Memorial of Saint John of the Cross

December 14, 2018

Is 48:17-19; Ps 1:1-4,6; Mt 11:16-19

“Meditate on his law day and night.”

Saint John of the Cross taught one of his spiritual directees: “Seek in reading, knock in meditation, and find in contemplation.”  This is a bumper-sticker description of lectio divina.  Indeed, the Book of Psalms is written for one who reads, knocks, and finds.  Just such a one “delights in the law of the LORD and meditates on his law day and night.”  In this first psalm we learn how to approach the whole book of psalms.  First, we must not hang around those who are insolent and soak in all the bitterness that spouts from their mouths.  Rather, we must find the true joy of our hearts in what the LORD Our God has to say about who we are and how we are to live out our true identity as beloved children of the Father.  It is in meditating on the law of the Lord day and night that we find ourselves to be “like a tree planted near running water.”  Then our roots will be secure in the Word of God and nourished by the Living Waters of the Holy Spirit.  After a while, and quite by surprise, we will begin to yield fruit in due season and our leaves will never fade.  Whatever we do will be a success.  However, those who are not interested in the Word or the Spirit will be like rootless chaff driven by storm winds over the face of the earth. The LORD God Almighty watches with care over our every step all along the way home to heaven, yet the ways of the insolent do not last beyond their bitter breath.  As the Prophet Isaiah assures us the Holy One of Israel teaches us what is for our good and leads us on the way we should go.  Indeed, in such wisdom is our only vindication as the Lord Jesus teaches those who follow and those who oppose him.  On this feast of Saint John of the Cross let us feast at this banquet of Wisdom.  Here at the Eucharist we seek, knock and find the one who is Wisdom Incarnate, Jesus the Christ.       

Saint John of the Cross is a doctor of the universal church.  His teaching about prayer and the spiritual life is not reserved for Carmelites or other consecrated religious.  He teaches the doctrine of the cross.  This is the cross our Lord Jesus commands us to take up, each day. This teaching is for the good of any Christian, and it can lead anyone who is serious about prayer.  Prosperity like a river, rushing and full of refreshment and life giving water, describes well the prayer of those who learn from the Cross of Christ.  The Cross is our only friend.  In Christ the tree of death becomes the tree planted near the living waters of the Holy Spirit.  What seems to be merely pain becomes the suffering that unites us with the Friend of Sinners, Jesus the Crucified One.  Only in Christ, the Risen and Crucified One, is it possible for us to choose a life of self-sacrifice.  Only when we pick up our cross and follow Christ do we lovingly offer a sacrifice that is pleasing before the Throne of Our God and Father.  Vindication like the waves of the sea, constant and pounding upon the shore, describes well the prayer of those who have been taught by the Cross of Christ.  The rhythm of the waves breaking upon the shore of our souls constantly erodes our cliffs and reefs.  Our hardness of heart and stiffness of neck is gradually and permanently removed by the waves of prayer.  Gradually the simplicity of contemplation, God’s prayer in us, changes us.  We become like Christ, who became man so that we could become divinized.  This is the expectation of those who pray.  We expect to be transformed by a loving union with Christ and in the Holy Spirit for the glory, praise and honor of the Father.  Indeed, as the Prophet Isaiah promises this is our heritage as children of God.  At one point in their history the Israelites saw descendants as the way they would live forever in the memory and prayers of those who came after them.  Now, our eternal life is in the grace and glory of the Cross of Christ.   

All through history we have demonized those whom we find problematic, those who challenge us, or rub us the wrong way.  The Lord Jesus brings this to the attention of the crowd in today’s gospel.  He critiques “this generation,” indeed, every generation with this challenge.  What do you want: someone to play dance music, or someone to play funeral music?  When Saint John the Baptist came fasting, praying, and preaching, he was mocked and ridiculed for being on the fringe, living on the edge of civilization, too severe. When the Lord Jesus came eating and drinking at feasts with his friends, the rejects of society, he was mocked and ridiculed for associating with the foot-loose and fancy-free, too easy.  It is the wisdom of the cross that vindicates the Lord Jesus and his Precursor.  Both Saint John the Baptist and his cousin the Lord Jesus shed their blood for the truth, that alone can set us free.  Indeed, we are summoned by the Baptist to decrease so that Christ may increase.  This will be easy severity, because it is love.  The Lord Jesus also summoned us to become so united to him that we bring the joy of the cross to all we meet.  This will be severe mercy, because it is love.  With all who feast we rejoice in the good things provided by a Good Lord. With all who fast we join in sacrifice for the good of the brothers and sisters of our Loving Savior.  Such is the wisdom of the cross, the wisdom of love. This is the love made flesh in the Eucharist.  This is the love that consumes all that is not truly us, even as we taste and see that the Lord is good.