Second Thursday in Advent

St. John of the Cross (Hacienda Los Olivos, Spain)
St. John of the Cross (Hacienda Los Olivos, Spain)

I believe with all my belief … in the coming of the messiah. … And even if there is a delay, … I believe.—Hebrew song

But I will leave as a remnant in your midst a people humble and lowly, who shall take refuge in the name of the LORD.Zephaniah 3:12

One dark night
Fired with love’s urgent longings
—Ah, the sheer grace!—
I went out unseen,
My house being now all stilled;
In darkness, and secure,
By the secret ladder, disguised,
—Ah, the sheer grace!—
In darkness and concealment,
My house being now all stilled;
On that glad night,
In secret, for no one saw me,
Nor did I look at anything,
With no other light or guide
Than the one that burned in my heart;
This guided me more surely than the light of noon
To where He waited for me
—Him I knew so well—
In a place where no one else appeared.
O guiding night!
O night more lovely than the dawn!
O night that has united
The Lover with His beloved,
Transforming the beloved in her Lover.
Upon my flowering breast
Which I kept wholly for Him alone,
There He lay sleeping,
And I caressing Him
There in a breeze from the fanning cedars.

—Saint John of the Cross, from “Noche Oscura”

Can you make a tryst with the Lord and steal away to meet him?

Breathe in. Breathe out. Ad…..vent.

With gratitude to Pax Christi USA where some of these reflections first appeared in print.


John of the Cross: ‘Examined in Love’

photo by Ben Curtis
“It’s much easier to condemn the world than to help save it, much easier to say what you disapprove of than to go and do something useful. ‘In the evening of life you will be examined in love,’ said St. John of the Cross. What you have condemned won’t figure on the exam paper at all–it’s the wrong subject. ‘Those who believe in him are not condemned’ [John 3]. The word ‘belief’ comes from an old word, ‘lief,’ now obsolete, meaning ‘love.’ There cannot be real belief without love.”–Living With Christ (April 18)

“Thou Shalt Not Live for Punishment or Reward”

Isa ibn Maryam

“Love God and do what you will,” John of the Cross wrote. It’s only when I got old enough, experienced enough and wise enough in the ways of mystics that I knew what John really meant. It’s not what we do that makes us holy. It’s what we love that makes the difference between being simply a spiritual virtuoso and being a saint.

The Sufi understood the paradox very well. They tell a story about Isa ibn Maryam: Jesus, Son of Mary. One day Isa saw a group of people sitting miserably on a wall, moaning out loud and full of fear. “What is your affliction?” he asked. “It is our fear of hell,” the people complained.

Then Isa came upon a second group. They were emaciated and wan and full of anxiety. “What is your affliction?” Isa asked them. “Desire for Paradise has made us like this,” the people cried.

Finally, Isa came upon a third group. They were scarred and bruised, wounded and tired but their faces were radiant with joy. “What has made you like this?” Isa asked. And the people answered, “We have seen the Spirit of Truth. We have seen Reality,” they sighed. “And this has made us oblivious of lesser goals.”

And Isa said, “These are the ones who attain. On the Last Day, they will be in the Presence of God.”

If we live our spiritual lives only in fear of punishment or in hope of reward, rather than in the awareness of the One because of whom all life is worthwhile, we can be religious people but we will never be holy people. Then life is simply a series of tests and trials and scores, not the moment by moment revelation of God who is present in everything that happens to us, in everything we do.

Sanctity is about how we view life. It is not about spiritual exercises designed to evaluate our spiritual athleticism or a kind of spiritual bribery designed to win us spiritual prizes we do not deserve.

Coming to know the sacred — the energy of air, the possibility in children, the beauty of regret, the value of life — is what makes us holy. –Joan Chittister

From Becoming Fully Human by Joan Chittister