Father John of the Cross was thirty years old when he had a colorful experience. A pretty girl coming from a rich family fell madly in love with him. She tried to get his attention but to no avail! One evening she decided to go for it! She managed to sneak into his room. Obviously he was very surprised to find her there, staring at him.
His reaction? No, he did not get mad at her. He did not chase her away or even censure her. He just spoke with her gently. Surprised at her own actions, she burst into tears and left.
Saints are so full of charm and grace. They understand human nature so well.
Once Saint John of the Cross summarized the secret of perfection in four short phrases:
‘To forgot the created,
And always remember the creator.
To guard always the interior life
And always love the Beloved.’
The pretty girl wanted to embrace Father John. He showed her that it is better to embrace God.
God is the kind of a person who can only be charmed by love. When He finds someone who really desires to love Him, He starts reeling! And He does everything possible to stay close and intimate with the person who loves him. In his book “The Ascent of Mount Carmel”, John insists that ‘The Lord is made in such a way that, if one approaches Him with good manners and according to His nature, one can do whatever he wants with Him; but if one approaches Him for one’s own personal interest, there is no point in even talking to Him!!’
Even God has his own style in building relationships with man! He can be so openhanded and extravagant. The moment He sees someone who is trying to love Him above everything else, He immediately becomes exuberant. ‘When God falls in love with a soul, you cannot imagine how generous He can be.’ He starts showering the soul with gifts recklessly. God is the greatest billionaire…
In order to illustrate better his message, John of the Cross once painted a drawing of a mountain which he called Mount Carmel. It is a very simple design. There is the hill, which has a very high, dominant summit – it fills more than half the page. God lives on this summit – and here there is peace, security, beauty, wisdom. Here there are no laws.
It is the abode of God, and also of all those Christians who reach the summit. We are all called to go on ahead towards this summit. It is the only goal which gives meaning to our life.
At the bottom of this hill, there are three roads. Two which meander and zigzag into nothing – they never make it to the top. The other, a straight one, reaches the summit.
One road which leads to nowhere is the road of money, honors, fancy ideas, diplomas, comfort… It is the road taken by those who want more things, more respect, more certificates, more comforts… Saint John of the Cross jots down a tiny comment which is very suggestive : The more I desired to seek them, the less I had them. How true!
The second road which again leads nowhere is the road of consolation, enjoyment, pleasure… This is the road of those who serve the Lord so that they can extract back something from Him – health, consolation, happiness, rest, less problems in life. Here also Saint John puts in a curt short comment : The more I hankered, the less I found. Again, how true!
Nada, Nada, Nada
Then there is the third road, the road in the middle. A straight road which leads direct to God. On this road, John of the Cross wrote only one word : NADA – nothing, repeated several times. Nada, nada, nada, nada….
It is the road of those who try to love God above everything else. God first. Not money before God, but God before money. Not comfort before God but God before comfort. Not man before God, but God before man.
This does not mean that the Christian has to throw everything away. But it means that he has to learn to use everything without becoming riveted to them. Things go wrong when I become attached to something or someone instead of walking towards the Lord. How many times what we call love is simple manipulation.
Here again Saint John of the Cross adds another concise provoking sentence Now that I least desire them, I have them all without desire.
The Nothing leads to Everything. Nobody can be put on a par with God!
It is in this light that one must view the negation for which Saint John of the Cross became so famous…or infamous! In his vision, detachment from everything is not the ascetic effort of a religious lunatic, but an intelligent awareness in the use of things. Use everything, love everything, appreciate everything, but hang on to nothing, be bound to nothing, because if you do, you will suffer and cause suffering in others. Build relationships with others but do not idolize anyone. Be smart! Only in this way, you will experience the totality of God and enjoy people.
In Seville there was a group of eight novices, all young men full of energy and life. Their imagination was excited, full of the great and beautiful discoveries which the Spanish Conquistadors were making in the New World. Their superior was worried because he felt they were too distracted, their minds were too muddled! He thought it would be better to dismiss them all, as he considered them unsuitable for the Discalced Carmelite way of life.
Father John of the Cross, the Vicar provincial at the time, went to see what was going on. He quickly realized… The crazy one was not the young friars but the master of novices, who was taxing them with six hours of prayer a day! “Don’t you see?!,” he remarked, “Less hours of prayer, more free time and more work in the garden …. and you will see how things will improve!”
This is what God does. When you climb this hill of Mount Carmel, you become familiar with God, and because you become familiar with God, you will understand man better…
What a fantastic adventure!
(Adapted from the book GOD IS A FEAST written by Father Pius)
(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.