SPIRITUAL TEACHING OF
THE COLLECTED WORKS
ST. JOHN OF THE CROSS
The following is an article which summarizes the "Collected Works of St. John of the Cross".
This is an excerpt from the book Spiritual Direction & Spiritual Directors , and it also appeared in the publication "Carmelite Digest" Autumn 1989.
CarmeliteDigest, P.O. Box 3180, San Jose, CA 95156.
A Spiritual Director for All Time for All
By: Joseph Kozlowski
(LENGTH IS 14 PAGES)
In these days of severe trials and tribulations in our national life, throughout the world, and within our own Catholic Faith, there is a serious need within our own Catholic Faith for competent spiritual directors. This statement refers not just to the clergy within the Catholic Church hierarchy at various levels, but also to outstanding Catholic laymen who have the potential to act as or to become good spiritual directors. Ideally a competent spiritual director should be both a devout and a learned man. That is, above all, he should be both a prayerful man, and one learned or trained and educated in such a way that he can guide and competently advise in today's exceedingly complex world--which is living at such a frenetic pace--persons who come to him to seek solutions for either spiritual or other problems. It is difficult to find many spiritual directors who are both very devout and very learned at the same time. There is much more assurance of receiving competent spiritual direction from a person who, although he may not be so learned, is devout or prayerful therefore has the humility to answer those questions which he has competence in, and to refer a person seeking spiritual advice to one more learned than he when he realizes he simply can not help certain persons as regards specific concrete problems relating to the hard realities encountered in striving to lead a good spiritual life.
Because of the serious lack of clergy and the very pressing need for their services, the finding of spiritual directors to whom one can go to for competent guidance is a difficult task in the Catholic Church today. To meet this serious problem, I would suggest that we have at our disposal for guidance within the Catholic Church some of the most excellent spiritual directors one could wish for oneself personally. Because of the excellent translations available to us, we now have at our fingertips materials of excellent spiritual direction which are very pertinent to the problems confronting persons in our fast paced scientific and technological age of today, despite the fact that they were written many centuries ago.
St. John of the Cross drew essentially from three sources: science, life experience, and above all the most holy Word of God, Holy Scripture, the Bible. He makes it clear that Holy Scripture, whose author is Almighty God Himself, was the principal source of his inspiration together with persevering prayer, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Body of Christ, all of which were the very heart of his prayer life. At the outset it can be said that three controlling themes are stressed again and again throughout his works. These are: 1) The achievement through the grace and love of God of the highest stage of spiritual development humanly possible of attainment in the world, that is, a "spiritual union of marriage" between the human soul and God, or as he refers to them as the bride and the Bridegroom. 2) In this journey to the apex of spiritual life in this world there are three dangerous enemies encountered which have to be destroyed before such a spiritual marriage can take place. These are: the world, the flesh, and the devil. The world he states is the most easily overcome. The flesh is the most tenacious of the enemies because it fights against the soul until death. The devil is the most difficult enemy to defeat because he is the most difficult to understand. 3) The journey to the spiritual apex of life, that is to the "spiritual marriage" en route to destroying the enemies barring the way to the spiritual marriage or union of love with God progresses in three principal stages summarized briefly as: a) the mortification of the appetites; b) the journey through Faith; and c) the communication of God to the soul, or of the love of God (the Bridegroom) to the soul (the bride). St. John of the Cross in his brilliant exposition of these themes uses poetic imagery to provide greater clarity in the presentation of such richly, divinely inspired themes. Because his poetry ranks him among the greatest of the Castillian Spanish poets, the poetic imagery he employs soars breathtakingly in elevating the spirit as it strives to raise its soul closer and closer to God. However, St. John of the Cross makes it abundantly clear that the soul cannot arrive at the apex summit of the spiritual life by its own natural powers, that is, "the spiritual marriage" or "spiritual union of love with God." To express it another way, it cannot do so under the volition of its own natural powers or natural reasoning. It is only by the aid of the supernatural powers of God that it arrives there. Expressed simply, God does it all, and yet without the soul's cooperation with His love and grace nothing is done or achieved. The key element of the achievement therefore is cooperation with God's love and grace in the fulfillment of God's Will accompanied by intense suffering of a kind which St. John of the Cross candidly states is formidable and painful to behold and endure, Thus, as the soul (the bride) advances toward God (the Bridegroom) guided by the Divine Hands of love and grace it goes through a dark night of spiritual trials which can be considered as, in actuality, three nights of varying darkness of suffering and spiritual trials.
