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Posted April 20, 2003

Book: John of the Cross: Selected Readings
Author: Kieran Kavanaugh
Paulist Press, New York, pp.323

Excerpt from Preface:

Both seasoned and new readers of St. John of the Cross are in the debt of Kieran Kavanaugh and the Paulist Press for the present volume. . . . His choice of texts, therefore, is an expert opinion on what is key in John’s synthesis. For newcomers the selections provide easier access to the sometimes prolix author. John’s writings lend themselves to this kind of presentation: Certain chapters stand out for their power, lucidity, and summary quality. In short, the volume s a wonderful breviary of the essential John of the Cross.

. . . . John of the Cross offers a profound and solid spirituality, suitable for all manner of vocations in the Church today. He is not just a curiosity from the late Middle Ages. He is recognized by the Catholic community as “the” mystical doctor. A taste for his teaching is a mark of spiritual maturity.

The entire corpus of his works describes the process of assimilation into the Paschal Mystery. There are three phases: It begins with the calm days of first conversion, when the gifts of creation, especially other human beings, lead the person into deeper appreciation and love of God; then there is the eclipse of that optimism in the purifying dark nights; finally the journey culminates in divine union; when transcendence and incarnation are complete and the divine and the human interpenetrate. John does not dwell on the first phase, though it is there. His emphasis falls on purification, which is largely the work of contemplation, and divine union. Sometimes people are not aware of his beginnings. I recall in my ardent Charismatic Renewal days friends would sometimes chide me for belonging to the Renewal and at the same time claiming discipleship under John of the Cross. Was this not a contradiction? I would reply that John would have been delighted with the Renewal, but that he would say: “Now that you have discovered the Lord, read my books.”

Excerpt from Book:

It remains to be said, then, that even though this happy night darkens the spirit, it does so only to impart light concerning all things. And even though it humbles persons and reveals their miseries, it does so only to exalt them. And even though it impoverishes and empties them of all possessions and natural affection, it does so only that they may reach out divinely to the enjoyment of all earthly and heavenly things, with a general freedom of spirit in them all.

That elements be commingled with all natural compounds, they must be unaffected by any particular color, odor, or taste, and thus they can concur with all tastes, odors and tastes.

Similarly, the spirit must be simple, pure, and naked as to all natural affections, actual and habitual, in order to be able to freely communicate in fullness of spirit with the divine wisdom, in which, on account of the soul’s purity, the delights of all things are tasted in a certain eminent degree. Without this purgation the soul would be wholly unable to experience the satisfaction of all this abundance of spiritual delight. Only one attachment or one particular object to which the spirit is actually or habitually bound is enough to hinder the experience or reception of the delicate and intimate delight of the spirit of love, which contains eminently in itself all delights . . .

Individuals suffer these afflictive purgations of spirit that they may be reborn in the life of the spirit by means of this divine inflow, and through these sufferings the spirit of salvation is brought forth in fulfillment of the words of Isaiah: In your presence, O Lord, we have conceived and been in the pains of labor and have brought forth the spirit of salvation.

Table of Contents:

The Ascent of Mount Carmel
The Dark Night
The Spiritual Canticle
The Living Flame of Love
Selected Bibliography