In this month of December, as we journey through Advent, we are reminded to practice patient waiting, even in the midst of the festive bustle around us; and to take the time to contemplate the coming of the Christ child with ever deepening gratitude and love. Advent comes and goes so quickly, and with all the beautiful traditions and gatherings in which we are invited to partake, it can be all-to-easy for the days to fly by without time taken for contemplation on the profundity of the Word made flesh. Fortunately, there is a saint whose feast day, right in the middle of December, shines like a beacon calling us to spiritual health— prescribing Advent contemplation of God’s beauty and mystery, since this saint is known as the Mystical Doctor.
St. John of the Cross was born June 24, 1542, and when he was a little boy, his father died and he was sent away to a school for the poor. This great saint knew suffering and loss from a young age. He embraced suffering and austerities as a path to heaven. This Spanish priest and mystic helped St. Teresa of Avila to carry out the reforms of the Carmelite Order leading to the formation of the Discalced Carmelites. Considered one of the greatest Spanish poets, St. John of the Cross wrote sublime poetry that extolled the value of renouncing the comforts of the body and embracing the “dark night” of suffering and detachment from the world on the journey to gain union with God. St. John of the Cross, Mystical Doctor whose poetry and prayers are a balm for the soul, died December 14, 1591, which is his feast day.
Here are three quotes by St. John of the Cross that serve as guidance for us in our own prayer lives and a special inspiration this Advent:
“Silence is God’s first language.”
What a beautiful quote this is. First of all it reminds of the omnipresence of God, that God always was, and that even before the creation of the universe, God existed. Before God spoke light into being … before the Word was made Flesh … God existed. With this quote by St. John of the Cross we are reminded of the silent whispering sound that Elijah encountered that was the Presence of God; we are reminded of the silent peace before the Blessed Sacrament. This is a call to cherish the sacredness of silence in the midst of this Advent season that all-too-often clamors and rushes and flies by in a haze of tinsel and a roar of traffic.
Waking up early to pray when the house is quiet; stopping into an empty church to make a visit our Lord in the tabernacle; waiting to open Christmas presents until after Christmas Mass… these are all ways to remember the “silent night, holy night.” God Himself lay in the humble form of an infant, sleeping in the straw of a manger, adored not only in the Magnificat of our Blessed Mother but also in the holy silence of St. Joseph, who has no recorded words in Scripture yet wordlessly teaches us all to adore Him. Let us adore Him loudly, in the silence of our hearts! And so, this Advent, let us make time for silence. To that end, we can get an at-home Holy Hour devoted to finding peace and joyful stillness in the midst of Advent, and pray all month through the intercession of St. John of the Cross.
“God passes through the thicket of the world, and wherever His glance falls He turns all things to beauty.”
With these words of St. John of the Cross, we may find a wonderful jumping-off point to contemplation when pondering the scene of the newborn Christ. Having passed through the thicket of the world, and held in his Mother’s arms, Jesus beholds so many sights in Bethlehem: from the faces of His holy parents to those of the shepherds. “Wherever His glance falls, He turns all things to beauty.” Imagine how the faces of the shepherds must have shone with radiance when they left His Presence. Christ’s glance continues to fall upon us, each day, if we seek Him in the Real Presence of the Eucharist. To honor these words of wisdom by St. John of the Cross, let us make time for Eucharistic Adoration this Advent, that we may, beneath His gaze, turn ever more to true and lasting beauty.
“The soul of one who serves God always swims in joy, always keeps holiday, is always in her palace of jubilation, ever singing with fresh ardor and fresh pleasure a new song of joy and love.”
That quote by St. John of the Cross is exultant enough to be placed on a Christmas card. It reminds of the jubilation of Christmas that waits for the soul who embraces Advent, and that each of our souls can “always keep holiday” and sing with happiness when we serve God.
In honor of this advice by St. John of the Cross let us purposefully serve God all Advent long, in a spirit of joy, even if the work seems arduous. To live this quote by St. John, why not offer up all we do, from the cleaning of our homes, to the cooking of our meals, to even the tiring commutes in the car, by praying the Fatima Sacrifice Prayer: “Oh my Jesus, I offer this for love of Thee, for the conversion of sinners, and in reparation for the sins committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary.”
After offering up the work, if it’s possible, why not play somewhile you work!
St. John of the Cross, pray for us!