Viz.: 1) the mortification of the senses--the twilight of the soul, that phase in the time of day when the light of the spiritual day is beginning to disappear and the darkness of the night is descending; 2) the journey in Faith--the midnight of the soul when the light has all faded away and darkness has completely descended; 3) the communication of God (the Bridegroom) to the soul (the bride). That is the phase or time of day when the darkness of midnight is beginning to dissipate and the light of day comes on, and the break of day begins. St. John of the Cross indicates clearly that God desires that more souls would enter this spiritual union of love in this "spiritual marriage" with Him, but that many whom He does invite do not wish to endure the severe suffering of all types through which it is necessary to pass before they depart from this earth when the soul leaves the body.
Having now summed up the main themes of the "Collected Works" of St. John of the Cross, I will now proceed to explain, to the best of my ability, the specific details of the main themes stressed throughout his masterful work of spiritual direction.
The Twilight Period
In the first part of the dark night, that is, the mortification of the appetites, the twilight period, the soul begins the process of being stripped of all its appetites, that is, of all the animal appetites which originate in the senses and the imagination, and of all the spiritual appetites which originate in the will, thereby giving all of the strength of the heart, mind, body, and the entire soul to God alone above all. The appetites referred to here are the voluntary appetites and not the involuntary appetites of the soul. The distinction between these appetites is critical, for the involuntary appetites of the soul are those which are used and necessary in our daily living, such as the animal appetites of eating, drinking, and so forth, absolutely necessary to sustain our daily lives. St. John of the Cross indicates explicitly that the involuntary appetites need not necessarily be a barrier to entering the spiritual union of love with God. The voluntary appetites are those we voluntarily exercise, but are not at all essential to our daily existence.
Thus, for example, an involuntary appetite such as the act of eating, which is normal, can become a voluntary appetite when we become gluttonous in our eating, drinking actions, and so forth. These voluntary and involuntary appetites originate in the soul. Thus, for example, they originate in the will of the soul. At this point it becomes necessary to explain the make-up of the human soul as described by St. John of the Cross in his magnificent exposition. This knowledge of St. John's understanding of the human soul which is a pure spirit is absolutely essential to an intelligent grasp of his spiritual direction.
The human soul, the incomprehensibly profound animating force or life principle of our human existence, is known perfectly only to God. It is a pure spirit with no parts, and nobody occupies it except God. Under extremely extraordinary conditions, and very rarely, God permits angelic spirits to enter the human soul for reasons known only to Him, as has occurred, for example, with certain great Saints so graced by God. Although the soul has no parts, it is in a mystical, profound way endowed by God with what I will term here faculties of operation. These faculties are found in the superior nature of the soul and are termed the intellect, the memory, and the will. This superior nature of the soul is the spiritual nature, as opposed to the inferior nature of the soul which we have in common with the animals, and where the sense appetites are operative through the five senses of seeing, hearing, smelling, touching, and tasting. These five senses are considered as external senses since they are exposed to the external reality of the world. It may be said that they are the windows of the soul to the external reality of the world. There are also four internal senses which supplement these external senses. These are the memory (also a part of the superior nature of the soul), common sense, the imagination, and the evaluative sense which enables us to pass judgment upon the goodness or the evil course of action presented to us. With the first fall of our ancestors Adam and Eve, imagination was one of the internal senses of the soul most damagingly affected. This point is critical, for the angelic spirits, the good spirits, or the evil angelic spirits who fell completely from God's love and grace work through the imagination or the sense, the animal or lower, sensory faculties of the soul. The intellect and will are inviolate to their attacks, although they do coax and cajole them to sin from outside the soul through the senses and the imagination. Thus, the intellect (which is considered to be the noblest operative faculty of the soul--it is called the eye of the soul with its pupil being Faith) and the will are sacrosanct as regards the influence of Angelic spirits (that is good or evil ones) within the soul itself. The will nurtured by the understanding transmitted to it is completely free as to its selection of a course of action towards committing a good or evil act. It is a most profound mystery, that although the human soul has free will, yet in a way unknown to us, God does move the will (always to the good) without violating the freedom of the will to act.
