1542 – 1591, December 14– MEMORIAL

Saint John of the Cross was born Juan de Yepes y Alvarez, in Fontiveros, Avila, Spain in 1542. His father died when he was three, and his older brother, Luis died two years after that, likely because of malnutrition. John’s mother eventually found work weaving which helped her to feed her family.

Ordained a Carmelite priest in 1567 at age 25, John met Teresa of Avila and like her, vowed himself to the primitive Rule of the Carmelites. As a partner with Teresa and in his own right, John engaged in the work of reform and came to experience the price of reform: increasing opposition, misunderstanding, persecution, imprisonment. He came to know the cross acutely—to experience the dying of Jesus—as he sat month after month in his dark, damp, narrow cell with only his God. After months in imprisonment, John escape. He joined Teresa’s nuns in Toledo. In 1591, John became ill with a skin condition that resulted in an infection. He died on December 14, 1591. John is truly “of the Cross.” He died at the age of forty-nine—a life short, but full.

St. John composed four substantive spiritual masterpiece /classic works: the unfinished Ascent of Mount Carmel, The Dark Night, The Spiritual Canticle and The Living Flame of Love. We encourage you to get them for a deeper spiritual edification.

St. John’s desire to help those whom he met in his duties as a confessor to advance in the life of prayer is the key to understanding his writings. John had a horror of bad spiritual directors, because they could cause such harm to people of prayer either by encouraging people to seek out excessive spiritual experiences or, by contrast, holding people back from following the promptings of grace when they were ready for a deeper and richer contemplative life. He famously observed that three sources could lead a person down the road to damnation: the wiles of the devil, one’s own acquiescence to sinful suggestions and the advice of bad spiritual guides.

In one of his most striking sayings John says that the Father spoke one Word, which was his Son, and this Word he speaks always in eternal silence, and in silence must it be heard by the soul. That hearing of the silence that is the Word is, in the deepest sense, prayer. Iain Matthew, one of the most astute commentators on St.John of the Cross, has written that beyond praise, petition and begging for pardon, the impulse in prayer is toward presence. St. John of the Cross taught us that nevertheless, as delightful as God’s gifts are, they are not God himself, and anything short of the fullness of God is not enough. One must learn to seek God for God’s sake, not for the sake of the happiness God brings. Only then can one enjoy perfect union with God.

In the Ascent of Mount Carmel (11:22.19), he urges confessors and spiritual guides to tell people that one act done in charity is more precious in God’s sight than all the visions and communications possible…


Almighty Father, You endowed St. John of the Cross with a spirit of self-denial and a love of the Cross. By following his example, may we come to the eternal vision of your glory. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.… St John of the Cross, Pray for Us