St. John of the Cross: On Following Jesus Christ

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John of the Cross admits that his teaching is difficult, he says so in his prologue.  He also laments that this true spirituality of following Christ on the Cross is so hard that he doubts that anyone can make it more attractive.  As he says,

“Oh, who can make this counsel of our Savior on self-denial understandable, and practicable, and attractive, that spiritual persons might become aware of the difference between the method many of them think is good and the one that ought to be used in travelling this road!  They are of the opinion that any kind of withdrawal from the world , or reformation of life, suffices.  Some are content with a certain degree of virtue, perseverance in prayer, and mortification, but never achieve the nakedness, poverty, selflessness, or spiritual purity (which are all the same) about which the lord counsels us here.  For they still feed and clothe their natural selves with spiritual feelings and consolations instead of divesting and denying themselves for these for God’s sake.  They think denial of self in worldly matters is sufficient without annihilation and purification in the spiritual domain.  It happens that when some of this solid, perfect food (the annihilation of all sweetness in God–the pure spiritual cross and nakedness of Christ’s poverty of spirit) is offered them in dryness, distaste, and trial, they run from it as from death and wander about in search only of sweetness and delightful communications from God.  Such an attitude is not the hallmark of self-denial and nakedness of spirit but the indication of a spiritual sweet tooth.  Through this kind of conduct they become, spiritually speaking, enemies of the cross of Christ.”

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“Endeavour to be inclined always:

not to the easiest, but to the most difficult;

not to the most delightful, but to the most distasteful;

not to the most gratifying, but to the less pleasant;

not to what means rest for you, but to hard work;

not to the consoling, but to the unconsoling;

not to the most, but to the least;

not to the highest and most precious, but to the lowest and most despised;

not to wanting something but to wanting nothing.

Do not go about looking for the best of temporal things, but for the worst, and, for Christ, desire to enter into complete nakedness, emptiness, and poverty in everything in the world.”

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