Monday, December 14, 2015

St John of the Cross - Memorial

It is perhaps the best time now to meditate on the life of the greatest Saint of Carmel, who at the pick of his religious leadership and popularity preferred following Christ by choosing 'to suffer and to be looked down upon' instead of obtaining temporal rewards for his service to Christ. By meditating upon this example of extraordinary holiness we can better understand what does it really mean to love God above ourselves.


Storms clouds began to break over John's head when the Father General, Nicolas Doria, convened an Extraordinary Chapter in June 1590. John had a premonition that things would go badly for him. When one of the Segovian nuns said that she was sure he would return to them as their Provincial, he replied and with certainty, 'I shall be thrown into a corner like an old rag'. One source of disagreement went as back as 1581 at the Chapter at Almodovar del Campo. John had come into conflict (yes, even saints do this sometimes!) with Fr Ferome Gracian who had been a favourite and close collaborator of St Teresa. Gracian wanted the friars to be more active in the apostolate, whereas John insisted that they should be primarily contemplative, from which their apostolate would flow. He did not want their contemplative vocation to take second place and perhaps be squeezed out. This tension between the active and contemplative aspects of the Carmelite friar's life had a long history. The Order traces its origin back to the time of the Crusades, when some of the crusaders decided to settle in the Holy Land, on Mount Carmel, where Elija and Elisha had founded a 'school of prophets', living a life of community and contemplation. Ever since, Carmelites have looked on two great prophets as their spiritual forebears. When the Muslims defeated the crusaders and drove them out of the Holy Land, the friars fled to the West, where they took up an active apostolate, sometimes to the detriment of their contemplative base.
At the Madrid Chapter the problem was more a clash of personalities between Gracian, who represented the moderates and Doria who wanted more control. Although Teresa had not taken personality to Doria, a Genoese who had been a banker before entering the Discalced, she had prized Doria's organisational skills, but he was rigid and authoritarian. The younger Gracian had a brilliant mind, a distinguished scholar and organiser , and had a much more pleasing and charming manner, although his impetuosity and rashness made him powerful enemies - including Doria. Now, Doria put forward some proposals with which John adamantly disagreed. Doria changed the government of the Order, concentrating all power in the hands of a permanent committee. He also wanted to take revenge against the formidable Mother Ann of Jesus, who, supported by John of the Cross, opposed his plans for the nuns and wanted to seek papal approbation for their constitutions. In addition, he wanted to expel Gracian from the Order, seeing him as a dangerous rival to his own power. John of the Cross had already warned Gracian that this might happen. He had been horrified when Gracian had proposed that Doria should succeed him as Provincial: he was elected only by two votes. Now, he felt that Gracian was being unfairly treated, and said so. Although many of the other friars privately agreed with him, they were too cowed by Doria's dictatorial manner to speak out.


The moving story of St John of the Cross last years marked by his heroic love of God and the neighbour is to be continued.
Credit: on the basis of CTS little book 'John of the Cross' by Jennifer Moorcroft