Have you ever been in love? asked the venerable old Abba of the latest young recruit to the community. When the young man simply answered, No, the Abba dryly answered, Then, why did you come here for?
This story illustrates the only problem with this book. If you have never experienced love in your life, if your heart has never been aflame with passion for someone .... then maybe it is better that you simply do not read this book because you may be scandalized! On the other hand, if at some stage in your life, love has set fire to your heart and inspired your mind ... this book will open new horizons for you.
This book is about a saint. His name is Fray Juan de la Cruz. Many Christians have never heard of him and of the few who have, many have been highly misinformed. He is not a living force in the imagination of the normal Christian. While Saint Augustine reminds us of the radical demands of the Gospel, Saint Francis typifies happiness in poverty, Saint Dominic demonstrates the power of preaching the Word of God , Saint Ignatius shows us the beauty of a life devoted to following God's will and Saint Teresa's life is an illustration of the intimate depths of the life of prayer, Saint John of the Cross reminds us of nothing. Even worse, his name immediately brings to our mind thoughts of self-denial, penance and austerity of life. His nada - nothing - has certainly remained famous!
Why? Perhaps because of one small incident in his life which caught the imagination of those authors who wrote about him and those artists who painted him. The story is simple. Six months before he died, while he was in Segovia as prior of the convent there, once he went out for a walk in the garden with his brother Francis. During the walk, he recounted an earlier episode. He said that a few months before, he had noticed a painting of Christ carrying the cross which was hanging in the corridor of the convent.
It was a beautiful painting so he thought that it would be better to place it in the Church for the devotion of the people than to keep it hidden within the cloistered walls of the convent. When he did this, he heard a voice asking him : John, what do you wish me to do for you? And I answered him suffer and be humiliated for your sake. But apparently He has not taken much notice of what I said because I am being respected far too much over here.... concluded the story John of the Cross smiling.
This expression to suffer and be humiliated for you, has been extended out of proportion as if it included the whole substance of the teaching of the saint. But, as anyone who is familiar with his life and his writings can easily deduct, this is a very partial and in a certain sense mistaken view.
We have no reason to be unduly surprised that many have misinterpreted him. Few understood him even when he was alive. I cannot understand why no one remembers this saint Mother Teresa of Jesus wrote angrily to Father Gracian! Many failed to assess his caliber even after his death. For centuries this saint remained buried under the dust of indifference.
He began to be rehabilitated only at the beginning of this century when on the 24 August 1926 Pope Pius XI declared him a Doctor of the Church. Thus, at last, serious studies began to be made on his life and message.
It is enough to mention the Spanish Father Crisogono and the French Father Bruno, two Discalced Carmelite friars who have given us a new, more dynamic vision of the saint : no longer the awkward, timid friar enclosed in his monastic room, but a highly energetic person who was able to live the contemplative ideal amid the hurly-burly of life. Philosophers began to show an interest in him; the agnostic Jean Baruzzi and later the French Jacques Maritain launched him into the world of culture. Spanish, indeed world, literature suddenly realized that it had a poetic genius in its midst which had never been recognized.
Psychologists began studying the systematic way in which John of the Cross diagnoses the factors which condition and subdue man and the effective therapy which he offers so that man can live a life of freedom. Theologians stopped considering him as a mystic spiritual writer of no value and began to understand the deep intuitions of this man, especially all his theological reflections on faith, hope and love. Christianity is not an human struggle but a free gift.
During the Second Vatican Council, many prophesied that this saint would eclipsed out of existence because of the Church's new emphasis on terrestrial values and social commitment. Today the Christian must involve himself in the social problems which agonize the world today. But the opposite happened. Once more God bewildered sociologists! Indeed, perhaps never more than today, has there been such an interest in the Saint.
In the religious circles we can take Pope John Paul II as a typical example of this new interest. As a young priest, in 1948, Karol Woytila wrote his doctoral thesis on Faith in Saint John of the Cross, and when later in 1982, as Pope, he visited the Saint's grave in Segovia he called this saint a theologian, poet, artist, man of heaven, teacher of the faith, mystic doctor. In the literary sphere, the Mexican Ottavio Pas, Nobel Laureate of literature in 1990, stated that it was Saint John of the Cross who inspired him to write his best prose and poetry.