Thus, in the biblical injunction of God, thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy mind, with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and thy neighbor as thyself, the entire soul is emptied of all that is not God, and the soul's full strength is directed to the love of God above all. Thus, all of the senses of the animal nature of the soul are detached from all that is not God, or work for the glory of God solely; and all the lower senses, and the operative faculties of the superior nature of the soul are emptied of all that is not God, and are directed solely to the love, honor, and greater glory of God. Thus, the memory is emptied of all that is not God, the intellect also, and the will, while at the same time all these faculties are responsive to carrying out the daily life activities required for normal living. I refer the reader of this article at this point to the actual "Collected Works" of St. John of the Cross where he provides very detailed specific explanations of how all the appetites and all the operative faculties of the soul are completely detached from all that is not God, and the soul (the bride) begins the journey towards the Bridegroom, its God, in joy, hope, sorrow, and holy fear (relating to God alone), to give herself to her Bridegroom, God ultimately, hopefully in a "spiritual marriage" or "union of love"--as St. John of the Cross expresses it so beautifully in both prose and poetry.
Before I proceed to discuss the second phase of the "dark night of the soul," "The Journey in Faith," a few words of St. John of the Cross are pertinent here. St. John of the Cross points out that the "dark night of the soul" is indeed filled with trials through which the soul must pass for its purification, so that before it meets its God it has what St. Thomas Aquinas describes in Latin as nitor -- a word not easily translated into English--which among other possible translations means: a shining, lustrous splendor of purity, beauty, and love which God would desire to see in the soul as it appears before Him when it departs from the body through death in this earthly life. St. John of the Cross stresses that his spiritual direction, although containing something valuable for spiritual advice for all souls is not for those who have merely a spiritual sweet tooth. He indicates in many places the horrors of the sufferings the soul must endure throughout this spiritual trial and testing encountered in the "dark night," in order to enter a spiritual union of love with God or the state of "spiritual marriage" with God -- the highest state or degree of love for God which is possible for any person to achieve by the love and grace of God before departing this earthly existence.
This brilliant spiritual director so beautifully graced by God's love points out that the soul can not arrive at the spiritual marriage state of love with God of its own volition, or efforts, and natural knowledge and spiritual striving, no matter how hard it may attempt to do so, or how hard it may work and pray at the effort, but that it is only through the supernatural uplifting powers of God's love and grace that this spiritual marriage or union of love is achieved. He states candidly that God would desire to bring more souls to the "spiritual marriage" between God (the Bridegroom) and the soul (the bride), but that many souls that he does invite do not accept the invitation because of their spiritual disinclination to endure the suffering necessary to achieve a pure heart filled with God's love and grace -- which as David, the great prophet-king of God, states that a pure heart is -- thus, loving God with the full force of all its heart, mind (intellect), and the full strength of the soul. He indicates, therefore, that more souls who would be willing to carry but a sliver of the Cross which our Saviour Jesus Christ carried in suffering (throughout His entire life) could conquer the world (the easiest to conquer through hope in Him); the devil (the hardest to understand and therefore the most formidable enemy conquered through unquestioning, unflagging, unflinching Faith in God); and the flesh (the most tenacious of the enemies of the soul for it wars relentlessly against the spirit until our earthly death).* St. John of the Cross explicitly states that since souls differ from each other, the prayerful reader and serious student, must exercise a prudent selection in adapting to his own soul various forms of spiritual direction explained and elaborated in great detail by this eminently outstanding and remarkable Saint of God who was also an excellent and superb spiritual director. He states explicitly that there is something good as regards spiritual direction in his works for all, but frankly acknowledges that not everything in his works of spiritual direction is applicable to all.
I shall now proceed to a very brief discussion of the midnight phase of the "dark night of the soul," the "Journey of Faith," with the caution to the reader that in this article I am merely focusing a spotlight upon the highlights of the work of this remarkable spiritual director.
