St. John of the Cross (1542-1591) was a Spanish Carmelite mystic, poet, and reformer. John befriended St. Teresa of Avila, and he became a follower of hers in the reformation of the Carmelite order. Together they founded what became known as the “discalced” Carmelites (because they adhered to a stricter rule and a simpler way of life that non-reformed Carmelites, including not wearing shoes). John later served as the spiritual director to Teresa and the other nuns at Avila. There was much controversy around the Carmelite reforms, and John was captured and imprisoned by a rival group. During his time in prison, he composed some of his most beautiful mystical poetry. His most influential works are The Spiritual Canticle and Dark Night of the Soul, in which he describes how the soul journeys to God through the darkness and difficulty, and the hidden grace, of the night. His feast day is December 14.
One dark night, fired with love’s urgent longings — ah, the sheer grace! —
I went out unseen, my house being now all stilled.
In darkness, and secure, by the secret ladder, disguised, — ah, the sheer grace! —
In darkness and concealment, my house being now all stilled — from Dark Night of the Soul
Questions for Reflection
St. John of the Cross teaches us that sometimes growth in the spiritual life comes through periods of darkness or difficulty. When have you experienced a “dark night of the soul”? How did you experience grace in the darkness?