitfalls and, through his example and doctrine, helps Christians to make their faith strong with the very basic qualities of an adult faith which the Second Vatican Council asks of us. It is to be a personal faith which has matured through the experience of communion with God. It is to be a faith that leads to solidarity and commitment which is manifested in moral integrity of life and a readiness to serve. This is the faith that we need and which the Saint of Fontiveros offers us through his personal witness and his perennially relevant teaching.
II. The witness of the Living God
Depth and realism of his personal faith
8. John of the Cross is a man in love with God. He treated familiarly with Him and spoke constantly of Him. He carried God in his heart and on his lips. God was his true treasure, his most real world. Even before opening his mouth to proclaim or sing the divine mystery, he is God’s witness. That is why he speaks of Him so passionately and so uncommonly convincingly. “They pondered that which they heard, that he thus spoke of the things of God and of the mysteries of our faith, as if he had seen them with his bodily eyes” (7). The gift of faith brings alive for the believer what he knows in mystery. It comes to form his real world. The witness proclaims what he has seen and heard, what he has contemplated, after the fashion of the prophets and apostles (cf. I Jn. 1:1-2).
Like the prophets and apostles, the Saint possesses the gift of the efficacious and penetrating word. He not only has the power of voicing and sharing his experience through symbols and poems which are shot through with lyric beauty, but he also expresses himself exquisitely in his sapiential “Sayings of Light and Love.” He is wont to speak “words to the heart [which are] bathed in sweetness and love,” words “of light for the journey and of love for the journeying” (8).
Christ, the fullness of revelation
9. The keenness and the realism of the faith of the Mystical Doctor rest upon his awareness of the central mysteries of Christianity. A contemporary of the Saint affirms: “Among the mysteries for which it seems to me he had great love was that of the Most Holy Trinity and also that of the Son of God made man” (9). His preferred source for the contemplation of these mysteries was the Scripture. He often said so. In particular, he turned to chapter 17 of St. John’s Gospel. He made his life an echo of its words: “This is eternal life: that they should know You, the one true God, and Him whom you have sent, Jesus Christ” (Jn 17:3).
As theologian and mystic, he made the entire spiritual life revolve around the mysteries of the Trinity and of the Incarnate Word. He sang of them in his poetry. Because he seeks God through faith and welcomes Him from the depths of his being, he finds God in the works of creation and in the events of history: “The Word, the Son of God, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, is hidden by His essence and presence in the innermost being of the soul…. Be joyful and gladdened in your interior recollection with Him, because you have Him so close to you. Desire Him there. Adore Him there” (10).
The dynamics of the theological life
10. How does the Spanish mystic succeed in finding such riches and so much life in Christian faith? By simply letting evangelical faith unfold all its capacity for conversion, love, trust and selflessness. John’s faith is so rich and efficacious because it is the source of all theological life: faith, hope and charity. He says: “These three theological virtues increase together” (11).
One of the most valid contributions of St. John of the Cross to Christian spirituality is his doctrine regarding the development of the theological life. In his written and oral magisterium he focuses his attention on the trilogy of faith, hope and love, which constitute the primary attitudes of Christian existence. At every stage of the spiritual journey God’s communication with man and of man’s response to God turn upon the theological virtues.
Faith, united to charity and to hope, produces this intimate and savory knowledge which we call or experience awareness of God, life of faith, and Christian contemplation. It is something that goes much beyond theological or philosophical reflection. Many simple and unselfish souls receive it from God by means of the Spirit. In dedicating his Spiritual Canticle to Ana de Jesus, the author notes: “Even though Your Reverence lacks training in scholastic theology by which the divine truths are understood, you are not wanting in mystical theology which is known through love and by which one not only knows but at the same time experiences” (12). Christ reveals Himself as the Beloved, and even more, as the one who loves first, as the poem El pastorcico (The Shepherd Boy) sings.
