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MOUNT CARMEL MAGAZINE
 

A QUARTERLY REVIEW OF THE SPIRITUAL LIFE
by
The Teresian Carmelites of the Anglo-Irish Province
AIMS
To help people in every aspect of their lives by sharing and exploring
with them the rich sources of Carmelite teaching on prayer
within the broad perspective of Christian spirituality and life experience.

EDITOR
Alexander of Mary Queen Beauty of Carmel, OCD

Assistant Editors
Joanne Mosley

Editorial Advisers

Iain Matthew, OCD Margeret McLaughlin, OCDS
Mary of St Philip, OCD Craig Morrison, O.Carm.
Peter Tyler, PhD. Martin Wray, MA

Cover Design
Joshua Horgan, Oxford

Editorial Enquiries, Articles, Letters to: THE EDITOR,
Mount Carmel Magazine,
Carmelite Priory,
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United Kingdom
Phone: 01865 730183
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website: www.carmelite.org.uk
ISSN 0307 - 5958

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MOUNT CARMEL MAGAZINE

VOL 66. NO.4 OCTOBER - DECEMBER 2018

 

IN THIS ISSUE

Editorial
Alexander of Mary Queen Beauty of Carmel

Deep into the Thicket: The Vocation of St John of the Cross
Shelagh Banks

John of the Cross in Opposition
Iain Matthew

Praying with St John of the Cross: A Life-Giving Way to God
Annetta Maguire

Voices of the Heart

The Sayings of Light and Love: Signposts to Spiritual Maturity
Susan Muto

The Song of the Sweet Nightingale: The Union with God He So Desires for Us
Matthew Blake

Love's Urgent Longings: Our Deepest Desire and the Desire of God
Gillian Coxhead

Springs of Living Water

The Divine Indwelling: Elizabeth of the Trinity's Reading of John of the Cross
John Quigley

A Lover's Quest: Relationship in John of the Cross
Bernadette Micallef

From Frailty to Glory: Homily on the Feast of St John of the Cross
Saverio Cannistrà

Food for the Journey - Books

 

 

******

 

EDITORIAL

ALEXANDER OF MARY QUEEN BEAUTY OF CARMEL

 

In many parts of the Scriptures, especially the prophetic and apocalyptic writings, God is often presented as tirelessly doing something new! In the Book of Revelation we are told that 'he who was seated on the throne said, "Behold, I am making all things new"' (Rv 21:5). This, undoubtedly, is an echo of God's words through the prophet Isaiah, 'Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?' (Is 43:19). This question, as to whether the new thing which God is doing is perceived, is very significant: for oftentimes the divine work could very easily go unnoticed since it does not usually come across as dramatic. Rather, like the seed sown in the ground, it sprouts and gently pushes its way through the soil, and in time grows into a mighty tree that provides shade and shelter, a place of refreshment and security (cf. Mt 13:31-32).

However, the prophets in the Scriptures and the great mystics of the Christian tradition have been at the forefront in perceiving the new things God does for each generation and pointing them out for the rest of us. Being people of great vision, they are able to see. This newness of God's action in every age goes to the heart of what is celebrated in this current issue of Mount Carmel, focusing on the life and person of John of the Cross as a towering figure in Carmel's history, the faithful collaborator and first disciple of our Holy Mother, Teresa of Jesus, and one who was chiefly instrumental in spreading her charism.

When John said 'yes' to Teresa of Jesus' proposal that he join her in the renewal work of the Carmelite Order in sixteenth-century Spain, little did he know that he was saying 'yes' to many new beginnings. That fateful meeting of Teresa and John would lead to the origin of the Discalced Carmelite friars, through the establishment of the Discalced Carmelite monastery at Duruelo, a town midway between Avila and Salamanca, on November 28, 1568. It is appropriate that in this issue we are also celebrating the four hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the founding of this first house of the friars.

The founding of Duruelo marked a new beginning for the Order, and John commemorated this new beginning for him by adopting, on the very day of the founding of Duruelo, a new name: Juan de la Cruz. Thus, he followed in the footsteps of Teresa who had marked her own new beginning when she adopted the name Teresa of Jesus. Both names are, of course, very significant. For Teresa, her security was to be found not in the status of a family name, which was the custom in sixteenth-century Spain, just as it is today in many societies where one's name could be the basis of discrimination, acceptance, privilege and so on. Instead, her identity was now defined solely by her relationship with Jesus whose very name she now bore. For John of the Cross, the new name was an expression of his deepest desire - as was the case with Paul the apostle - to be conformed to the person of Christ in his sufferings, death and resurrection, under the sign of the cross which is a symbol of the Passion and of the victory of the Resurrection.