The discovery of Saint John of the Cross in modern times is naturally related to his intrinsic value as a poet and a mystic. But his message responds also to the deep needs of modern man. Man today finds himself very much in tune with this saint. John's concept of the dark night, the radical trait of his life and message, his realistic attitude towards creation and the vision this man-of-God has of life, create a close affinity with the modern man who tries so hard to make sense in the ambiguity of his life. In Saint John of the Cross, man finds someone who understands him and, best of all, offers a way out of all this stress and anxiety. # 1
This Carmelite Saint has an important message for the culture of today because he offers a tenable answer to the questionings of contemporary man. His stimulating and profound word, helps us handle things without being manipulated, relate to people without exploiting them, enjoy everything without neglecting Him. As one of the early Fathers of the Church said : God wants to mold us into sovereigns of the universe, brothers and sisters to all people, citizens of heaven, meek and humble servants. Quite an ambitious venture! Nothing less can satisfy us! This is the main reason why I have written this book.
I have written it with much love and violence!
Love towards this friar who we, Discalced Carmelites, consider teacher, father and guide. We call him affectionately our Holy Father.
Violence because I feel that far too many people have a wrong understanding of God! Hence the name of the book "God Is A Feast." John of the Cross has taught me in the tranquility of my convent room and in the intimacy of our chapel that God is neither a police nor a judge. He does not enjoy frightening people! He is Lover who is kind and caring, always dreaming of passion and tenderness. He is not interested in laws and precepts. My God is pleased when we love him, not when we obey him. We are not androids. We are not slaves. We are persons who have a heart beating! Our God believes in love and not in the observance of commandments! If a soul seeks God, even more so does the Bridegroom seek her; if she sends him her wishes of love, He sends her his inspirations and his divine touches. God's wish is to predispose her for more, even higher and delicate graces, which bring her closer to the divine nature, until she comes to take such a pure attitude that she will deserve union with God and complete change into him ... Whoever builds a relationship with God finds his life moving gradually into a feast full of music.
The book is divided into four parts : Life, Message, Writing, Celebration. In writing his Life, I have tried to show the man who is Saint John of the Cross. The Message shows the profound affinity there is between our life with all its contradictions and the vision and message which this enamored mystic offers. His Writings introduce us to several short sentences which he himself wrote and handed to people who frequented him for spiritual direction - they are like sharp arrows which penetrate the marrow of our heart. The last section, Celebration, offers a few liturgical suggestions for those who wish to enjoy in an atmosphere of prayer, this God who Saint John of the Cross loved so much.
My hope and desire is that whoever reads this book will live the same adventure of love which this Saint enjoyed! You will discover that the only one who can make your heart overflow with joy, tenderness and zeal is this God revealed to us in Jesus Christ! Oh what the soul feels here, surrounded by such great favors! How she melts with love! What thanksgiving she gives when she sees God's breasts open to her with such great and deep love! When she feels surrounded with all these divine pleasures, she gives herself completely to Him, and she too gives Him the breast of her will and her love.
#1 Just before the centenary year 1990-1991, the Pope met a group of Spanish intellectuals and declared his admiration for this Saint explaining how relevant he is for the modern man: "John of the Cross, teacher of the faith, can be a real guide on the road of life. His word, always stimulating and profound, provokes in man an understanding of the fullness of his dignity as he searches an answer to the mystery of existence ... So, even today, in an age of many ambiguities, John of the Cross invites us to be men who seek for truth, people who walk by faith, people who place the truth of God above every human compromise .... this does not prevent the Christian from opening himself to the world around him. Indeed we may affirm that John of the Cross is the model of the Christian in dialogue with others."
# 2 This book would never have published in English if it was not for the determination, insistence and hard work of Mark Agius, a medical doctor from Malta who now lives in England. A chance encounter led to a deep friendship. When he first read this book, he found it so stimulating that he translated it into English. His wife Ann typed the original manuscript. Then Mark started making the necessary contacts searching for a publishing house to edit and print this book, agents to promote it, persons to finance it... Quite a feat. His enthusiasm was really impressive and contagious. Please, keep Mark and Ann in your prayers.
(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, provided that the content is unaltered from its original state, if this copyright notice is included.