I encountered the writings of St. John of the Cross (Dec. 14th is his Feast on the church calendar) in the library of a retreat house overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

I started reading The Ascent of Mount Carmel one evening and stayed up with it all night.  I couldn’t put it down and I keep poking around in that book and his other writings today, decades later.

John posits that all things – sins, obviously, but also all “goods” – must  be set aside to “ascend” to the summit where the glory and goodness of God are encountered and enjoyed.  He labels all that is not God nada, Spanish for “nothing.” He advises spiritual guides to take away favorite devotional aides from those they counsel.  A favorite prayer book, place to pray, rosary or other “good” thing is not God, so it must be set aside if one is to ascend the mountain.

In light of that, I should not have been surprised when that wonderful retreat house, a favorite place where I grew in prayer and bumped into John of the Cross, burned to the ground in a wildfire.

The morning prayers of the Liturgy of the Hours on John’s Feast pick up his image of ascent,

Many peoples shall come and say: “Come, let us go up to the LORD’s mountain…” (Isaiah 2:3 NAB)

Although a Feast Day, I can’t help but think of it as just a picnic with Blessed John of the Cross.  After all, the world’s richest fare is “nada”when it comes to the banquet to which he and I are invited.

But I do give thanks to God who gave me this spiritual companion from the Communion of Saints, and for John’s poetry, reminding me always that the climb up the mountain isn’t a grim business, but a romance initiated by God,

“How gently and lovingly
you wake in my heart,
where in secret you dwell alone;
and in your sweet breathing,
filled with good and glory,
how tenderly you swell my heart with love.”
(The Living Flame of Love, Stanza 4, Kavanaugh/Rodriguez trans.)


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