Like many new beginnings, the new project which was begun in Duruelo presented both opportunities and challenges. In the first place, the house at Duruelo was derelict; as such, it served as a fitting symbol of the Order which was itself desperately in need of rebuilding, with all the hardship that such work entails. The austerity of those early days prepared John for a life that would be marked by much suffering, borne in a paschal spirit and effecting an inner transformation that allowed God's beauty to shine forth in his person. In this sense, Duruelo was not just significant for the renewal of the Order. It played a vital role in John's own journey of personal transformation.

Of course, in keeping with John's approach to the Sacred Text, he understood the biblical passages quoted above - the words of Revelation 21:15, echoing the prophecy in Isaiah 43:19 - as addressed chiefly to him. Thus, for John, the new thing that God wishes to do for us is first and foremost our own transformation into the very likeness of God. Indeed, this transformative work of God in John was, above all, an experience of what we may describe as the bea(u)tifying experience of the beatific vision of God's beauty - that is, the vision of God by which the beholder is blessed and sanctified, and indeed made beautiful. This experience of God as beauty, which draws us in love and seeks to transform the beloved in beauty, is common to Sacred Scripture and the experience of the mystics and saints. The Psalmist, for example, declares: 'From Zion, perfect in beauty, God shines forth' (Ps 49:2/50:2).

In this connection, Origen of Alexandria writes, in his Commentary on the Song of Songs (3.2), that in the soul that contemplates God 'an immense glory and extraordinary beauty of form will arise', which is a reflection of God's own beauty. Later, another North African giant of the Christian tradition, St Augustine of Hippo, would share the same opinion. Expressing, in his Confessions (10.27), his own experience of this transformation, he forgets the reader for a while and addressing God instead, he exclaims: 'O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you!' In these words, the essence of Christian perfection is captured.

To 'be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect' (Mt 5:48), as Jesus urges his disciples, is not so much a preoccupation with moral perfection, as it can often be understood. Rather, it is more to do with letting ourselves be enthralled by God - the Beauty ever ancient, ever new; and having allowed ourselves to be 'seduced' by such beauty, to use the word of the prophet Jeremiah (cf. Jer 20:7), we become transformed into something beautiful and new ourselves. And so, urging his readers but all the while concentrating on his Beloved, John expresses with elegant lavishness his mystical experience of the transforming beauty of God:

Let us so act that by means of this loving activity we may attain to the vision of ourselves in your beauty in eternal life. That is: That I be so transformed in your beauty that we may be alike in beauty, and both behold ourselves in your beauty, possessing then your very beauty; this, in such a way that each looking at the other may see in the other their own beauty, since both are your beauty alone, I being absorbed in your beauty; hence, I shall see you in your beauty, and you will see me in your beauty…and my beauty [will] be your beauty and your beauty my beauty; wherefore I shall be you in your beauty, and you will be me in your beauty…and thus we shall behold each other in your beauty. (SCB 36:5)

The sheer beauty of the poem of 'The Spiritual Canticle' is a testament to the transforming work of grace which John allowed to be effected in him. It will indeed be a fitting tribute to this great Carmelite taken up with love if, on this occasion of celebrating the vision he left for us, we too can discern the new things God is doing today. We can do so with confidence, since John has already modelled for us how we can be open to the work of inner transformation and the new things which God wishes to do both in us and through us for our own times.

On a personal note, assuming the editorship of Mount Carmel is a new beginning for me. In the first place, my special gratitude to Dr Joanne Mosley, the Assistant Editor, who held the fort so gallantly from the time of my appointment until now, when I am able to take over as Editor. I feel privileged to be continuing the mission of Mount Carmel as a means of spreading Carmelite spirituality and thus fulfilling our calling as Carmelites to make God better known and loved, and to be a support for people in their spiritual life.

As new beginnings are usually never from scratch, I am keen to build on the legacy of my predecessor, the late Fr James McCaffrey, OCD. It was important to Fr Jimmy, as it is to me, that the riches of biblical Carmelite spirituality be made accessible to all. To continue in this mission, the editorial team of Mount Carmel has considered, after careful deliberation, that it is necessary to review the price, so that this vital ministry may continue into the future. Readers may not realise that Mount Carmel has, for years, been heavily subsidised by the Carmelites - something we have tried to do for as long as we possibly could - but we now have to ask the question: How long can the ever-rising cost of its publication be maintained? As many of our readers will be aware, a good many other Spirituality magazines have had to be discontinued, given the unsustainable cost of publication and, indeed, postage. It is our wish that the new prices being introduced will meet with your kind understanding.

