In The Spiritual Canticle, Saint John of the Cross says that the attributes of God – His love, His power, His joy, His wisdom, and so forth “produce in one’s center a most sublime and delightful knowledge of Him. The person is within the divine splendors, and is transformed in them.” In very complex philosophical language, Saint John goes on to talk about the beautific vision. “This cognitive immersion in pure beauty enthralls and transfigures just as fire ignites and makes to glow any combustible objects cast into it.” Cognitive is gnosis – to know. It’s one thing to experience it, but it’s another thing to be able to express it in Saint John’s kind of language. He had such a brilliant mind. He understood the best of theology so well and was able to express truths profoundly because of His experience.
He writes, “This contemplative transfiguration of eternity begins in time.” It begins in time. Saint Paul refers to that as the first installment of the Spirit, the appetizer to the banquet. Those glimpses of glory happen in stages, only as far God ordains according to divine providence. However, they are not necessary because God might not want us to have any glimpses. He might just want us to be satisfied with our three loaves and two fish, just as Saint Therese. He might not want us to experience the full banquet of His miracles.
Saint John continues, “The soul sees in itself the abundance and greatness and beauty of God.” These words from Saint John puts bones on the flesh of what we read from the second Letter of Saint Peter. He’s expressing the same mystical reality of grace through the redemption of Christ and is really just developing what St. Peter obviously knew!
It’s amazing how much Peter was transformed. The gospels are relentless in showing his weakness. The gospels also reveal the weakness of the patriarchs and the prophets. Scripture shows their weaknesses for the purpose of revealing that our election is based on God’s goodness more than our performance. Our election, and our being loved by God is because of His greatness more than what we can possibly offer Him. In so many countless ways, not only with the words, but also with the events that take place in salvation history, God is expressing to us that he is closest to the lowliest.
Therefore, the writers of scripture spare no pain or make no qualms about showing the weaknesses of the a majority of the patriarchs and some of the prophets in order to glorify God and give us confidence that though we are confronted with our weaknesses, it does not disqualify us from being beloved of the Lord.
In fact, the opposite is true, when we genuinely come to know our weaknesses, our weaknesses, really, are our greatest strength. When Saint Paul complained, ‘Get rid of this thorn on my side. Lord, already, please, for the umpteenth time, get rid of this!’ our Lord responds, ‘My grace is sufficient for you. For my power is made perfect through your weakness.’
And Saint Therese, in her genius, expressed the wisdom of St. Paul in a very contemporary way. She helps us realize that our weaknesses are our greatest assets in being transformed in the love of God, more so than our strengths; that makes her, the gospel, and Jesus so much more approachable
Yet we think the opposite because of the way we are hard-wired in our human condition. We look at our strengths and we try to judge ourselves based on those strengths, but our weaknesses are really where our wealth is. The more united we are with our own poverty and woundedness and the more we can begin to love that in the Lord, the more He can enrich us with Himself (to be continued).
May the Lord bless us, protect us from all evil, and bring us to everlasting life. St. John of the Cross, pray for us.
(SOURCE: Carmelite Nuns Retreat, 12/2013) Transforming Union: The Wisdom of Saint John of the Cross- transcribed by TL
Copyright 2016, Fr. Robert Barcelos. All Rights Reserved
Novena Prayer to St. John of the Cross
Lord, you endowed our Father, 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. Through his intercession, may we obtain the favor we ask for (pause for intention) if it be for our good and the greater glory of God. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
‘Arm yourselves with the armor of faith and the sword of truth. Pray for the grace to forgive and to ask for forgiveness – and for the healing of wounded bodies and souls.’