*Flesh: overcome by the virtue of love.
The "Journey of Faith" of the soul, that is the midnight phase of the entire spiritual dark night of the soul, is one of complete darkness, and yet it is termed mystically by St. John of the Cross to be a "Light Ray of Complete Darkness." The soul in this stage becomes detached from all things and progresses through pure Faith, that is, all its appetites (except the involuntary normal appetites necessary for daily living) are employed only for God and His glory. The full strength of the very heart of the soul is focused upon the invisible God, a hidden God, hidden somewhere within the very deep recesses of the very heart of the soul. He is hidden because there is nothing that comes, or has come through our senses that tells us what God is like. All that we observe throughout the universe are mere traces which remind us of Him, mere faint footprints left behind as evidence of His almighty creative powers. Thus whatever we have perceived through our senses, or will perceive, tells us only that God is their Creator. Thus, our Faith tells us that He is our Creator, but it does not tell us anything about what God is like in reality, although through Faith we know that God is love. All natural phenomena in the universe observed through the senses are only a very pale reflection of God's creative powers, mere traces or footprints, so to speak, which He left behind of His creation in the inanimate world (rocks, mountains, minerals, and so forth), the animate world of plants and animal creatures, and His children, human persons. Although we do not see them through Faith, we know by His own Word in Holy Scripture of the existence of the supra-human, not supernatural creatures, which he has created such as our own Guardian Angel and various Angels which act also as special Guardian Angels for certain persons, nations, institutions, and so forth in this world. The demonic spirits, that is, the fallen angels, the devils, some of whom wander throughout the world seeking the ruin of souls, are also supra-human and, of course, invisible to us, attacking the soul through the senses and the imagination, thereby attempting to entice the intellect and the will of the soul to rebel against its Creator, our Almighty God. Thus, the expression, God the Almighty, indicates the reality of His supreme perfection. Among these attributes of His perfection, to name but a few, are perfect love, grace, beauty, simplicity, purity, truth, wisdom, prudence, obedience, mercy, justice, goodness, kindness, sweetness, generosity, fortitude, meekness, power, perseverance, compassion, grandeur, glory, and His ineffable or indescribably incomprehensible, eternal divine essence.
In regard to this last statement all that our senses or our imagination can imagine is unlike Him, for all of these observable phenomena have only a participatory role in God's divine perfection. They contain only that degree of perfection which God has assigned to their specific natures, be they in the inanimate world, the inanimate plant world, the world of his animal creatures, the world of His children, human persons -- or in the invisible world of His supra-human Angelic spirits -- invisible to our senses except in those very rare and extraordinary appearances ordained by God when they appear in a form willed by Him alone. The appearance which they assume is not related to any material substance or composition whatever since they are pure spirits devoid of all materiality. Although He is a hidden God, as stated earlier, He is a hidden God to the soul, we know from Holy Scripture and Revelations which followed that God is always present in the soul by His grace and love, and is at the same time omnipresent, that is, that there is nothing that occurs anywhere that escapes His divine eye. God remains in the soul always, no matter how hardened the soul may be in sin.
Thus, it is God alone Who knows in what state of His grace and love each individual soul is in. No individual soul has this knowledge, and therefore we work out our salvation in fear and trembling by the grace and love of God alone. To presume to have such knowledge would be a contemptuous prideful insult of self-love or self-esteem before God Who alone possesses such omniscience, or perfect knowledge.
Thus, in the "Journey of Faith" the soul is suspended literally between earth and heaven, for as it becomes detached from all of the things that bind it to this earth which appertain to the world, the flesh, or the devil, the very heart of its soul is reaching out to God unattached to all that is not of God. Because the greatest enemy of Satan, or the devil, is Faith, the soul, by the grace and love of God, wages a horrible, relentless war against the world, the flesh, and the devil; the devil, Satan, attacking the soul through the senses and the imagination at the same time, coaxes and cajoles the intellect and the will to rebel against God. While Satan is the most difficult enemy of the soul to defeat because he is so difficult to understand, it must also be understood very clearly that our very own soul itself is our own worst enemy, for much of our sinning and rebelling against our God has nothing to do very frequently with the temptations which Satan brings to us.