III. The paths of the life of faith
Faith and Christian existence
11. “The just man will live by faith” (Rom 1:17; cf. Hab 2:4). He lives by the faithfulness of God to His gifts and promises. He lives by surrendering himself in trust to God’s service. Faith is the principle of life and its plenitude. For this reason the Christian is called faithful—Christ’s faithful (“Christifidelis”). The Revealing God permeates all his existence. The believer’s entire life is governed by principles of faith. They are his basic criteria. The Mystical Doctor observes: “We must in all of this presuppose a fundamental principle which will be like a staff, a continual support for our journey. It must be kept in mind, because it is the light which will be our guide and master in this doctrine. By it we must, amid all these goods, direct joy to God. The principle is this: The will should rejoice only in what is for the honor and glory of God, and the greatest honor we can give Him is to serve Him according to evangelical perfection anything not included in such service is without value to man” (13).
Among the many aspects of faith education to which the Saint gives special attention, I wish to highlight two which are especially important in the lives of Christians today. They are: the relationship between natural reason and faith, and living out faith through interior prayer.
12. It might surprise us that the Doctor of Faith and of the Dark Night extols so earnestly the value of human reason. His is the celebrated axiom: “One thought alone of man is worth more than the entire world; hence, God alone is worthy of him” (14). Rational man’s superiority to the rest of mundane reality should not lead to pretensions of earthly dominion. Instead it ought to guide him toward his most proper end, union with God, to whom he is similar in dignity. For that reason, faith does not justify scorning human reason. Nor is human rationality to be regarded as opposed to the divine message. On the contrary, they work together in intimate collaboration: “A person can get sufficient guidance from natural reason, and the law and doctrine of the Gospel” (15). Faith is not a disincarnate reality. Its proper subject is man a rational being, with his lights and limits. The theologian and the believer cannot renounce their rationality; instead, they must open it to the horizons of mystery (16).
13. The experience of faith, or living it out, through interior prayer is another aspect which John of the Cross specially highlights in his writings. For that matter, it is also a constant concern of the Church in its efforts to form faith and to secure the cultural and theological development of the faithful, so that their interior life may grow deep and they may be able to give an account of what they believe. But the Christian faith needs not only intellectual advancement. It must undergo development in its contemplative dimension. The Christian must encounter God in mystery. This is precisely the aim of the Spanish mystic’s great pastoral concerns.
St. John of the Cross has educated generations of faithful in contemplative prayer which he calls “knowledge or loving awareness” of God and of the mysteries which He has revealed to us. The pages which the Saint dedicated to this type of prayer are well known (17). He would have us always pray with a gaze of faith and contemplative love: in our liturgical celebrations, our adoration of the Eucharist—eternal fount hidden in the Living Bread—in our contemplation of the Trinity and of Christ’s mysteries, in our loving attentiveness to God’s word, in our prayerful communion mediated by sacred images and our rapt silence as we regard the beauty of creation and the “woods and thickets planted by the hand of my Beloved” (18). In all of these, he educates the soul for a simplified kind of interior union with Christ: “Since God, then, as the giver communes with him through a simple, loving knowledge, the individual also, as the receiver, communes with God through a simple and loving knowledge or attention, so that knowledge is thus joined with knowledge and love with love” (19).
The dark night of faith and the silence of God
14. The Mystical Doctor appeals today to many believers and non-believers because he describes the dark night as an experience which is typically human and Christian. Our age has known times of anguish which have made us understand this expression better and which have furthermore given it a kind of collective character. Our age speaks of the silence or absence of God. It has known so many calamities, so much suffering inflicted by wars and by the destruction of so many innocent beings. The term dark night is now used of all of life and not just of a phase of the spiritual journey. The Saint’s doctrine is now invoked in response to this unfathomable mystery of human suffering.
I refer to this specific world of suffering about which I spoke in the Apostolic Exhortation Salvifici Doloris. Physical, moral and spiritual suffering, like sickness—like the plagues of hunger, like war, injustice, solitude, the lack of meaning in life, the very fragility of human existence, the sorrowful knowledge of sin, the seeming absence of God—are for the believer all purifying experiences which might be called night of faith.
To this experience St. John of the Cross has given the symbolic and evocative name dark night, and he makes it refer explicitly to the light and obscurity of the mystery of faith. He does not try to give to the appaling problem of suffering an answer in the speculative order; but in the light of the Scripture and of experience he discovers and sifts out something of the marvelous transformation which God effects in the darkness, since “He knows how to draw good from evil so wisely and beautifully” (20). In the final analysis, we are faced with living the mystery of death and resurrection in Christ in all truth.
