VATICAN CITY, FEB. 16, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Do medieval Spanish mystics, who are also lyric poets, have anything of use to say to the modern Catholic?
Benedict XVI offered an affirmative answer to his own question today at the weekly general audience in Paul VI Hall, during a catechisis on the figure of Spanish mystic St. John of the Cross (1542-1591).
The discourse on St. John, who was a priest of the Order of Discalced Carmelites and companion of Carmel reformer St. Teresa of Jesus, was the third in a series of catechises on the doctors of the Church.
The Pontiff asked, "Does this saint with his lofty mysticism, with this arduous way to the summit of perfection, have something to say to us, to the ordinary Christian who lives in the circumstances of today's life, or is he only an example, a model for a few chosen souls who can really undertake this way of purification, of mystical ascent?"
He noted that to answer the question, one must first keep in mind the "hard life" that John of the Cross lived, and to realize that it "was not a 'flight through mystical clouds.'"
Recounting some of the aspects of the life of John of the Cross, Benedict XVI began with the difficult role the saint played in the Carmelite reform. He noted that in 1577, the reformer was imprisoned for six months, "subjected to privations and physical and moral constraints" by the Ancient Observance of Toledo, "which was the result of an unjust accusation."
After escaping, the Pope continued, John of the Cross began to take on "increasingly important posts in the order, eventually becoming provincial vicar," and a member "of the general government of the Teresian religious family."
In 1591, John of the Cross was about to embark on a mission to Mexico, when he became seriously ill, and subsequently died.
"John faced with exemplary serenity and patience enormous sufferings," the Pontiff said, "both as reformer of the order, where he met with much opposition, as well as provincial superior, as in the prison of his brothers of religion, where he was exposed to incredible insults and bad physical treatment."
"It was a hard life," he added, "but precisely in the months spent in prison, he wrote one of his most beautiful works."
"And thus we are able to understand," Benedict XVI affirmed, "that the way with Christ, the going with Christ, 'the Way,' is not a weight added to the already sufficient burden, but something completely different, it is a light, a strength that helps us carry this burden."
"If a man has a great love within him," the Holy Father continued, "it's as if this love gives him wings, and he endures life's problems more easily, because he has in himself that light, which is faith."
The act of allowing oneself to be loved by God, he added, "is the light that helps us to carry our daily burden."
Benedict XVI also noted that St. John of the Cross "is considered one of the most important lyric poets of Spanish literature." He said that the saint's most important works include "Ascent of Mount Carmel," "Dark Night of the Soul," "Spiritual Canticle," "Living Flame of Love."
In the "Spiritual Canticle," the Pope said St. John "presents the path of purification of the soul," and that he continued this same topic, offering more detail of "the transforming union with God," in the "Living Flame of Love."
In the "Ascent of Mount Carmel," the Pontiff said that St. John of the Cross "presents the spiritual itinerary from the point of view of the progressive purification of the soul, necessary to ascend to the summit of Christian perfection, symbolized by the summit of Mount Carmel."
And finally, the Holy Father said, in the "Dark Night," the poet "describes the 'passive' aspect, that is, God's intervention in the process of 'purification' of the soul."
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