Satan does employ the world and the flesh in the war he wages against the soul which loves God, for he hates God, and the soul which loves God, with an indescribable hatred. These attacks which originate from the sin in the very heart of our soul, and form the temptations of Satan, cannot be warded off unless the soul is, literally, enclosed in the fortress of Jesus Christ; for by its own natural powers without the grace and love of Jesus Christ the soul can not stand up against the fierce assaults directed against it. The "Journey in Faith" is a "Light Ray of Darkness," its God that it knows - and inspired by His love and grace - relentlessly seeks is a "Hidden God," despite the soul's knowledge that it believes He is in the soul by His grace and love, and is present actually by the power of His omnipresence here beside us; while at the same time He is in His heaven completely unknown to us as to His nature or essence, since His nature or essence cannot be grasped by any natural or supernatural powers which He our Creator has endowed us with. He is complete darkness to the soul - and yet He is closer to us in our soul than we are to ourselves - but He remains always a hidden God. Thus, in the constant purification of the soul by Jesus Christ, He remains hidden and elusive as the soul suffers all kinds of indescribable trials, tests, and tribulations as it longs to find Him and literally cries out in agonizing pain, torment, and anguish: Where you are hidden my God, the Bridegroom of my soul?
At this point, I must refer the reader to read prayerfully and study under the guidance of God, the Holy Spirit, this "Journey in Faith", the "Midnight" of the soul expressed by St. John of the Cross so eloquently, clearly, and with such beautiful lyrical poetry and soaring majestic prose. St. John of the Cross, it can be seen - and in fact on occasions of rare grandeur, so states himself - pleads with the Holy Spirit to guide his hand as he attempts to sharpen the clarity of some particularly soaring majestic thought which he wishes to convey to the reader. It is clear that St. John of the Cross described his soul's "Dark Night of the Soul" which culminated in the "spiritual marriage" or the "Spiritual union of love," after he by the grace and love of God had already climbed to the apex of that mystical theological state of love between his soul (the bride) and God (the Bridegroom). It is from this spiritual height of spiritual development that his observations and his keen spiritual insights are presented. He warns again and again of how many souls attempting to climb to this summit of love with God backslide again and again for a variety of reasons.
He expounds on these reasons with eloquent clarity, pointing out that among the chief obstacles are the soul's rebellions itself in which the inferior natures of the soul (the sensory) wages a relentless war against the superior nature of the soul (the spiritual). It (the inferior nature of the soul) seeks to covet the superior nature of the soul, or possess it, and prevent it from entering the spiritual union of love with God and consummate the "spiritual marriage" with God here upon earth before the soul departs from the body.
In attempting to understand the spiritual direction which St. John of the Cross is so graciously providing as drawn from his own life, it is very important to understand his exposition of the soul as being a suppositum, that is a pure spiritual entity with an inferior and superior nature possessed of the different operative faculties specified earlier in this article. In his consideration for the prayerful reader, he states that at first there will be many difficulties in understanding the spiritual directions he is presenting, but with words of encouragement states that after several readings the points of spiritual direction he is making will become clear to the faithful reader of his works who perseveres.
A second formidable enemy is the devil himself, and St. John of the Cross explains why throughout his works in extensive detail. Again in very extensive detail this masterful, saintly spiritual director describes how another formidable enemy, or enemies, are various spiritual directors themselves that the poor beleaguered soul consults as it passes through its "Dark Night of the Soul" in quest of its "hidden God." This particular section of the Saint's work in which he treats of the subject of spiritual directors, good, bad, and indifferent, is a classic work in itself, and should be must reading for all clergy and laity who bear a responsibility for the spiritual direction of others, be they in the Church, in the home, or in the outside world community, and in other areas of life.
Few Go The Distance
St. John of the Cross makes the very cogent observation that God would desire with His Sacred Heart full of love that more of His children would enter the "spiritual marriage" or "spiritual union of love" with Him before they depart from this earth, but for a variety of reasons they do not do so. He points out as has been indicated earlier in this article that many simply do not wish to undergo the necessary suffering which will take place in the pursuance of the achievement of this "spiritual marriage" of the bride (the soul) with God (the Bridegroom).