15. The feeling that God is silent or absent, whether voiced as an accusation or as a complaint, is an almost spontaneous reaction to the experience of pain and injustice. The very people who do not credit God with their joy hold Him responsible in detail for human suffering. The Christian, however, feels the torment of the loss of God or of alienation from Him in a different, and often deeper way, to the point of feeling flung down into the darkness of the abyss.
The Doctor of the dark night finds in this experience the loving hand of the Divine Teacher. He is silent and hides Himself sometimes because He has already spoken and manifested Himself with sufficient clarity. Even the experience of His absence can communicate faith, love, and hope to one who humbly and meekly opens himself to God. The Saint writes: “The soul wore this white tunic of faith when it departed on the dark night and walked … in the midst of interior darkness and straits … and suffered with constancy and perseverance, passing through these trials without growing discouraged or failing the Beloved. The Beloved so proves the faith of His bride in tribulations that she can afterwards truthfully declare what David says: Because of the words of your lips I have kept hard ways (Ps 16:4)” (21).
This schooling at God’s hand is an expression of love and mercy which gives back to man a sense of gratitude so that he is free to accept God’s gift of Himself. At other times it makes him feel the full effect of sin, which is both an offense against God and death and the void for man. The dark night educates man so that he is able to discern regarding God’s presence or absence. Thus schooled, he no longer depends on pleasant or unpleasant feelings to guide him, for he is led by faith and by love. God remains his loving Father, in the hour of pleasure and in the hour of pain.
The contemplation of Christ Crucified
16. Only Jesus Christ, the final Word of the Father, can disclose the mysterious meaning of suffering and, through His glorious Cross, light up the darkest night of the Christian. St. John of the Cross, consistent with what he teaches about Christ, tells us that after God revealed his Son He “was, as it were, mute, with no more to say” (22). The silence of God speaks its most eloquent and revealing word of love in Christ Crucified.
The Saint of Fontiveros, who habitually contemplated the mystery of the Cross of Christ, invites us to do so too in the poem of El Pastorcico (The Shepherd Boy) and in his celebrated drawing of Christ Crucified which is known as the Christ of St. John of the Cross. John wrote some of the most sublime pages in Christian literature on the mystery of the abandonment of Christ on the Cross (23). Christ experienced suffering in all its rigour right up until His death on the Cross. In those last moments, extreme physical and psychological and spiritual pain combine to wreak all their fury upon him: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” This atrocious suffering, provoked by hate and lies, has a profound redemptive value. It was ordained so “as to pay the debt fully and bring man to union with God” (24). By means of His loving surrender to the Father in the moment of extreme abandonment and of greatest love, “He accomplished the most marvelous work of His whole life, surpassing all the works and deed and miracles that Me had ever performed on earth or in heaven; that is, He brought about the reconciliation and union of the human race with God through grace” (25). In that way, the mystery of the Cross of Christ reveals the gravity of sin and the immensity of the love of the Redeemer of man.
Christians who live by faith habitually make the Cross of Christ their point of reference and norm of living. “When something distasteful or unpleasant comes your way, remember Christ crucified and be silent” (26). Faith becomes a flame of charity, stronger than death. It is the seed and fruit of resurrection: “Do not think of any other thing,” writes the Saint in a moment of trial, “but that God ordains all, and where there is no love, put in love and you will draw out love,” (27). Because ultimately, “At evening they will examine you in love” (28).
IV. A message of universal impact
Guide for those who seek God
17. It is a joy, in commemorating the death of St. John of the Cross, to attest to the multitudes of persons from the most diverse points of view who are drawn to his writings: mystics and poets, philosophers and psychologists, representatives of other religious creeds, men and women of culture, and plain folk.
Some turn to him because they are attracted by the humanistic values he represents, for instance: language, philosophy, and psychology. He speaks to all of the truth of God and of the surpassing vocation of man. For this reason many who read his writings only for the profundity of his experience or for the beauty of his poetry consciously or unconsciously assimilate his teachings. On the other hand, mystics like our Saint are great witnesses of the truth of God and masters through whom the Gospel of Christ and the Catholic Church sometimes receive a favorable reception among the followers of other religions.
But he is also the guide of those within the holy Church who seek greater intimacy with God. His magisterium is solid fare, full of doctrine and life. The theologian “called to intensify his life of faith and ever unite scientific investigation and prayer” can
learn from him, and so can directors of conscience, for whom he wrote many spiritually clear-sighted pages (29).
