Monday, February 3, 2014

St. John of the Cross on Apostolic Work, pt. 1

Fulfilling the one thing the Bridegroom said was necessary [Lk. 10:42], and that is: attentiveness to God and the continual exercise of love in him. This the Lord values and esteems so highly that he reproved Martha when she tried to call Mary away from her place at his feet in order to busy her with other active things in his service; and Martha thought that she herself was doing all the work and Mary, because she was enjoying the Lord's presence, was doing nothing [Lk. 10:39-41]. Yet, since there is no greater or more necessary work than love, the contrary is true. [...]

A little of this pure love is more precious to God and the soul and more beneficial to the Church, even though it seems one is doing nothing, than all these other [active, exterior] works put together. [...]

Great wrong would be done to a soul who possesses some degree of this solitary love, as well as to the Church, if we were to urge her to become occupied in exterior or active things, even if the works were very important and required only a short time. [...] After all, this love is the end for which we were created.

Let those, then, who are singularly active, who think they can win the world with their preaching and exterior works, observe here that they would profit the Church and please God much more, not to mention the good example they would give, were they to spend at least half of this time with God in prayer, even though they might not have reached a prayer as sublime as [contemplation]. They would then certainly accomplish more, and with less labor, by one work than they otherwise would by a thousand. For through their prayer they would merit this result, and themselves be spiritually strengthened. Without prayer they would do a great deal of hammering but accomplish little, and sometimes nothing, and even at times cause harm. God forbid that the salt should begin to lose its savor [Mt. 5:13]. However much they may appear to achieve externally, they will in substance be accomplishing nothing; it is beyond doubt that good works can be performed only by the power of God.

Oh, how much could be written here on this subject! [...]

[Worldly souls] think these [spiritual] persons are excessive in their conduct, estrangement, and withdrawal, and assert that they are useless in important matters and lost to what the world esteems. The soul skillfully answers this reprimand, boldly facing it and all the other possible reproofs of the world; for in having reached the intimate love of God, she considers everything else of little consequence.

But this is not all. She even proclaims how she has acted, and rejoices and glories in having lost the world and herself for her Beloved. [...] If [worldly souls] no longer see her engaged in her former worldly conversations and pastimes, they should believe and declare that she has lost these things and withdrawn; and she has counted this loss such a good that she herself, searching for her Beloved and intensely enamored of him, desired it. [...] She declares her loss a gain, and as a result she became lost purposely. [...]

The place where people often gather for diversion and recreation [...] is usually called "the common." Thus, by the common the soul refers to the world, where worldlings engage in their pastimes and conversations and feed the flock of their appetites. In this verse she tells those who are of the world that if they neither see nor find her as they did before her complete surrender to God, they should consider her by this fact lost [....]

Those who love are not abashed before the world because of the works they perform for God, nor even if everybody condemns these works do they hide them in shame. Those who are ashamed to confess the Son of God before others, by failing to perform their works, will discover that the Son of God, as is recorded in Luke, will be ashamed to confess them before the Father [Lk. 9:26]. The soul possessing the spirit of love glories rather in beholding that she has achieved this work in praise of her Beloved and lost all things of the world. [...]

Few spiritual persons reach such daring and determination in their works. Though some do act this way, and are considered far advanced, they never lose themselves entirely in some matters, whether worldly or natural, and never execute works for Christ with perfection and nakedness of spirit; they think about what others will say or how their work will appear. Since these persons are not lost to themselves in their work, they cannot declare: "You will say that I am lost." They are still ashamed to confess Christ before others by their works. Because of their human respect they do not live entirely in Christ. [...]

Aware of the Bridegroom's words in the Gospel, that no one can serve two masters but must necessarily fail one [Mt. 6:24], the soul claims here that in order not to fail God she failed all that is not God, that is, herself and all other creatures, losing all these for love of him.

Anyone truly in love will let all other things go in order to come closer to the loved one. [...] She achieved this in two ways: she became lost to herself by paying no attention to herself in anything, by concentrating on her Beloved and surrendering herself to him freely and disinterestedly, with no desire to gain anything for herself; second, she became lost to all creatures, praying no heed to all her own affairs but only to those of her Beloved. [...]

The one who walks in the love of God seeks neither gain nor reward, but seeks only to lose with the will all things and self for God; and this loss the lover judges to be a gain. [...] The soul that does not know how to lose herself does not find herself but rather loses herself, as Our Lord teaches in the Gospel: Those who desire to gain their soul shall lose it, and those who lose it for my sake shall gain it [Mt. 16:25]. [...]

Everything is a gain for the soul whose gain is God, because all the strength of her faculties is converted into a spiritual communion of exceedingly agreeable interior love with him. These interior exchanges between God and the soul bear such delicate and sublime delight that no mortal tongue can describe it or human intellect understand it.


Source: St. John of the Cross, The Spiritual Canticle, in The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, trans. by K. Kavanaugh and O. Rodriguez (Washington, DC: ICS Publications, 1991), 587-591, 29.1-4, 5-8, 10-11; 30.1.

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