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St John of the Cross teaches us that the 'dark night of the soul' is an invitation to a deeper life in the Lord

"[if someone] should try to persuade you of any lax doctrine, do not believe in it nor embrace it; even though he might confirm it with miracles. But believe in and embrace more penance and detachment from all things, and do not seek Christ without the cross"  (St. John of the Cross, Doctor of Mystical Theology) In fact, the importance of the cross in the life of the true Christian disciple became St. John's message. For St. John, innocent and voluntary suffering embraced in the way of the cross becomes an avenue to sublime intimacy with the Risen Lord.

Icon of St. John of the Cross

Icon of St. John of the Cross

GLADE PARK, CO (Catholic Online) -- St. John of the Cross (Juan de Ypes) was born the youngest of three children in the small town of Fontiveros, Spain, around the year 1542. His father, a disinherited nobleman, Gonzalo de Ypes died when St. John was but an infant, leaving his mother, Catalina, to support the three children through her work as a weaver at the loom.

About six years later, the family moved to Arevalo, only to move again in three years to Medina del Campo in an attempt to escape conditions of grinding poverty. There, St. John entered a school for poor children, and soon showed a talent for nursing and hospital work. Graced with the abilities of quick learning, he studied Latin and rhetoric at a nearby Jesuit school.

St. John felt drawn to the contemplative life and thus entered the Carmelite monastery at age twenty-one. After excelling in his studies at the Carmelite College of St. Andrew and at the University of Salamanca, he was ordained in 1567, and was given his first assignment in which he was to act as tutor to the Carmelites of St. Anne Monastery in Medina del Campo. It was there, in 1568, that he met the mystic and Doctor of Prayer St. Teresa of Avila, who persuaded him to begin a reform movement among the Carmelite brothers which eventually resulted in bringing new vigor to the order.

However, things were soon to take an ill turn for St. John. Caught in a dispute between the Carmelites of the Mitigated Observance and the Carmelites of the Reform, he was accused of monastic disobedience and imprisoned in December of 1577 at the Monastery of Toledo. For the next nine months, he was locked in a six-by-ten-foot cell, with only meager light filtering in from a small slit high up on one wall.

The Way of The Cross

Temperature fluctuations during his imprisonment were severe: painfully cold winter months were soon followed by the stifling heat of summer. And, as if this were not enough, St. John had to endure cruel floggings on the bare skin of his back -- the scars of which he bore throughout the remainder of his life.

It was there, in the seeming unending solitude of the dark cell, that St. John of the Cross composed wonderful poems and canticles which he committed to memory, since pen and paper were luxuries his captors withheld. These would later be used as a basis for his literary works, including his book, The Spiritual Canticle, which is influenced by the Song of Songs. 

On reading his spiritual works there is little doubt that, in the empty silence of his captivity, St. John of the Cross was drawn upon the sublime heights of contemplation in the loving embrace of Christ. In The Dark Night, he writes:

"[I] departed from my low manner of understanding, and my feeble way of loving, and my poor and limited method of finding satisfaction in God. . . . This was great happiness and sheer grace for me, because through the annihilation and calming of my faculties, passions, appetites, and affections, . . . I went out from my human operation and way of acting to God's operation and way of acting" (John of the Cross, Selections from The Dark Night & Other Writings [HarperSanFransisco, 1987], 2).

St. John was no stranger to suffering. Through his intimate experience with loneliness, pain and darkness, he was drawn all the nearer to the God of light and love, peace and consolation. For in union with Christ, the physical evil of suffering is transformed into something beyond itself, into something of wondrous good through the grace of God. After all, although the greatest evil imaginable is the crucifixion of the innocent Savior, that voluntary sacrifice on the cross of the sinless Christ resulted in the redemption of fallen humankind.