A timely message for Spain, his homeland
18. I take pleasure in addressing in a special way on this occasion the Church in Spain, which is celebrating the fourth centenary of the death of the Saint as a Church event that touches the lives of individual people, families, and society.
In the epoch in which John of the Cross lived, Spain was a radiating focus of Catholic faith and missionary outreach. That environment motivated and helped him, so that the Saint of Fontiveros was able to bring together harmoniously faith and culture, experience and doctrine in a personal synthesis that was built up of the most solid values that the theological and spiritual tradition of his country provided. And he did so with the beauty of its language and poetry. In him the peoples of Spain have one of their most universally known representatives.
Grave and unavoidable problems in the field of faith and of public life challenge the Spanish Church today, as its bishops have accurately noted in some of their most recent documents. Their efforts ought, therefore, to guide and revitalize Christian life so that the Catholic faith, convinced and free, may find personal and community expression in being professed openly, lived consistently, and witnessed to through service.(30) In a pluralistic society like the present one, the Christians’ personal option of faith, which is threatened by anonymity and the temptation of disbelief, demands a new attitude consistent with the grace of baptism and a conscious and loving commitment to the Church.
The Church in Spain is also called to serve society by promoting a suitable harmony between the Christian message and the values of culture. That means stirring up an open and living faith which carries the new lifeblood of the Gospel to the various areas of public life. This synthesis must be brought fully into practice by committed Christian lay people in the different sectors of culture. For this deep interior renewal of community and culture, John of the Cross offers the example of his life and the wealth of his writings.
To the Sons and Daughters of Carmel
19. The growing interest which St. John of the Cross awakens in our contemporaries is a motive for legitimate satisfaction, particularly for the sons and daughters of the Teresian Carmel of whom he is Father, master, and guide. It is also a sign that the charism of life and of service which God has given you in the Church continues to have full vigor and validity.
But your charism is not a material possession or a heritage guaranteed once and for all. It is a grace of the Spirit which demands of you fidelity and creativity in communion with the Church to whose needs you must always show yourself attentive. To all of you who are sons and brothers, daughters and sisters of St. Teresa of Jesus and St. John of the Cross, I remind you that your vocation is a motive of grave responsibility more than of glory.
The painstaking care with which you have seen to the presentation of the writings and the diffusion of the message of your Father and Doctor of the Church is certainly a worthwhile service to the Church. So are your efforts to make it easier to understand his doctrine by fostering suitable studies and by providing the instruction necessary for those who would begin to read him and apply his doctrine to life. But the Teresian Carmel must certainly take its response further and give the fruitful witness of a rich experience of your personal and community life. Each Discalced Carmelite, each community and the entire Order are called upon to incarnate the traits which shine forth in the life and writings of him who is, as it were, “the living image of the Discalced Carmelite”: austerity, intimacy with God, intense prayer, evangelical fraternity and a commitment to promoting prayer and Christian perfection through the spiritual teaching and direction which are your specific apostolate in the Church.
What a blessing it would be to find the word and life of the Carmelite Saint incarnate and personified in each son and daughter of Carmel! So many daughters and sons of yours have done so. Throughout these four centuries they have known how to live their intimacy with God. They have practiced mortification and fidelity to prayer. They have helped one another as spiritual brothers and sisters. They have set their path through the dark nights of faith. John of the Cross has taught them through his writings. His life has made him their model.
20. On this occasion I cannot fail to direct a word of thanks and of exhortation to the Discalced Carmelite Nuns. The Saint specially favoured them by dedicating to them the best of his apostolate and his teaching. He took pains to form them on an individual and community basis. He instructed them and guided them through his presence and his confession ministry. Mother Teresa of Jesus had presented him to her daughters as having the best of credentials for a spiritual director: he was “a heavenly and divine man”, “very spiritual, very experienced and very learned.” They could open their souls to him and so progress in perfection, “since our Lord has given him this particular grace” (31)
Countless Discalced Carmelite Nuns have meditated lovingly on the writings of the Holy Doctor and, through them, have reached the summits of the interior life. Some of them are universally known as his daughters and disciples. It is enough to remember the names of Teresa Margaret of the Heart of Jesus, Mariam of Jesus Crucified, Therese of Lisieux, Elizabeth of the Trinity, Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein) and Teresa of Los Andes. Therefore, my dear Discalced Carmelite Nuns scattered throughout the entire world, continue to seek with determination this pure love of intimacy with God which makes your lives so fruitful in the Church.