Also, that many, many souls drawing so near to such a union of love with God, do not succeed in completely detaching themselves from all that is not God, that is anything relating to the world, the flesh, or the devil. He explains in a graphic analogy that they are like birds who could soar to the heavens - just as the soul could to God - but they are held back as if by a tiny thread from the flight, a thread, be it ever so thin, which still is sufficient to keep them from flying from their perch of attachment to anything whatsoever that is not God. He also, as has been repeated, earlier, indicates clearly that the involuntary appetites in themselves are not necessarily an impediment to the achievement by the grace and love of God of the "spiritual marriage" with God. It is only when the involuntary appetites to such a "Union of Love" with God become transformed into voluntary ones that they become obstacles.
St. John points out in a statement fraught with profound mystical meaning (it warrants repetition) that there are souls who fervently desire to enter into the "spiritual union of love" with God while they are still on this earth, but for reasons known to God alone, as he states, God does not bring them to his highest state of bliss in a love of God possible here upon this earth before our soul departs from it. He does not elaborate upon this point of spiritual direction, and it apparently has nothing to do with those whom God would welcome and embrace in a "spiritual marriage" of love with Him, but, rather because such persons do not wish to suffer in imitation of His indescribable, incomprehensible suffering which He endured throughout His entire life.
Before I proceed to explain briefly the third part of the "Dark Night of the Soul" in its quest - through the grace and love of God - of the "spiritual marriage" "union of love" with God, I wish to present here St. John of the Cross' dire warning to be taken very seriously indeed by each individual soul of those who would wish to give the full strength of their heart, mind, soul, and body, or expressed in another way the very depths of the heart of their soul, to God. His reference is to King Solomon whom God in Holy Scripture refers to as the wisest of men that ever lived or ever will live - his wisdom was so great. And yet St. John of the Cross strongly implies that this wisest of men in the final end may have abandoned God. He points out that in his old age the wise King Solomon paid adoration to mere silver and gold statuettes which were brought to him by a number of his many wives.
Of course, it is only God who knows the final truth as to whose soul has turned away from Him irrevocably. However, St. John of the Cross, a profound interpreter of Holy Scripture adds two observations regarding King Solomon which makes us tremble in holy (not servile) fear as we strive, by the grace and love of God, to work out our salvation in this vale of tears upon this earthly globe of deadly spiritual warfare. For those persons who scoff at the existence of the devil and his powers for doing evil here upon this earth, St. John of the Cross, a masterful, powerful scholar and interpreter of Holy Scripture provides an extremely extensive and detailed variety of profound insights into the nefarious, diabolic wiles and evil stratagems directed against each soul in the devil's indescribably violent hatred of God, his Creator (before his fall) following after his calamitous and cataclysmic lightning fall through pride and envy into hell.
Now I wish to address the third part of the "Dark Night of the Soul," that is "The Communications of God to the Soul," that twilight period of night when the darkness is dissipating and twilight begins to appear, the daybreak. In this phase of the entire "Dark Night of the Soul" the soul enters the highest degree of contemplation of God that will be possible to it in this world. Thus, in such contemplation - unlike in meditation - the soul becomes passive in receiving communications from God, it becomes a listener to God's communications, rather than raising the very heart of its soul to God in a variety of ways and prayers. The soul in this state of communications from God appears to be doing nothing in prayer despite the fact that it is actually praying to God in some form or another. It hears nothing from God that it can perceive, it simply is there in God's presence in a contemplation of silence, and yet the soul knows without being able to describe this contemplation - in fact, were it to call it by name it would describe it as an "I don't know what it is." Thus, for example, in contemplation of the sufferings of our Saviour, Jesus Christ, not only during the horrible heart-rending violent assaults upon Jesus Christ in the terrible "Agony in the Garden," involving indescribably excruciating mental torture when blood and perspiration poured out through the pores of His body; or the "Scourging or Brutalization at the Pillar" when no part of his body appeared to be spared from the relentless flogging, or cutting even into the bone; or the profound indescribable spiritual suffering of soul endured during the "Crowning with Thorns" when the Creator of all that is good throughout the universe, Whom
