Okay, I don’t have time to write but I could not help myself. A brief thought on St. John of the Cross for his feast today.
I’ve said before, it was my spiritual director in the late 1980’s who introduced me to St. John. Among other reasons, he wanted me to grow beyond my attachment to “cash value” prayer that yielded sweet feelings, lovely insights and other ego-rich goodies. And he knew John was good medicine for kids with a spiritual sweet tooth like me.
I had been complaining for a while that I wasn’t getting anything out of my prayer. He asked me, “What do you try to get out of it?” I said, “Well, you know, a sense of God’s closeness. Something inspiring.” He replied something like this:
You have to remember that prayer is the time you take out of your day to give God permission to do what He wishes in you. Not to get God to do for you what you wish. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done. You can’t really imagine, Tom, that the only thing He’s interested in doing are those things you mention? He’s so much greater. The Father sees prayer as really about making you like His Son. Your role is to be faithful to the time you promise Him, and to the methods of prayer we agreed on. Then let God decide what He wants to do. God always responds when we pray in faith. But faith is dark, He’s God, only faith is big enough for His work, and so most of what He does you can’t feel. After 20 years of faithfulness to this, come talk to me and then you’ll have something to say to me about struggle. Plant the Cross in your prayer.
He had given me a copy of St. John of the Cross’ collected works to read, and so he asked me to read the very pithy and incisive “Degrees of Perfection”. I recall this was the stand-out passage that made me realize something totally new to me: prayer was, in part, God exposing for His own viewing my mettle (or lack thereof):
Never give up prayer, and should you find dryness and difficulty, persevere in it for this very reason. God often desires to see what love your soul has, and love is not tried by ease and satisfaction.