21. Portraying for you St. John of the Cross on the occasion of the fourth centenary of his death has enabled me to share some thoughts about one of the messages at the heart of his magisterium: the dimensions of evangelical faith. It is a message which he, in his own historical time and setting, incarnated in his heart and his life. It is a message which continues to bear fruit in the Church.
As I bring this letter to a close, I set out in spirit on pilgrimage and go to his native town of Fontiveros. There he was baptized and received the first fruits of the faith. I follow him all the way to the Andalusian convent of Ubeda, where he passed to glory. I kneel at his tomb in Segovia. These places are blessed with the memory of his earthly life. For God’s people they are temples where the Saint is venerated and the permanent Chair from which he continues to proclaim his message of the theological life.
In presenting him today in a solemn form before the Church and before the world, I wish to invite the sons and daughters of Carmel, the Christians of Spain his homeland, and also all those who search for God in the pathways of beauty, of theology, and of contemplation to listen to his testimony of faith and of evangelical life in order that they may feel themselves attracted, as he was, by the beauty of God and by the love of Christ the Beloved.
To our Redeemer and His Most Holy Mother I entrust the events which will be held during this jubilee year to commemorate the passing to glory of St. John of the Cross. At the same time I impart my heartfelt Apostolic Blessing.
Given in Rome, at St. Peter’s, on the 14th Day of December, Feast of St. John of the Cross, in the year 1990, the thirteenth of my pontificate.
1. Edition of the Saint’s works in Spanish, Madrid, Biblioteca de Autores Cristianos, Madrid, 1979. [Translator’s note: Citations in English are taken from The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, Washington, ICS Publications, 1979. Where reference numbers differ from the Spanish edition, they are indicated in square brackets, below.]
2. Cf. AAS LXXV (1983), pp. 293-299.
3. ECUMENICAL COUNCIL VATICAN II, Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, On the Church in the modern world, 21. [Citations in English from Vatican II: The conciliar and postconciliar documents Northport, Costello Publishing Company, 1975.]
4. Ibid., 19.
5. Ascent of Mt. Carmel, II, 29, 1.
6. Spiritual Canticle B, 26, 13.
7. Procesos de Beatificacion y Canonizacion, Declaration by Fray Alonso de la Madre de Dios, in Biblioteca Mistica Carmelitana, XIV, Burgos, 1931, p. 370.
8. Sayings of Light and Love, Prologue.
9. Procesos de Beatificacion y Canonizacion, Declaration by Maria de la Cruz, in Biblioteca Mistica Carmelitana, XIV, Burgos, 1931, p. 121.
10. Spiritual Canticle B, 1, 6 and 8.
11. Ascent of Mount Carmel, II, 24, 8.
12. Spiritual Canticle B, Prologue, 3.
13. Ascent of Mount Carmel, III, 17, 2.
14. Sayings of Light and Love, 34 .
15. Ascent of Mount Carmel, II, 21, 4.
16. Cf. CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH, Instruction on the ecclesial vocation of the theologian (24-V-1990), 6.
17. Cf. Ascent of Mount Carmel, II, 13-14; Living Flame of Love, 3, 32 ff, cf. CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH, Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on some aspects of Christian meditation (15-X-1989), 19.
18. Spiritual Canticle B, 4.
19. Living Flame of Love, 3, 34.
20. Spiritual Canticle B, 23, 5.
21. Dark Night, II, 21, 5.
22. Ascent of Mount Carmel, II, 22, 4.
23. Cf. Ibid, II, 7, 5-11.
24. Ascent of Mount Carmel, II, 7, 11.
26. Letter number 20 .
27. Letter number 27 .
28. Sayings of Light and Love, 59 .
29. CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH, Instruction on the ecclesial vocation of the theologian (24-V-1990), 8.
30. Cf. Living Flame of Love, 3, 30 and ff.
31. Letter to Ana de Jesus, November-December, 1578.
24 December 1990