the universe can not hold, but which He holds in the palms of His own incomprehensibly beautiful, perfect Divine Hands was crowned in mockery and made sport of by His very own children whom He had come to save; and the "Carrying of the Cross" where His human endurance was tested beyond all human endurance to which any other human being has ever been, or will be subjected to - to such an extent that Angels comforted Him to fortify Him on His way to the Crucifixion, but without taking away from his savagely brutalized body any of the full thrust of suffering He was enduring; to the final agony of the Crucifixion when Jesus Christ was literally torn apart in body and affixed to His cross, a tree not made to fit his body against, but rather to be stretched on to and nailed down upon crying out to His Father for help as if his Father had abandoned Him, as He was dying and giving up His spirit to His Father for all of us His children. Thus, in such contemplation of the sufferings of Jesus Christ, our Saviour in His "Passion," a horrible climax to a life of 33 years, a life which was actually one of suffering throughout - incomprehensible to us from Holy Scripture itself - the soul passively receives from God communications without knowing what it is receiving, as it just passively listens while praying or not actually engaging in any form of prayer. St. John of the Cross explicitly indicates that the soul in such contemplation does not in any way, of its own accord or volition, enter upon this state of supreme contemplation of God possible upon this earth; but that rather it is only God that brings the soul into such a stage of contemplation. Nor does the soul ask of God to be brought to this high form of contemplation; instead it waits hoping that God will do so. If God does bring it to this state of contemplation, during the "Daybreak" or "Twilight" phase of the "Dark Night of the Soul," the soul may still go back and forth in meditative practices where it is prayerfully speaking to God in a variety of forms of prayer throughout the day, as opposed to the highest form of contemplation where all the communications come to the soul from God, the soul remaining passive throughout. It is thus that the soul indicates that the communications of God to it are so sublime, that while it is receiving these communications, the soul can not describe to anyone what transformations the soul is undergoing.
It is only after undergoing this profound spiritual experience, by the grace and love of God alone, when a soul has ultimately reached the state of the "Spiritual Marriage" with God, or the "spiritual union of love" with God - that is, the state, when the world, the flesh, and the devil have been defeated, and the full strength of the soul with a heart filled with God's love and grace to its full capacity is given to God, that the soul can look back, as St. John of the Cross did, and attempt to describe under the guiding Hand of the Holy Spirit, what this "I don't know what experience" it went through actually meant to it as it was going through such a spiritual transformation. It is very soon after reaching this state of "spiritual marriage" with God that the soul departs from the body and goes to the glory God to see Him.
St. John of the Cross as a spiritual director, so amazingly graced by God's love was, at the tender age of about 25 selected by another remarkably great Saint, St. Teresa of Avila, who was about 52 years of age when she took him to be her spiritual director, and recommended him in laudatory terms to other aspirants in the religious community who aspired to lift their hearts up to God in love. He had an amazingly profound knowledge of Holy Scripture, and combined such knowledge to guide the soul in its terrible war of ordeal of the "Dark Night of the Soul" against its three greatest enemies: the world, the flesh, and the devil. He provides masterful expositions on the diabolic stratagems of the devil used to deceive and mislead the soul on its journey to God. It must be admitted that St. John of the Cross is not easy reading, but must be prayerfully studied, read and reread under the constant guidance of God, the Holy Spirit.
It needs to be pointed out again, as I have stated earlier, that St. John of the Cross himself quite candidly, honestly with great humility, stated that his work was not for those who simply had a "mere spiritual sweet tooth"; but did not wish to get down to the very "nitty-gritty" of the essential fundamentals of growth in the spiritual life aimed at the love of God alone above all. He points out as stated earlier above also, that because souls are so varied, and that one may differ from another by as much as 50 percent, that not everything in his collected works is applicable to each individual soul, but that each soul will find something in his works which it can profitably use as a spiritual guide. He is, in my mind, truly a spiritual director for all times, and one of especially inestimable value in today's troubled times which permeate the entire world. The Catholic Church itself in 1926, entitling St. John of the Cross as a Mystical Doctor of Theology, emphasized his being a profoundly wise spiritual director for these our troubled times of today when good spiritual direction is so badly needed.