From the Carmelite Priory at Boars Hill where we are based, new and exciting things are happening. As from early September, Mount Carmel has been operating from a new location in the Priory. The new Mount Carmel office is now located in the same complex as the Carmelite Book Service; and together with the offices of Teresian Press and the Centre for Applied Carmelite Spirituality (CACS), they form a unit from which the work of our Teresian publications and media ministry can continue.

On September 1, 2018, CACS, the new component of the service mission of the Priory, launched two new prayer courses: the Carmelite School of Prayer and the Carmelite Prayer Guides Course. Nearly forty people are registered on these courses, while a few others attend the Spiritual Enrichment Lecture Series (SELS) which forms part of them. These new initiatives are a cause for joy and are a confirmation of the continued relevance of what Carmel has to offer our world today.

Four hundred and fifty years ago, John of the Cross showed us that openness to God's work in faith, enlivened by love, can bring about new things that become life-giving for ourselves and for others. As we celebrate this man of faith who was enthralled by God's love, we too have the opportunity to allow ourselves to be transformed by the love of God who desires to work new marvels of grace in and through us. And just like Christ, 'the spotless mirror of the Eternal Father' who eternally reflects the Father's beauty, we too, enabled by grace, can become mirrors reflecting for others and for our world the beauty of God's love.

 

JOHN OF THE CROSS IN OPPOSITION

The author is a Carmelite friar currently based in our house of studies in Rome, the Teresianum. He is the author of The Impact of God: Soundings from St John of the Cross and, more recently, John of the Cross: Seasons of Prayer, published by Teresian Press. In this article, he looks at what John of the Cross is so passionately against and why he cares about it so much.

IAIN MATTHEW

Like a photographic negative
We can grasp better what John is 'for' by seeing what he is against. He is for a great deal: for union with God in love; for the radiance of Christ; for the dignity of people; for the beauty of creation, the power of hope, the meaningfulness of suffering; for the togetherness of all there is. John is an intensely positive author.

In service of what he positively believes and cares for, he is also well able to say what he opposes. His negativity is this: the gift known in contrast; like the sacred image on the Shroud, showing hidden contours in photographic negative. So John's call for self-emptying, nada, serves a prior fullness which is God's self-bestowal on the world. The soul 'made great' by God (SCB 28:1), 'set within God's way of feeling' (LF 1:32), appreciates the truth of Isaiah's saying, 'All the nations are as nothing' before Him (Is 40:17). 'And they have this same weight for the soul: all things are as nothing for her and she herself in her own eyes is nothing [nada]. Only her God for her is everything [el todo]' (LF 1:32).

This spousal negativity, a devotion to the Beloved which relativises all else, is explored in many ways in John's writing. He returns frequently to its biblical basis, Jesus' summons to deny oneself in order to follow him. John examines it philosophically in 1 Ascent, where creation is non-being when set up in rivalry with the Creator (cf. 1A 4:4). He proposes it as a personal programme in 3 Ascent, progressively teaching the reader to relate to the world in a way that does not stifle joy. In Book 1 of The Dark Night, he exposes, as a master-psychologist, the mechanisms which cripple our freedom. All of this serves John's 'yes' as to what will truly fill us. It serves God's 'yes' to us.

John offers, then, various systematic accounts of the value of negativity, of 'a negating will, in humble and loving surrender' (2A 16:10, la voluntad negativa). What we want to focus on here, however, is two texts where John's 'no' reaches a more passionate climax, setting off the fire alarm in his pastoral soul. Here is what he most fears, what he is most 'against'.

A high-water mark
The first passage is 2 Ascent 7:12, and it is right to call it climactic. The diptych Ascent-Night hinges on three programmatic chapters: the goal of union with God (2A 5), the path which is faith-hope-love (2A 6), and the way who is Christ (2A 7). In this last chapter, John journeys to the heart of the crucified Jesus, into his dereliction, and sees all Ascent-Night contained there within Jesus' mystery, when 'this Lord was most annihilated in everything' (2A 7:11). The stakes are immeasurably high, and the author himself seems to blush at what he has come out with in this passage (2A 7:11). 'I do not wish to enlarge further on this, though I am loath to stop because I can see that Christ is very little known by those who consider themselves his friends', by those who approach Christ 'in search of consoling feelings for themselves, loving themselves greatly; but not in search of his bitter death, greatly loving him.' This teaching then puts John in touch with a broader concern, a prophetic anguish. This is the first of our two passages:

I am speaking of these people, who consider themselves his friends; because those others who live far off, far distant from him, great scholars and men of power, and all others who join in the world's ambitions and quest for promotion, - we can say that they do not know Christ; and their end, however fine, will be intensely bitter. This writing is not aimed at them; but it will be on the day of judgment, because they are the ones to whom this word of God should first be addressed, as the people for whom God intended it on account of their learning and their more elevated station. (2A 7:12)

Here John's opposition, his negativity, reaches a high-water mark. It is directed to 'great scholars and men of power' (grandes letrados y potentes); those who are driven by ambition and a quest for promotion (pretensiones y mayorías); people whose learning and status (letras y más alto estado) have increased their responsibility.

Waking up to the gift
The second passage is also climactic. John is commenting on the verse 'el aspirar del aire', 'the breath of a breeze'. We are at the end of The Spiritual Canticle, where the bride's journey here on earth now anticipates heaven. John speaks of a sharing in God's inner life, a shared breathing of the Spirit. He cites St Peter's promise of partaking of the divine nature (cf. 2Pt 1:2-4), and comments: 'the soul will participate in God himself, which will mean working in God, in company with God, the work of the Most Holy Trinity' (SCB 39:6).

The vocabulary and syntax of John's writing here is not difficult. But what it actually means, what the experience of God to which it points might be like, remains an awe-inspiring mystery. As he himself professed in the Prologue to the Canticle: 'It would be foolish to think that the sayings of love in mystical understanding, which is what these verses are, could in some way be explained with words… For who could ever express in writing what the Spirit gives those loving souls, where he dwells, to understand? And who could ever manifest with words what he makes them feel? And who, finally, what he makes them desire? For sure, no one can; no, not even they themselves can…' (SCB Prol. 1). What John can do is call people to wake up to the gift, beg them to believe in the gift, declare how counterfeit are all our substitutes for the gift; and so, in this climactic passage in Chapter 39 of The Spiritual Canticle, he can confess what he is for by denouncing what he is against:

Oh souls created for this greatness and summoned to it, what are you doing? What is it that so engrosses you? Your ambitions are abject and your possessions beggarly. How miserably blind are the eyes of your soul, blind to so much light and deaf to such loud voices! You do not see that, in seeking greatness and glory, yours is abject misery, rendered ignorant and unworthy of such blessings. (SCB 39:7)

Here John's opposition, his negativity, is directed to those who are driven by ambition and possessiveness (pretensiones, posesiones), people perverted by the quest for greatness and glory (grandezas y gloria), an ambition which diminishes the person without their realising.

Wanting to be 'somebody'
Each of these passages - 2 Ascent 7:12 and Canticle 39:7 - occurs at a pivotal point in John's writings: the programmatic chapters of 2 Ascent 5-7, and the fulfilment of the bride's hopes in Canticle 35-40. In each passage, John gets carried away by his feeling and expresses a concern that goes beyond the immediate context, as if the importance of what he is saying puts him in touch with a flood of pain. And in the two passages the object of John's 'no', the enemy he seeks to defeat, is similar: namely, human ambition, a thirst for status, a quest for glory, wanting to be 'somebody'. If we are correct in highlighting these two passages, this ambition is what most gets in the way of the gift of God's self-bestowal.

Once identified, this target of John's negativity begins to show its face elsewhere. The Prologue to the Sayings of Light and Love denounces false showiness, 'worldly rhetoric, the verbosity and dry eloquence of human wisdom', and seeks instead 'words spoken to the heart, bathed in gentleness and love'.

Again, in his programme for healing of memory (3A 1-15) and of will (3A 16 ff.), it is the self-promotion worked by pride that calls forth John's most adroit surgery. People's vanity declares itself, he says, in the annoyance they feel when their spirituality goes unacknowledged, or when others' experience seems to rival theirs. Yet they themselves may be blind to this pride, even though they are sunk in it up to the eyebrows (cf. 3A 9:2). It is this enslavement to our own importance that the reversal which is noche is set to cure (see 1DN 2).

Similarly, in discussing virtuous living, John unmasks the self-regard which can poison acts of generosity. He calls us to look away from self and seek joy in the Beloved; not, then, to be like benefactors who want their names emblazoned beside their pious gifts, 'as if it were themselves, not the sacred image, that they wanted to be put there where all bend the knee' (3A 28:5).

