Sunday, November 06, 2016

Mariology in writings of St John of the Cross

'Ordo Beatissimae Virginis Mariae de Monte Carmelo' - painting by Gregorio Fortis, Madrid. At the bottom of this painting it is written: "Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel. The Lady of Carmel saves us from eternal wailing and under her mantel souls find protection."

 In the essay entitled 'MARY AND THE HOLY SPIRIT IN THE WRITINGS OF JOHN OF THE CROSS' by Emmanuel J. Sullivan, O.C.D. (click on the post's title to read the whole text under Carmelite Studies 6) we find the list of references to Mary in the writings of St John of the Cross. The first is the Ascent of Mount Carmel, and is considered the most fundamental and significant of John's Marian texts: "God alone moves these souls [who have reached habitual union with God] toward those works that are in harmony with his will and ordinance, and they cannot be moved toward others. Thus the works and prayer of these souls always produce their effect. Such were the prayer and the works of our Lady, the most glorious Virgin Raised from the very beginning to this high estate, she never had the form of any creature impressed in her soul, nor was she moved by any, for she was always moved by the Holy Spirit." (Ascend of Mt Carmel 3:2, 10). John affirms that in the state of union: all the operations of the memory and the other faculties are divine. God now possesses these faculties as their complete lord because of their transformation in him. And consequently it is He who divinely moves and commands them according to His divine spirit and will. [In this state] the operations of the soul united with God are of the divine Spirit and are divine. For John, souls in this state "perform only fitting and reasonable works and none that are not so. For God's Spirit makes them know what must be known and ignore what must be ignored, remember what ought to be remembered with or without forms and forget what ought to be forgotten, and makes them love what they ought to love, and keeps them from loving what is not in God." Precisely because "God alone moves these souls" to do the works in harmony with his will and ordinance, they cannot be moved toward other works. "Thus the works and the prayers of these souls always produce their effect" (A, 3:2, 10).

In the Spiritual Canticle, on two occasions, John brings the example of Mary to our attention. In the commentary on stanza 2, he tells us that: "The discreet lover does not care to ask for what she lacks or desires, but only indicates this need, so that the Beloved may do what he pleases. When the Blessed Virgin spoke to her Beloved Son at the wedding feast at Cana in Galilee, she did not ask directly for the wine, but merely remarked: They have no wine [Jn 2:3]. (Spiritual Canticle 2:8). John then lists three reasons why it is better to merely show our need to the Lord, rather than tell him how to fulfill those needs: First, the Lord known what is suitable for us better than we do; second, the Beloved has more compassion when he beholds the need and the resignation of a soul that loves him; third, the soul is better safeguarded against self-love and possessiveness by indicating its lack, rather than by asking for what in its opinion is wanting (ibid.). Here Mary is presented to us as the perfect model of the prayer of petition. In stanza 20, John is treating of the preparation of the soul for spiritual marriage. Part of that preparation consists in the subduing of the passions, which John lists as joy, sorrow, hope, and fear. When the preparation is complete, sensible sorrow is no longer felt, though the effects of such sorrow are experienced on a higher level. John tells us: "Sometimes, however, and at certain periods, God allows [the soul] to feel things and suffer from them so she might gain more merit and grow in the fervor of love, or for other reasons, as he did with the Virgin Mother, St. Paul, and others" (C, 20; 21, 10).

While the experience of sensible sorrow would otherwise have been incompatible with our Lady's state of intimate union with God, John tells us that God allowed her to experience such sorrow, precisely that she might grow in love; and, we could add, that she might increase in her compassion for all of us. Thus Mary is presented to us as the Mother of Sorrows and as one who knows by experience what it means to endure intense sorrow.

Finally, in stanza 3 of the Living Flame of Love, John once again refers to Mary's intimate union with the Holy Spirit. He is describing the state of transforming union with God, and likens the graces God bestows on a soul in this state to an "overshadowing." For John: when a person is covered by a shadow, it is a sign that someone else is nearby to protect and favor. As a result the Angel Gabriel called the conception of the Son of God, that favor granted to the Virgin Mary, an overshadowing of the Holy Spirit: The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the most High will overshadow you. (F, 3, 12). John goes on to tell us that when the Holy Spirit casts his shadow on a soul, he is so close that he not only touches but is united with it, and the soul understands and experiences the power, wisdom and glory of God (see F, 3, 15). Thus we gain further insight into what Mary's life must have been like, she being more closely united to the Holy Spirit than all other creatures.

In addition to the four Marian references in his major works, there is also a very significant reference to Mary in John's "Prayer of a Soul Taken with Love." John always manifested a deep awareness that he belonged totally to Mary, and in this very beautiful little prayer, he gives expression to his equally deep conviction that Mary belongs totally and completely to each one of us. In this prayer, John speaks for all of us as he says to our heavenly Father: "You will not take from me, my God, what you once gave me, in your only Son, Jesus Christ, in whom you gave me all I desire. Mine are the heavens and mine is the earth. Mine are the nations, the just are mine, and mine the sinners. The angels are mine, and the Mother of God, and all things are mine; and God Himself is mine and for me, because Christ is mine and all for me. (Sayings of Light and Love, 26-27)

I find this reference to Mary, in a certain sense, even more significant than all the others. Here John isn't just recounting wonderful things about Mary, but is telling us she is ours, with us and for us, always and everywhere. He is telling us that we must realize and appreciate that Mary belongs totally and completely to each one of us. Our guide on the road to union with God is no distant stranger, but our very own Blessed Mother.