More Advice from St. John


More Advice from St. John of the Cross

In his Sayings of Light and Love John offers what I would call "meditation starters." They are maxims for the proper leading of life--compressed sayings like those of the Desert Fathers. If you listen carefully, you will hear the "still, small voice" that is to guide conscience.

from Sayings of Light and Love St. John of the Cross

141. Speak little and do not meddle in matters about which you are not asked.
142. Strive always to keep God present and to preserve within yourself the purity he teaches you.
143. Do not excuse yourself or refuse to be corrected by all; listen to every reproof with a serene countenance; think that God utters it.

The first saying is a guiding light that is too infrequently followed. If each of us considered our own life and our own concerns with greater care, we would not have time to criticize others. We are too caught up in things of the world. We seek sensation rather than serenity. We feel that we must be informed--and yet, where does information lead us? Usually it deprives us of peace and time with God. We get caught up in words, events, and concerns that are really not ours. We do not need to offer opinions on every event, every nuance, every momentary catastrophe. Once we begin to formulate such opinions, we stir ourselves up. Our "righteous indignation" exceeds all bounds--we enter into a vicious cycle that robs us of our peace.

The second maxim is the core of all mysticism, but I think too, the core of all real Christian practice. Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection refers to this as "the practice of the presence of God." St. Paul tells us to "pray constantly." The only way to peace is to have God clearly in sight regardless of what we are engaged in. God must be the constantly guiding light, but it is a light that comes from within--not a lighthouse, a distant and unreliable source of light, but an internal and eternal source of light. For it to shine forth, we need to clean the windows, to preserve them pure and clear, or the light becomes obscured. That purity is essential to keeping God in mind. I believe it was Kierkegaard who indicated that "Purity of heart is to will one thing." And St. Thomas Aquinas shows us that God is ultimately simple, undivided, of one essence and one will. We must strive to be likewise. Our wills must be given over entirely to God's will--we must will as He wills, or we are not willing one thing--we have created duplicity--a human will separate from God's own desires.

The third maxim must be the hardest. Accept reproof, accept that you are not perfect without seeking the imperfections of those who are criticizing. Let's face it, every one of us fails. We fail in so many ways that if someone catches us out and comments on only one of those failings, we should be delighted that the extent of our imperfection is not known. When someone finds fault with us, we should dance before God in the spirit of liberation. We cannot see the extent of our imperfection--every one that is exposed is one more that we can offer up to the refining fire of our gracious Lord. If we accept the reproof, knowing the truth of what is said, even if it is said in malice, spite, fear, anger, frustration, or any of a myriad of emotions, we have taken a step toward Christlikeness. This, the greatest of Men, did not speak out when struck with reeds, crowned with thorns, and crucified for apparent imperfections. He took upon Himself every imperfection to destroy their power upon the cross, and He did this with dignity, serenity, and Grace. So too, we must take upon ourselves the imperfections, and slay them as we slay our self-centeredness. Offer those things we are accused of to God and in some little measure destroy them for the sake of our brothers and sisters in Christ. In this way, as St. Paul says, "We make up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ." I had always wondered about this mysterious phrase--but it seems that we are always called to make Christ present to our brothers and sisters. The only thing that could be "lacking" is immediate temporal presence, because what happened to Jesus happened in Eternity (even though it happened at a definitive time in a definitive space)--a place we have access to only in limited ways. When we accept the abuse and the imprecations of our fellow humans, we are manifesting, once again, some small part of our Savior's glory. He is granting us an opportunity to speak for Him in our actions.

These three maxims are only part of the rich treasury of St. John's sayings. The book is short, the reading light, and I recommend it to all as a help in meditation and in the attempt to live the Christian life more perfectly. Visit the Institute for Carmelite Studies (see left column) choose Archives and select The Sayings of Light and Love. You will be glad that you did.

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on September 15, 2002 8:28 AM.

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