The centre of humility
In contrast to this sultry, self-serving atmosphere, there is Jesus. We see the statusless Messiah 'born in obscurity, living in poverty, and dying in misery' (2A 19:7). The programme of denial traced by Ascent finds its model in Him (cf. 1A 13:3-4), our guide to fresh air at the still-point of our poverty: 'In this nakedness the soul finds her calm and rest; for, free from craving, nothing exhausts her upwards, nothing presses her downwards, because she is in the centre of her humility. For, when the person craves for something, this very fact exhausts her' (1A 13:11.13).

What Jesus bestows is the freedom of sonship. In 1 Ascent 4, where John works through a series of contrasts between the living God and the idols we erect, particular attention is given to the contrast between God's freedom and the worldly counterfeit. This leads John to focus on people 'besotted with offices and other such positions'. Rejecting Jesus' call to become as servants, they cannot 'reach royal freedom of spirit'. This does not dwell 'in a heart subjected to its own wishes, because that is a slave's heart, but in the free, for that is a son's heart' (1A 4:6).

Mental noise and unreality
Where did John get this horror of aggrandizement? The passion with which he speaks suggests that the issue has touched him personally. There may be a clue in the vocabulary he uses in the two passages on which we are focusing. 2 Ascent 7 spoke of scholars and men of power, of ambition and quest for promotion; Canticle 39 of seeking greatness and glory. This may suggest John's experience as a student in Salamanca (1564-1568), and his vocational crisis when St Teresa met him in 1567. The problem would not have been so much in the Carmelite student community. Carmelite male religious life in Castilla, and particularly in the house of studies, was in reasonably good shape in John's day; and the priory of San Andres, to which he belonged in Salamanca, was anything but pretentious.

More than life at San Andres, it may have been the atmosphere in the University itself that precipitated a crisis, a need for decision, in John. The prestige of the university, its competitive hierarchy, and the splendour of its pageantry would have lent themselves to an ethos of academic ambition, jealousy, rivalry, mental noise and unreality. St Teresa's offer to John, which took shape in the friars' new community in Duruelo, said 'no' to all that; 'yes' to simplicity and inconspicuous service, to standing in the centre of one's humility; 'yes' to the derelict Christ, and to transformation 'in the three Persons in power and wisdom and love' (SCB 39:4).

Possessed by the light of God
There is, then, another way of explaining why John targets status-seeking in his role in opposition. No doubt his own experience of the games people play contributed to his insight. But a more powerful influence was the kind of God he came to know. The passages we have focused upon were written in John's maturity (in the mid-1580s), when his words issued from a contemplative light, a gift of love received from Christ. John speaks of how contemplation brings heightened sensitivity to what matters. While the 'night' denotes a divine gift which is imperceptible to the normal workings of the mind, the night makes very perceptible anything that cuts across it (cf. 2DN 8:4). This attunement to God is what showed up for John the preposterousness of rivalry and status-seeking.

At stake here is something more than a sage perception of human folly. It is the light of God possessing John that makes fake light so jarring. John's negativity - 'say "no" to this, do not let it enslave you' - reflects a mystery of grace which is all tenderness and surprise:

God communicates Himself to the soul in this inner union with such a real love, that no mother has ever cherished or caressed her child so tenderly; with this love of God no brother's love or friend's friendship can compare. So tender and so real is the love of the all-encompassing Father that - how awesome this is, how amazing, what a wonder! - he truly submits himself to this humble, loving soul and makes her great in the kindness he shows her. It is as if he were her servant and she his Lord. And he is so intent on caring for her, as if he were her slave and she his God. So profound is the humility and gentleness of God! For in communicating love like this, he in some way does that service which he says in the Gospel he will do for his chosen in heaven, namely, that, girding himself, and going from one to another, he will serve them. (SCB 27:1; cf. Lk 12:37)

It is because, in his poverty, John has been claimed by this God, been surprised by His tenderness, that John speaks with such virulence when he sees God's gift obstructed. The 'humility of God' sensitises John to the tragic nature of human vanity. This is what he is against, what John's 'negation' would have us work on, and what the 'night' does work on. Putting that another way, the strength of John's 'no' reveals in negative the passion with which his God is 'for':

As He is the virtue of utter humility, with utter goodness and esteem He loves you, making you like Himself… saying to you in this union of His, and with great delight on your part, 'I am yours and for you, and I am pleased to be as I am that I may be yours and give myself to you.' (LF 3:6)

 

 

MOUNT CARMEL VOL 66. NO.4
OCTOBER - DECEMBER 2018