St. John of the Cross is a highly revered saint in the Church, seen as a profound mystical writer who mined the depths of spiritual theology.
At times his writings can be difficult to read for the modern Christian and his life may seem like it is impossible to imitate.
Yet, Pope Benedict XVI believed St. John of the Cross was for everyone. He explained his thoughts in a general audience in 2011, first posing a question:
Dear brothers and sisters, in the end the question is: does this saint with his lofty mysticism, with this demanding journey towards the peak of perfection have anything to say to us, to the ordinary Christian who lives in the circumstances of our life today, or is he an example, a model for only a few elect souls who are truly able to undertake this journey of purification, of mystical ascesis?
A difficult life
Benedict XVI then responds to his question, affirming St. John of the Cross’ relevance:
To find the answer we must first of all bear in mind that the life of St John of the Cross did not “float on mystical clouds”; rather he had a very hard life, practical and concrete, both as a reformer of the Order, in which he came up against much opposition and from the Provincial Superior, as well as in his confreres’ prison where he was exposed to unbelievable insults and physical abuse.
His life was hard yet it was precisely during the months he spent in prison that he wrote one of his most beautiful works. And so we can understand that the journey with Christ, traveling with Christ, “the Way,” is not an additional burden in our life, it is not something that would make our burden even heavier but something quite different. It is a light, a power that helps us to bear it.
Furthermore, Benedict XVI explains that a key element to St. John’s holiness is an “openness” to God, a virtue we can all imitate:
And holiness is not a very difficult action of ours but means exactly this “openness”: opening the windows of our soul to let in God’s light, without forgetting God because it is precisely in opening oneself to his light that one finds strength, one finds the joy of the redeemed.
While we may not ascend the same heights as St. John of the Cross in our own lives, we certainly can share in the same struggles that he had and learn from his example of openness to the love of God.