St. John of the Cross was born in 1542 in Fontiveros, Old Castile, Spain. The son of poor weavers, he worked for several years as a servant to the director of a hospital. He attended a Jesuit college and even from his youth, John displayed an understanding of the value of suffering for the love of Christ. At the age of twenty-one, he joined the Carmelite Order and was ordained a priest in 1567.
At his first Mass, John met St. Teresa of Avila. God chose the two of them as leaders to bring a new fervor to the Carmelite religious life by reforming the Order. Although at first tempted to leave the Carmelites, John and four others founded the Discalced Carmelites in 1568. He then took the name of John of the Cross and founded several monasteries.
John suffered many trials, temptations, and misunderstandings during his reformation work. He was criticized harshly by his jealous religious superiors. In 1577, when their envy reached new heights, they threw him into prison in Toledo, Spain, where he was locked in a closet for nine months. During this time, he wrote Dark Night of the Soul. In this most famous of his works, he describes the path of the soul to union with God. Though a journey of suffering, eventually the soul experiences great joy and light.
Beyond his knowledge of the mystical life, John of the Cross was an extraordinary priestly example to others and a remarkable witness to the Gospel. The saint’s own words reflect this: "That you may have pleasure in everything, seek pleasure in nothing. That you may know everything, seek to know nothing. That you may possess all things, seek to possess nothing. That you may be everything, seek to be nothing.”
John of the Cross died in 1591. He was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church by Pope Pius XI in 1926. In 1948, the future Pope John Paul II wrote his theological dissertation on the subject of faith from the mystical theology of St. John of the Cross.
Saint John of the Cross, pray for us!