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Brookline Carmel Bulletin                                 

November 20, 1960

Cogitatio Sancta

(Holy Meditation)


Saint John of the Cross    



Physicists tell us that white light is a mixture of all the colors.  An object appears white when its surface reflects all colors equally well.  If an object has a surface that reflects only one color, red, say, it is a red object.  A red object illumined with green light only would reflect nothing.  It would appear black.  We discern it because of the conspicuous absence of light.


Something like that is true in the world of ideas.  The ‘light’ of our intellect is colored by our loves and prejudices and particularly by our moral conduct.  When reason is brought to bear upon something at variance with our affections and desires, that contradict our willed behavior, we can’t justify it; we can’t ‘see’ it.


This is most probably the reason why many persons cannot ‘see’ St. John of the Cross.  His teachings reflect nothing of their own notions of spirituality, nor of their own experience.  He remains an enigma, shrouded in the darkness of the nights he urges us to enter.  Many read his works, find nothing to gratify self, think that in everyday life St. John was equally forbidding, and make no effort to inquire into his personal traits, thinking they cannot love him and be devoted to him.  This is unfortunate, for in his dealings with his fellow religious, indeed, with all men; St. John was the essence of fraternal charity. 


The everyday John of the Cross is not discoverable in his writings because he did not interpose himself.  His avowed purpose was to teach his brothers and sisters in Carmel the shortest, safest, most direct route to union with God.  This he did in his chief ascetical works The Ascent of Mt. Carmel and The Dark Night of the Soul.  We all agree with his premises, and so since his logic is incontestable, we are forced to accept his conclusions.  He reasons thus; to be united with God I must divest myself of all that is not God.  God cannot be perceived by the senses nor comprehended with the understanding.  Therefore I must empty my heart of all affection for sense pleasure; I must void my mind of all notions and concepts of the Divinity that can be grasped by my intellect.  Only when I am dead to self and living by faith alone will I be perfectly united to God.


When a body in the vicinity of the earth is set free, it is attracted to and seeks the center of the earth.  When a soul is set free from the body in death, it is attracted to and seeks the Divine Nature.  If there is nothing to hinder them, both the free body and the separated soul find their respective ‘centers’ and come to rest there.  St. John of the Cross bases his doctrine upon this law (of Levitation?).  A man set free of all that pertains to earth rises up to repose in God.


The negative aspect of St. John’s doctrine is a consequence of God’s complete transcendence over human nature.  When we choose between two tangibles, we exclude the one by embracing and occupying the other.  When choosing between God and creatures, we cannot do the same because God is intangible.  So in our ascetical practices we choose God by renouncing creatures.


Let us return now to the John of the Cross in real life.  Certainly he lived his doctrine to perfection.  He was dead to self, but he was not dead to his fellow men.  He was profoundly concerned about their every need.  All his life he treated his neighbor with loving kindness, and his neighbor found him quite lovable.  Really, it couldn’t have been otherwise; his very name ‘of the cross’ demanded it.  Anyone who meditates upon the Passion and Death of Our Lord Jesus Christ has to come up with the conclusion:  human beings are of infinite worth.  Therefore, I am obliged to love them with all the powers of my being.  If I am to be a true disciple of Jesus Christ, it is not enough for me to love my neighbor as my self, but more than myself, as He did.  (A new commandment I give you, that you love one another as I have loved you).


In the oration of the Mass and Office of his feast St. John is called an ‘outstanding lover of the Cross and of perfect self-abnegation’.  When still quite a young man he forgot about himself in order to minister to suffering humanity by working in a Hospital.  Later on, when, as a Carmelite, he was entrusted with authority, he distinguished himself for his solicitude concerning the welfare of his subjects.  The Cross that he is represented embracing should no more frighten us than the Cross upon which Jesus is hanging.  Like Our Divine Saviour, St. John ascended the Cross, not because it is desirable in itself, but because perfect love of God and neighbor demand it.

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