Also, I did a series of posts on John of the Cross during Lent of 2004. Here are the links:
Sin obscures. So does selfishness. The cross purifies. All of us ordinary mortals are wounded, immersed in our own darkness. A healthy self-denial sensibly practiced and rightly motivated slowly lifts one out of his egoism, laziness, hedonistic inclinations. We are fitted to receive the clean light of the Spirit.
The saints invariably possessed a remarkable wisdom. Even the most simple of them were gifted with a penetration into reality and into the God of all reality that books and studies cannot produce. This penetrating gaze into the real was made possible by their prior purification. This must be at least part of the meaning of that mysterious saying of St. John of the Cross: “The purest suffering produces the purest understanding.” In another place the saint amplifies this idea when he remarks that “the purest suffering brings with it the purest and most intimate knowing, and consequently the purest and highest joy, because it is a knowing from further within.” One who lives the paschal mystery, life through death, lives more and more deeply and thus will see more and more penetratingly. Authenticity is begotten on the cross.
Suffering reduces us to our own ashes; it strips away egoism and makes love possible. A Scripture commentator can remark that “to be a ‘tried’ Christian or to experience the Spirit is one and the same. Trial disposes to a greater gift of the Spirit, for He now achieves by trial His work of liberation. Thus freed, the tried Christian knows how to discern, verify, ‘try’ everything.”
If adaptation to the modern world has actually meant settling for a more comfortable life, a rejection of the hard road and the narrow gate, it is no renewal at all. If updating in a religious congregation has consisted largely of mitigations, we have a clear sign of resistance to the Spirit of the living God. If the renewal of moral theology consistently means more pleasure and less sacrifice, it is no updating at all. It is a surrender to the world.
from Authenticity: A Biblical Theology of Discernment by Fr. Thomas Dubay, S.M., “Moral Behavior: Cross-Asceticism”
A branch wields its way
toward the grey haze of an icy sky
stripped of its leaves,
with a golden pile of garments
at its base, shrivelling dry.
The branch is empty to be full –
barren, still it reaches,
still it forks its twigs upward
like a waiting hand,
to catch the flurries of December,
wet and heavy in the promise
of a splendor received, not produced.
But first there are the empty days
between foliage and flurries,
the windswept silence of winter afternoons,
the waiting for more than vacancy…
the outstretching toward the promise
of a gift, unknown.
Today’s Gospel reading begins:
Jesus said to his disciples: “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing! There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished!” (Luke 12:49-50)
I think it’s good to remember that renewal of the world begins with interior transformation. No elected official, political party, or legislation — past, present, or future — has the power to save us. Only Jesus Christ has the power to save; He becomes present to us and renews us in the power of the Holy Spirit. In Him, we become instruments of renewal in the world.
If I could recommend only one book about renewal of life and the renewal of the Church through interior transformation, it would be Fire Within by the late Fr. Thomas Dubay, SM. The book changed my prayer life, and continues to do so. It’s a great summary of the teaching of Saint John of the Cross, Saint Teresa of Avila, and the Gospel on prayer.
I’m posting the first three paragraphs here, in the hope that it will be enough to coax at least a few of you to pick up a copy and read it:
The Son, radiant Image of the Father’s glory, proclaimed that He had come to cast a fire upon the earth and that He longed for it to burst into blaze. It was in the form of fiery tongues that the Holy Spirit of Pentecost descended upon a timorous group of men and women. Their minds and hearts having been enkindled with a burning love and ardent zeal, those who received the Spirit sparked the astonishing transformation of an unbelieving and corrupt civilization into a community of faith and love.
In our day the divine fire has not been extinguished. The consuming conflagration has not been contained. The proven incapacity of committees and clubs, speeches and surveys, electronics and entertainment profoundly and permanently to change vast numbers of people for the better has to be conceded. As the experience of the centuries attests, true transformations in the world and in the Church continue to come about only through the interventions of men and women on fire — that is, through saints. The evidence is overwhelming. It is also widely ignored, for it contains an otherworldly wisdom that this world does not welcome. For some, taking the evidence seriously presents a snag, since it implies striving for this same kind of transformation within oneself as a starting point for improving the world. Indeed, at this very moment, deep and lasting changes in the Church are being brought about by a faithful few who are burning interiorly as a consequence of the deep prayer given by the Holy Spirit, who renews the face of the earth in ways other than our own. These quiet, humble, unassuming individuals seldom write position papers, and they are not likely to appear on controversial television talk shows or to attract front-page headlines. They are not identified with any “ism,” and they care nothing for a life of luxury or notoriety. They do not achieve popular acclaim by opposing ecclesial leadership and rejecting received doctrine. Rather, they are like the saints have always been. The burning ones are the unflickering light of the world, the savory salt of the earth, the lively leaven in the mass.
Thus, contemplative husbands and wives are examples of holiness to their children not unlike a Hedwig or a Thomas More. Prayerful clergy serve to inspire parishioners through soul-stirring homilies, sound guidance in the confessional and comforting concern in times of need. Teachers who are aflame ignite their students by their contagious enthusiasm as well as by the attractiveness of the truth they proclaim. Nurses close to God have a healing influence on both soul and body. In the home, in the marketplace, in the cloister, the love steadily radiating from these simple ones permeates and invigorates the world around us. It is unmistakable evidence of God living in and among us, a clear manifestation to our world that the Incarnation has taken place. Common folk instinctively grasp this, while it easily escapes the more sophisticated, who often fail to comprehend what transcends the tangible order of meetings and strategies and publicity campaigns.
In the words of the Saint Pope John Paul II, our responsibility is simply to “become saints, and do so quickly.”
On Wednesday, October 22, 2014, immediately following a performance of the play, I joined three others in a panel discussion of the text. I don’t know nearly as much about John Paul II, the theater, or the play as the others on the panel, but on the basis of my sheer enthusiasm for the play, I was invited to participate.
Here’s a short description of the play, from the official English translation:
Love is “one of the greatest dramas of human existence,” writes Pope John Paul II. In this illuminating three-act play — here in the only English translation authorized by the Vatican — he explores relationships between men and women, the joys — and the pain — of love and marriage. The action unfolds in two settings at once: a street in a small town, outside the local jeweler’s shop (people go to buy their wedding rings there), and the mysterious inner landscape of personal hopes and fears, loves and longings. Each act focuses on a different couple: the first happily planning their wedding, the second long-married and unhappy, the third about to marry but full of doubts. Writing with power and understanding about a love that survives the grave, a love that has withered and died, a love budding out of complexes and insecurities, the Pope addresses such fundamental human concerns as: What does it mean to fall in love? When do we know that a love is real — and can it last? If it dies, how do we go on living — and loving — again? There are no easy answers, and there is no happy ending — such is the nature of men and women, and such is the nature of love — but there is hope, if we only acknowledge our need and accept the risks of a deep and lasting commitment. This is a play full of wisdom on a subject of great relevance to all, and it provides a special insight into the thoughts of the man who, like no other, has captured the imagination of people of all faiths throughout the world…. Karol Wojtyla — Pope John Paul II — has long been involved with the theater. As a student of literature, then priest, bishop and archbishop, he acted, directed, wrote dramatic criticism, made a Polish translation of Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, and has authored six plays. (source)
The panel discussion lasted about an hour. Here it is in audio format: