How many of us truly love the Cross? I think most of us truly appreciate the Cross; we appreciate the salvation that Jesus won for us by His death on the Cross and His resurrection. However, to truly love the Cross we must embrace it, doing as Jesus commands His disciples when He says, “If you would be my disciples, take up your cross and follow me.” Embracing the Cross which entails embracing our sufferings and hardships is something much more difficult for most of us to do than just appreciating the salvation Jesus won for us on His Cross.
Today the Church celebrates a man who truly loved the Cross; so much so that he made it part of his name, St. John of the Cross. John’s father came from a wealthy, noble family, but he was disowned by his family because he fell in love and married a poor, peasant woman. Thus John was born and raised in poverty. Unable to obtain an apprenticeship to learn a trade, John worked as an orderly in a hospital, caring for the sick poor. He would scrap together whatever funds he could find to study theology. As a young man he applied to join the Carmelite friars as a simple brother, but his superiors recognized John’s superior intelligence and sent him for advanced studies and ordained him a priest.
Raised in poverty, John embraced the apostolic counsels with great zeal. However he became discouraged to see how so many of his community did not embrace them with the same zeal; in fact they lived in quite a few of comforts that others did not have. Seeking a more perfect life, John was ready to leave the Carmelites to join the Carthusians, a strict order of hermits. Then he met St. Teresa of Avila, who was in the midst of reforming the Carmelite nuns because of the same issues that John had seen among the Carmelite friars. St. Teresa convinced St. John to stay in the Carmelites and to lead the reform of the friars.
St. John threw himself into this reform movement, becoming the first discalced friar. Even though he had the support of the General Superior of the Order, many of the older friars resisted St. John’s reform efforts. They persecuted him, even accusing him falsely of wrong teaching so that he was imprisoned for nine months. All these hardships St. John embraced with a profound love, seeing them as his Cross that he must take up in order to follow Jesus.
St. John leaves us the great fruit of his meditations in his spiritual writings; The Dark Night of the Soul, The Ascent of Mount Carmel, and The Spiritual Canticle. But much more, he leaves us the beautiful witness of one who truly loved the Cross. Many the intercession of St. John of the Cross help us to embrace our crosses, to truly love the Cross.