In fact, the importance of the cross in the life of the true Christian disciple became St. John's maxim: "Do not seek Christ without the cross." For St. John, innocent and voluntary suffering embraced in the way of the cross becomes an avenue to sublime intimacy with the Risen Lord. Therefore, suffering with the Savior is one key to the lofty heights of contemplation, which opens the door to the loving embrace of the Holy Spirit, transforming pain into unheard-of joy. While such a concept is quite foreign to contemporary society, it is entirely compatible with the Gospel:

For instance, Mark's gospel is written to a Christian community suffering persecution. One could say that Mark is encouraging his contemporaries to endure the cross, since true Christian discipleship consists in both recognizing through faith that Jesus is the Son of God -- the Messiah -- and then following him in loving freedom along the way of the cross. We are to make Christ's story our story; our Savior's life our life.

"If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it" (Mk 8:34-35).

But even Jesus' disciples failed to grasp the full meaning of these words. Thus in Mark's gospel, only after Jesus draws his last breath on the cross does his full identity break through when the centurion cries: "Truly this man was the Son of God!" (15:39). Through the cross, the true meaning of Christian discipleship is illuminated.

Our Destiny Lies in Making Christ's Story Our Story

St. Paul, also, was intimately familiar with the sublime theology of the cross: "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Gal. 2:20).

St. John of the Cross lived by the words we find in John's gospel: "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there shall my servant be also; if any one serves me, the Father will honor him" (12:24-26).

The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains, "Apart from the cross there is no other ladder by which we may get to heaven" (No. 618). Since the cross "is the unique sacrifice of Christ," in his "incarnate divine person he has in some way united himself to every man, 'the possibility of being made partners, in a way known to God, in the paschal mystery' is offered to all men" (ibid.). Jesus calls his disciples to take up their cross and follow him. "In fact Jesus desires to associate with his redeeming sacrifice those who were to be its first beneficiaries. This is achieved supremely in the case of his mother, who was associated more intimately than any other person in the mystery of his redemptive suffering" (ibid.).

The Christian finds his or her life in appropriating the Paschal Mystery of Christ as their own. The baptized in Christ become fully human, achieve all that we are created to be and all for which we are destined in making Christ's story our story. The fullness of human flourishing is found in God, yet the way to God is the cross. There is no other way, since it is by the cross of Christ that we are saved. Yet we need not fear this. For our Lord Jesus, who is kindness and love, compassion and peace supreme, calls us to the heavenly banquet through the contradiction of the cross. All we need do is trust and follow.

This Advent, a sacred season of preparation, let us ask St. John of the Cross to intercede for us in order that we may see what he saw, that we may understand the way to Love is through love of the way of the cross.


F. K. Bartels is a Catholic writer who knows his Catholic Faith is one of the greatest gifts a man could ever receive. He is a contributing writer for Catholic Online. Visit him also at


Pope Francis: end world hunger through 'Prayer and Action'

2014 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM

Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for January 2015
General Intention:
That those from diverse religious traditions and all people of good will may work together for peace.
Missionary Intention: That in this year dedicated to consecrated life, religious men and women may rediscover the joy of following Christ and strive to serve the poor with zeal.

Keywords: St. John of the Cross, Doctor of Mystical Theology, human suffering, the Paschal Mystery, Advent, the cross of Christ, F. K. Bartels


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  1. Lonny D'Agostini
    1 year ago

    On Victim Souls

    There are people who are endowed with great physical beauty - their bodies are athletic and slender and their faces ruddy and flawless - yet their souls are so filthy and disfigured that a person would throw up and recoil from them if they could perceive their true state. But the world disagrees and makes fun of it all because they are all carnal thinkers - worse than animals - deaf, dumb, numb, blind and stupid - ignorant of spiritual things - understanding only what their senses can see, smell, feel, taste and touch.

    Fr. Romulus spoke about this carnality at St. Alphonsa's funeral, the people's saint of India, "Sr. Alphonsa could have become a wife and mother in a wealthy family or a graduate student or a poet or a writer or perhaps even an actress. Instead, Sr. Alphonsa spent most of her life within the walls of her convent. In the eyes of the world, Sr. Alphonsa wasted her life and is it the proof of this I see right here before me in the presence of very few people attending her funeral?...If Sr. Alphonsa's interior greatness had been known the world, not only a multitude of lay faithful, but also many Priests, Nuns, and all the Bishops of India would have attended her funeral. A large crowd would have gathered here to catch a glimpse of Sr. Alphonsa's body in repose and to touch Sr. Alphonsa's body with various items so that they could become sacred relics to be kept for future generations.”

