December 14, 2011

Sustento del Alma

Many times in the first few years of my Christianity I tried to read John of the Cross but failed. Then, one day, as novice Capuchin friar on retreat in lovely Marathon, Wisconsin, I picked up The Ascent of Mount Carmel and read it freely. The moment had come for me to meet one of my great teachers. A few years later, having learned a little Spanish and finding myself as a student at the former Weston Jesuit School of Theology in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I went over to Shoenhof's and spent a large portion of my monthly 'day off' money on his Obras Completas.

It is often said in the spiritual life that God sends us guides and teachers at the moments when we need them. I have found this to be the case in my own life, and I believe it is one of the graces of the communion of saints. It's not limited to the Church on earth, however. We are also given saints to read at the right moments. That's why John of the Cross didn't work for me until I was ready. My first desires to read him were vainglorious; I thought I would read him because he was supposed to be deep and I wanted to be deep as well. When I had stumbled along long enough trying to live a life of prayer such that I could understand what John was talking about, then I was given the grace of being able to read him.

In this spirit we should be attentive if we have an inspiration to take up a devotion to a certain saint or to read his writings. God can also speak to us through others who suggest to us what we might read or with whom we might pray. The communion of saints is a way to talk about larger economies of grace working through friends of God across time and space, and it is a communion that is on our side in our desire for prayer and sanctity.

"Por ninguna ocupación dejar la oración mental, que es sustento del alma." ~Juan de la Cruz, Grados de Perfección, 5.


Greg said...

This parallels my experience with St. Francis. I had read St. John of the Cross and other mystical teachers. But not Saint Francis.

There was something about the way he was presented, perhaps as a nature boy or sixties hippie that turned me away.

Then when I took a look, the door opened. I was flooded, overwhelmed with a deeper and deeper unity with him.

That continues to this day... I will suddenly receive an insight and an entire new area of his life will come to view.

Elizabeth Mahlou said...

I think St. John of the Cross's works are among those that one can read again and again, with new insights, as one's spirituality matures. Soon after conversion, when a friend was going through a dark night, I found The Dark Night of the Soul helpful, but I certainly did not understand the content in more than the broadest of parameters. Then, after spending much time with St. Theresa, whose works have been an essential part of my growth and acceptance of the ways in which God chooses to interact with me, I attempted a reading of Ascent of Mount Carmel and picked up on the major ideas but did not have as great an appreciation of St. John of the Cross as I came to have later, after attending a four-day retreat devoted to St. John of the Cross, his writings and his biography. I am now fascinated not only by his writings but also by the man, and some parts of his biography greatly influence my thinking, things such as his willingness to accept whatever God ordains. (I have also been directed to some important classics, about which I might not have known, at least not until a more distance future, had an elderly and highly educated priest who took my spiritual education seriously not advised me in my reading. Yes, I believe that God sends us the people we need when we need them, including some that are still living!)

GirlCanChant said...

I am in a similar situation with Saint Augustine. I had to read Confessions twice in college, but I didn't really "get" it. I figure one of these days it will be the right time to read it. The Seven Storey Mountain has also been sitting on my shelf for years. Oops.