Father Robert Barcelos, OCD: Saint John of the Cross & Advent 8

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“The Apparition of the Virgin of Carmel to Saint John of the Cross” Ricardo Nuñez Sambucety, 2011. Museum of St. John of the Cross. Ubeda, Spain. Photo Credit: thespeakroom.org

Saint John of the Cross is prophetic in calling us to the perfection of becoming the person God wants to become in us. His doctrine calls us not be satisfied in choosing the good while neglecting to seek what is best. What Thomas Merton calls, the hierarchy of value is a matter of preference and choice. You can choose what is good all the time, which is fine and acceptable. It’s not disobedient, and you won’t get in any kind of trouble. It’s perfectly acceptable, but you could have chosen something better.

According to Saint John of the Cross, the more difficult the choice, the more perfect it is. If you really want to be transformed, jump into what most goes against your nature, and not the path of least resistance. Jump on the path that will bring the most out of you. Go against the current of your nature; go against the grain of your condition.

This is very similar to what Saint Francis calls, perfect joy. You know that irony. We think of perfect joy as ‘Everything, the feast and the singing was so beautiful! Everybody was so on key and everything was so delightful! The turkey came out perfect – everything was just so great!’ NO.

When everything that could possibly go wrong goes wrong, and you embrace and rejoice in that pit, knowing that God’s presence is with you, amidst that mess and chaos, then you’ll know perfect joy. There’s no self-love involved! That’s how you experience perfect joy! You’ve been annihilated, and only the Lord is there now, and it’s His joy in you!

Easier said than done. Half the battle is knowing what’s required and Saint John knew. That’s why he tells us these truths in the way that he does. Our choices must be based upon the right understanding and vision of the hierarchy of value.

What is the hierarchy of value? Number one, ‘What is most important in saving my soul and growing in conversion?’ That’s a given. The understanding of what is most important is meant to produce a singleness of purpose – single-minded, single-hearted. Once I have the singleness of purpose of what is most important, now I need to put that into action. ‘What are the means, the virtues and the habits which can best bring about this desired goal which is God’s dream for my life, to become a saint and totally His?’ In order to discern that, we need a certain framework for discernment; this comes from Saint Ignatius’s rules for the discernment of spirits.

Discernment is such an important part of the spiritual life, not simply the discernment of one’s vocation, though that is still an important part of it. Discernment in general is about how to be entirely at the disposition of the Holy Spirit’s movements. We need discernment for that. In other words, ‘Is this impulse or interior movement in me coming from grace in the Holy Spirit, or is it just coming from my own humanity?’ The movement could also come from an unclean spirit, but having discernment is key to being at the disposal of the Holy Spirit of God.

According to Saint John, Mary was completely at the disposal of the Spirit. She was always perfectly at the sway of the Holy Spirit because she was such a pure vessel that nothing could tarnish that receptivity. She was like a flute, with the breath of God always blowing through her.

We need to have an awareness and framework of discernment. Jesus asks His disciples to stay awake and be vigilant. He points to the importance of having awareness, the awareness of what matters most, the awareness of what’s going on inside of ourselves and around us, the awareness of where our life is leading. (to be contnued)

May the Lord bless us, protect us from all evil, and bring us to everlasting life. Saint 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.

Click here for a different daily Novena Prayer.

‘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.’

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