    Some time ago I remember meeting a severely handicapped boy in a wheelchair who was being pushed around by his mother. For some strange reason this boy touched my heart and seeing his mother somewhat weary and tired, I told her "That child does more for the world in an hour than some politicians do in their entire life." I was being dead serious. In a society where inconvenient persons are aborted and euthanized here was this precious little boy and his dear mother. Of course, in the eyes of the world this boy was useless, a burden to society and its precious resources. But in reality it is the exact opposite. It is the unrepentant mortal sinners who are the dead weight of society - spiritually useless and cumbersome to the body of Christ. Always physically gratifying themselves at the spiritual expense of someone else. More recently, I met another mother who told me that her disabled son spoke to her one day unexpectedly and said, "When you do bad things, we suffer." Notice he did not say, "I" but "we". Victim Souls.

    On earth, it is said that God first hears the prayers of Priests and then of little children, and so on with all the rest. And whereas others can often escape from their state of victim, these souls can't. They are permanently locked into it until God either releases them or brings them to Heaven.

    As Jesus tells Luisa (Libro di Cielo), "This is the order of my Providence, of my Justice and of my Love - that in each time I must have at least one with whom I might share all goods, and that the creature must give Me everything she owes Me as creature. Otherwise, why maintain the world?...This is precisely why I choose victim souls."

    "The victim souls are human angels who must repair, impetrate, protect humanity, and whether they obtain or do not obtain, they must not cease their work, unless they were assured about it from on high."

    "As I was outside of myself, I saw a flood of water mixed with hail, such that it seemed that several cities were flooded with considerable damage...I saw a virgin coming (it seemed to me that she was from America) and, she from one point, I from another, managed to prevent in great part the scourge that threatened us...I Angel, saying: "Oh, power of the victim souls! That which is not given to us Angels to do, they can do with their sufferings. Oh, if men knew the good that comes from them - because they are there for the public and the individual good - they would do nothing but implore God to multiply these souls upon earth."

    Some people's spirituality consists merely in talking. We often see those yappy tele- evangelists on the television screen walking back and forth on the stage ostentatiously preaching and motioning. Some of them woo their audiences with the promise of instant miracles: "Let the Lord take away all your pains. All you need to do is have faith." Those deep into the spiritual life recognize that this is juvenile, not mature Christianity. For the office of suffering is the most noble and powerful office that a Christian can share in. In the Old Testament we read, (Isaiah 53:11) "By his knowledge [of suffering] shall this my just servant justify many: and he shall bear their iniquity." Indeed, it was through His suffering and death that Jesus Christ accomplished the Redemption. Everything else led up to it and converged upon it, (John 19:30) "It is consummated". For this reason, the Priest, before anything else, is called to be a sufferer. To suffer for his bride. To suffer in silence. Great preachers quickly gain notoriety, but sufferers rarely. Yet, it is precisely the victim souls who are the real shock troops of the Church. Jesus told St. Faustina, (Divine Mercy, §1767) "You will save more souls through prayer and suffering than will a missionary through his teachings and sermons alone." The laity too, are called to suffer and in their own particular way. While the office of teaching is for the few, the office of suffering is for all Christians – from the brightest to the simplest – no one is excused from this most important work.

    (Libro di Cielo) "it was not my works, nor my preaching, nor the very power of my miracles that made Me recognized with clarity as the God I am, but when I was put on the Cross and lifted up on It as though on my own throne – then was I recognized as God."

    "If I wanted pains without will, there is such an abundance of them in the world, that I could take as much as I want; but since the gold thread of their will is missing, they are not for Me, they do not attract Me, they do not wound my Heart, nor do I find in them the echo of my voluntary pains; therefore they do not have the virtue of changing the scourges into grace."

