Aspirant Month 5

Focus: Spirituality of St. John of the Cross


  1.  Carmelite Tradition by Stephen Payne, pages 42 to 46
  • excerpts from The Ascent of Mount Carmel, p. 48 sec.1, p.49 sec.1;
  • excerpts from The Dark Night, p.49 sec.1;
  • excerpts from The Spiritual Canticle,  p61, sec.1
  1. See text below of John of the Cross biography.

Optional: Carmelite Spirituality in the Teresian Tradition by Paul-Marie of the Cross, OCD, pp. 44-57.

Discussion Questions:

  1.  John of the Cross sings the Magnificat with Mary. “For He that is mighty hath done great things for me.”  Select an event from the biographical sketches of St. John of the Cross. Discuss how that event would cause him to sing Mary’s song.
  2.  After reading the excerpts from the identified writings for St. John of the Cross,
  • Summarize the spiritual message he is sending.
  • Identify one practical action in an everyday situation that secular Carmelites could take to live out that message.

St. John of the Cross: Biography

John of the Cross (Juan de Yepes Álvarez) was born in Fontiveros (Ávila) in 1542. There were three brothers: Francisco, Luis, and Juan. His father, Gonzalo, died when Juan was very little. Gonzalo’s relatives from Toledo disinherited Gonzalo because of his marriage to Catalina, who belonged to a lower social class. They were left in poverty because of this, and it became worse when the father died.

Catalina traveled to Toledo to ask for help from Gonzalo’s relatives. She stayed in Torrijos without success. She continued on to Gálvez and the town’s doctor stayed with Francisco. Catalina returned to Fontiveros with little Juan. After a year, she visited Gálvez and returned to her home with Francisco and little Juan. Things were not going well. They moved to Arévalo, from where they probably returned to Fontiveros and then left for Medina del Campo. Because they were so poor, Catalina was able to send her little one to the School of Doctrine. He was also able to work as an infirmarian in the Hospital of Our Lady of the Conception or “of the buboes” and attend the Jesuit College as an extern student from 1559 to 1563.

In 1563 he joined the monastery of Santa Ana of Carmel in Medina as a novice and made his profession the following year. He began studies at the University of Salamanca: three years of philosophy as an ordinary student and one of theology (1567-1568), this last after having been interviewed by Saint Teresa (“La Santa”) in Medina during his vacation in 1567.

La Santa convinced him not to become a Carthusian. On her request that he join the new Carmelite family she was organizing, he agreed, but under the condition that she would not delay a long time.

On his return from Salamanca in 1568, he continued his dialogue with Teresa about the new Carmelite life. He accompanied her in the founding of the Valladolid community of nuns and duly familiarized himself with all the proceedings. After finishing that novitiate of sorts, Juan left for Duruelo (Ávila) and began to adapt the little house that was gifted to La Santa as the first small convent of friars.

The official inauguration: November 28, 1568. La Santa visited during Lent in 1569.

John of the Cross was named master of novices in Duruelo and in this capacity traveled to Mancera after the move to this nearby location took place in 1570. The duty to organize the novitiate in Pastrana (Guadalajara) in 1570 fell upon him. He returned to Mancera. In April 1571 he headed to a new destination: rector of the college in Alcalá de Henares. The following year, possibly in May, Saint Teresa requested his presence in Ávila to be the confessor of the great monastery of La Encarnación, where she was prioress.

He spent five years in Ávila, earning renown for his power against evil spirits and as a notable exorcist and teacher of souls. The Calced Carmelites tore him away from Ávila and took him as a prisoner to the convent of Toledo. Nine months of jail ensued, from which he escaped in August 1578.

In 1578 he attended the small chapter of the Discalced in Almodóvar del Campo (Ciudad Real) in which he was named superior of the convent of El Calvario (Jaén). He traveled to Andalucía and situated himself in his new location. From there he went to the university city of Baez to found the convent-college of the Order in 1579, where he was rector.

In January 1582 he moved to Granada. He was prior of the convent of Los Santos Mártires in that city three times. In 1585 he was vicar provincial of Andalusia. From Baeza he attended the chapter in Alcalá de Henares during which the Discalced formed their own, separate province in 1581. Likewise, he attended all the other chapters: Almodóvar in 1583; Lisbon and Pastrana in 1585; Valladolid in 1587; and Madrid in 1588, 1590, and 1591. From the chapter of 1588 onward, he was the second authority of the Order and in that capacity moved to Segovia as a new member of the general government of the Order, presiding over its sessions when Nicolás Doria, the vicar general, was absent. He built the new convent in Segovia, although he did not see it finished. He left Segovia and traveled to La Peñuela in August 1591. He became ill and on September 28 moved to Úbeda. He suffered considerably under the prior of Úbeda and because of the infamous persecution of Diego Evangelista. He died in Úbeda on December 14, 1591. His body was transferred to Segovia in 1593.

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