St. John of the, oh yes, of the Cross

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.

8 comments on “St. John of the, oh yes, of the Cross

  1. Lisa Schmidt says:

    Hi Tom! In a bit of a dry spell right now; thanks for the wisdom in this quick post.

    Aside: I birthed my 4th child in June. We named him John Kolbe. So is his patronal feast day today? December 27 for the Beloved? October 22 for JP2? June 24 for John the Baptist? Oh, what about August 14 for Maximilian Kolbe? Yes. All of them! Why not?! 🙂

  2. Charlene says:

    Hello Tom, Thank you for this positive ending about never give up on prayer. I will now persevere and not give up hope on my prayers.
    God bless you.

  3. Anne says:

    Hello, long time reader here, first time commenting … I simply wanted to tell you, your posts seem to be divinely inspired. I can’t tell you how many times I check your blog only to be surprised (why I am surprised by God’s communication w/me is surprising in itself and prob evident of weak faith!) by the startling way you have addressed an issue that I have been grappling with. This post is no exception as I was, just today, finding myself frustrated w/seemingly unanswered prayers (proof of weak faith #2!). Thank you for the reminder that true prayer is less of me telling God what He should do and more of me growing in trust that He knows best and my job is to simply let Him work in my life… Sorry to ramble, I just wanted to let you know your writing is infused with wisdom from The Holy Spirit — thank you for cooperating with Him!

  4. beads2rosaries says:

    Prayer hurts. The physical pain, emotional pain, even intellectual pain keeps fairthfulness in prayer impossible, uf not improbable. May God understand my humanity-faithfullness frquently is the easy part but hopefulness? Not so much.

    • Wow. Exquisitely honest. Holy ground. This is why I am convinced the Spirit inspired Psalm 22, and why Jesus chose this Psalm to pray from the cross. In His “Why?” He shows prayer at its apogee, which is at once its nadir, where hope in God-alone is born as all other hopes fall away. If you are where you describe, then you can pray this Psalm as one who lives in it. You are no spectator to this place. St. John of the Cross says some souls are led by the Spriit into the desert of Jesus’ moment of abandonment on the cross, a place of profound intimacy with His self-emptying. Mother Teresa was. The Psalm, of course, ends in hope, but not before giving full expression, in God’s presence, to the taste of hopelessness. Thank you for sharing this with us. Reminds of portions of Ciszek’s, “He Leadeth Me”. I pray you have a trusted guide and companion to walk with you along the way. I am sure others who read this will pray with you and for you. I’ve shared this before, but this rendering of Psalm 22 in Hebrew captures the terrible beauty of such prayer.

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