Advent Journal: Day 12, John of the Cross


Would that men might come at last to see that it is quite impossible to reach the thicket of the riches and wisdom of God except by first entering the thicket of much suffering, in such a way that the soul finds there its consolation and desire. The soul that longs for divine wisdom chooses first, and in truth, to enter the thicket of the cross.

Saint Paul therefore urges the Ephesians not to grow weary in the midst of tribulations, but to be steadfast and rooted and grounded in love, so that they may know with all the saints the breadth, the length, the height and the depth – to know what is beyond knowledge, the love of Christ, so as to be filled with all the fullness of God.

The gate that gives entry into these riches of his wisdom is the cross; because it is a narrow gate, while many seek the joys that can be gained through it, it is given to few to desire to pass through it.       -St. John of the Cross, “A Spiritual Canticle”

“Or what king marching into battle would not first sit down
and decide whether with ten thousand troops
he can successfully oppose another king
advancing upon him with twenty thousand troops?
But if not, while he is still far away,
he will send a delegation to ask for peace terms.
In the same way,
every one of you who does not renounce all his possessions
cannot be my disciple.”                -Luke 14:25-33

We fall away when things get tough; that is our nature.  We seek comfort, and avoid pain.  We seek those things which give us energy, and reject those which demand it from us.  Those involved in team sports know the best way to train them is to make their strength and conditioning workouts in the off-season difficult to the point of exhaustion, even danger; the reason for this is twofold.  One is, obviously to stretch the body to its furthest limit, to build muscle, stamina, explosiveness, agility, or whatever other desire trait the trainer wishes to build up in the athlete.  But the other reason is that it is so difficult one cannot complete the workouts on their own; they need the help of teammates to push and console each other.  Thus it pushes the individual will to the limit but also bonds it with those who are willing to go through all of this.

There is a reason why St. Paul makes the comparison between training for athletics and the Christian life.  It is an apt parallel: our training for eternal life must consist in suffering, in bearing our cross so that we might profit from the One who bore the Cross.  St. John of the Cross understood what a deeply strange and paradoxical experience this is.  When we suffer, we always suffer alone:   Pascal says somewhere in the Pensees that when we die and are buried, it is our grave and our body alone that the grave digger will pile dirt upon, and not someone else’s.  And yet, to inherit this eternal life, we must come together from the thing that individuates us most, our suffering.  It is there, in the “thicket of suffering,” we come together first with God, who became Man in order to suffer for us, and then, our fellow sufferers in Christ, who are the primary means God has provided to sustain us in these our intolerable trials.  We come to know Christ through suffering ourselves and through sharing in the suffering of others together.

Why?  For that which is demanded of us is to “renounce all our possessions.”  Who can do this on their own?  Who would do this willingly?  No, we need the external compulsion of love, of a binding to others who have wept like ourselves, that we may be ourselves, whether alone, or together.  Such is the bewildering power and mystery of our God.  O magnum mysterium, et admirabile sacramentum!

~ by Alypius on December 15, 2017.

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