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  • Fr. Scott Haynes

St. John of the Cross Escapes Imprisonment

Fr. Scott A. Haynes




After Saint John of the Cross joined the Carmelite order, Saint Teresa of Avila asked him to help her reform the Carmelite order. John supported her belief that the order should return to its life of prayer and penance. But many Carmelites felt threatened by this reform, and some members of John's own order kidnapped him to stop this.


He was locked in a small cell (6' x 10') and beaten three times a week by his Carmelite brothers. There was only one tiny window high up near the ceiling. Yet in that unbearable dark, cold, and desolation, his love and faith were like fire and light. He had nothing left but God, and God brought to His servant Saint John great joys in that tiny cell. After nine months of incarceration, he escaped by unscrewing the lock on his door and creeping past the guard. Taking only the mystical poetry [1] he had written in his cell, he climbed out a window using a rope made of strips of blankets.


With no idea where he was, he followed a little dog which led him to a convent of nuns who took him in and nursed him back to health. He hid from pursuers in the convent infirmary. While he was recovering, Saints John of the Cross taught the nuns more about the spiritual life and the mystical contemplation of God.


The providence of the Heavenly Father allowed him to be kidnapped and kept locked up away. This is a hard lesson for us, because we have a hard time seeing the hand of God in painful experiences. But Saint John of the Cross understood and accepted everything that came his way trusting God through it all. Because Saint John of the Cross experienced so much persecution, desolation, isolation and separation, his intercessory powers are most extraordinary. Saint John of the Cross received from God the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit in great abundance.


Tomb of Saint John of the Cross, Segovia, Spain.


Saint John of the Cross teaches us that the Beatitudes are a marvelous chain of mountains. Each Beatitude of Christ is like a mountain peak, a steppingstone that gives us ascent to reach out toward God. Each one of the beatitudes, Saint Thomas Aquinas says, is something perfect and excellent – a summit in itself; and at the same time, it is a beginning of future happiness even in this life. [2]


As Saint John of the Cross would exhort us, the first step to be taken by one who wishes to attain the perfection of the Beatitudes, the first step of someone wanting to attain mystical union with the Lord is to abandon the road that leads downward. Thus, the first thing we must do if we are to reach the blessed life described in the beatitudes is to renounce, sincerely and fully, the deceptive joys of the world, the flesh and the devil.


Saint John of the Cross teaches us that very few people have the courage to be happy. How difficult it is for us to tear the heart away from the things of earth, from riches, from power and from honors. Yet true happiness is not gained by these things. Remember Holy Scripture says:

"The kingdom of God is within you’ For the kingdom of God does not consist in food and drink, but in justice and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit."


Saint John of the Cross teaches us that tears either come from love or lead to love. Thus, the beatitudes teach us, first of all, to die to ourselves. The Beatitudes disclose the secret of the death – which gives sweetness and joy in the bosom of God. When Christ's tears fell on the tomb of Lazarus, Lazarus arose to life! O the miracles of God's grace that we could discover if we would have such tears of love!


The life of poverty and persecution that Saint John of the Cross lived could have produced a bitter cynic. But he did not give into that temptation. Instead, St John of the Cross took up his cross and used it as a key to unlock the graces of the Cross of Christ. But this grace gave birth to a compassionate mystic. As we celebrate this feast of a Doctor of the Church I will leave you with the words of the saint himself:

"Who has ever seen people persuaded to love God by harshness? Where there is no love, put love and you will find love."


Notes: [1] From this experience he gave us his greatest work, and one of the classics of Western Spirituality, La Noche Oscura del Alma (The Dark Night of the Soul).

[2] The below quotes are from The Sanctifier by Luis Martinez, former Archbishop of Mexico.

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