    St. Faustina once wrote in her diary, (Divine Mercy ¶ 41) "On one occasion I saw a servant of God in the immediate danger of committing a mortal sin. I started to beg God to deign to send down upon me all the torments of hell and all the sufferings He wished if only this priest would be set free and snatched from the occasion of committing a sin. Jesus heard my prayer and, that very instant, I felt a crown of thorns on my head. The thorns penetrated my head with great force right into my brain. This lasted for three hours; the servant of God was set free from this sin, and his soul was strengthened by a special grace of God."

    If it took three hours of voluntary suffering to prevent this one mortal sin, then just image the amount of suffering that the world needs in order to expiate its crimes? The magnitude is so great and the scope of the coming chastisement so vast that it is perhaps best not even to think about it. Yet the world continues on in its sin: laughing, mocking and giggling. Busy. Busy. Busy. No time to listen. No time to repent. But God will bring silence to the earth, (Jeremias 8:14) "For the Lord our God hath put us to silence". He will shut down our toxic social media which is poisoning the world and ruining little children even before they have a chance to know, love and serve God.

    "Evils are most grave, and sins are about to reach such a point as no longer to deserve victim souls - that is, the ones who sustain and protect the world before Me."

    "I saw that He was holding two lightnings in His hands: in one hand, as though equipped, He had a strong earthquake and a war; in the other, many kinds of sudden deaths and contagious diseases. I began to pray Him to pour those lightnings upon me...It seemed that uproars of war were happening there, and I wanted to go to help those poor people, but the demons prevented me from going there where such things were about to happen, and they beat me so that I would not be able to help or to prevent their artifices. They used so much strength as to make me draw back.”

    "...blessed Jesus called the Angels, and said to them: "Now that the victim is coming [to heaven], suspend the fortresses, so that the peoples may do what they want." And I: 'Lord, who are they?' And He: "They are the Angels that keep the cities. As long as the cities are assisted by the fortress of divine protection communicated to the Angels, they can do nothing; but once this protection is removed due to the grave sins they commit, and they are left on their own, they can make revolution and any sort of evil."

    As the law of euthanasia spreads the angels will be more free to pour out God’s wrath. And pour out it they will.

  2. Ramanie Weerasinghe
    3 years ago

    A Great article. Thank you

  3. Ramanie Weerasinghe
    3 years ago

    Wonderful article. Thank you and may God Bless you

  4. Taylor
    3 years ago

    When we refuse to suffer, then we have never suffered. If we have never suffered, then we are not worthy of friendship with Christ. Why? We can not relate to one who suffers if we, ourselves, refuse to embrace suffering as He did. It is like refusing to cry with one's spouse when one's spouse is suffering. Another reason is that in order to love, we must give up or sacrifice something freely, which leads to a form or good suffering. Yet, if we refuse to suffer, we can not really love. If we do not love, then we disobey God's commandments to love Him and our neighbor.

  5. thow
    3 years ago

    To say that we are to make our lives as our saviors isn't possible. Our Savior was God and dwelt among us was crucified and was resurrected and went to the father. Yea, with the holy spirit we can become empowered to do better. God is God. The supreme being, to act as if we can attain this in this world is Blasphemy. The Pope is a man and a sinner. If we are free we are free In Christ. Worship God not man. If we are saved by God through Christ we are indeed saved, if we thiink we can ask anyone but Jesus for forgiveness you haven't recieced the grace that was given for free. God said we needed a Savior he sent us one. The only one.9

  6. jh
    3 years ago

    Beautifully, and clearly written.

  7. abey
    3 years ago

    The Bible says of GOD to be long suffering & them who suffer become equated in the sufferings of GOD, in such it is the poor & the suffering who are more with GOD than the rich & the mighty. Which only goes on to say that no sufferings go wasted for it equates with Him. This suffering is called the cross , to Christ.

  8. Paul Okimat
    3 years ago

    These messages are inspiring. I however request that more quotations from the saints be posted. I find them more inspiring. thanx.

  9. Dr. Mac, MMI
    3 years ago

    "Take up your cross and follow a way, the way of Jesus Christ, His yoke is easy, His burden light ..." (Take up your Cross Everyday - John Michael Talbot)

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