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  • Writer's pictureDr. Anthony Lilles

The Foolishness of God in St. John of the Cross

"The soul that walks in love neither tires others nor grows tired." St. John of the Cross is a saint passionate about love to the point of foolishness in the eyes of the world. But this foolishness is a family trait. Gonzalo, his father, left everything out of love for Catalina, his mother and Gonzalo's brothers despised him as a fool for love. The friendship of Gonzalo and Catalina, their holy marriage, was filled with the radiant beauty of what it means to really live. True love is never half-way. It never grows tired in its devotion. For someone living by love, besides the beloved everything else is rubbish. Real love fears no sacrifice and is ready for every hardship. His father would die in destitution and yet his widowed mother never lost hope. They were rich in love, and in the evening of our lives, nothing else really matters. Their home was held together through every hardship and disappointment by living faith, a faith alive with love. This love, this hope and this faith formed the soul of a future saint. John of the Cross was a fool for love like his parents, and in his foolishness lived life to the full just as they did. Like his father he too was impassioned by love's yearnings and in that passion found courage to make every sacrifice for the one he loved. The only difference between father and son was that for John of the Cross his beloved was God alone. God's love radiates from his poetry and evokes urgent desire, profound peace and uncontainable jubilation. Fired up with love, driven by love, given over to love, friendship with God was his life's priority and a zeal to lead others into this same divine friendship burns throughout his writings. He chose poverty and a disciplined life so that he would have the freedom to love. This is why he embraced the the hungry, the sick and the dying. It is why he made himself radically available to the spiritually poor as well. Something of the foolishness of God lives in St. John of the Cross's foolishness for love. If someone were to ask what made his love for God so intense, at least part of the answer must include his devotion to prayer and the Word of God. He memorized the Scriptures and loved to comment on them, especially the Song of Songs. He loved silence and he loved to search for the Lord in the silence of his own heart. It was in the silence of his heart that he heard the Lord speak to him, "The Father spoke one Word, which was his Son, and this Word he speaks always in eternal silence, and in silence must it be heard by the soul." Understanding the yearnings of love which moved in his soul provides insight into his friendship with Teresa of Avila, his zeal for the reform of Carmel and his fierce fortitude when imprisoned in Toledo. It explains why hundreds of the faithful sought him out for spiritual direction and why he would walk for miles to hear confessions. It sheds light on why he enjoyed camping in the wilderness and solitude in the countryside. If he demanded rigor in religion, the friars he formed were gratefully loyal to him because his devotion was contagious. At the same time, he was so rooted in love that he really did not care what others thought of him or whether those who were closest to him treated him poorly—although he always cared about them and would sacrifice anything to make sure they knew they were loved. After his miraculous escape from the harsh torments he suffered in prison, he was asked about his experience. His words were washed with wisdom, "Where there is no love, put love, and you will find love."

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