Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Remembering St. John of the Cross

I have a terrible confession to make.  Although this day is very special to me I have never once, in all these years, realised that it is the day when the Church asks us to remember the life and work of St. John of the Cross.  And yet there it was, all along.  Waiting for me to discover it.  It was a while ago now that reading this icon lead me to the Carmelite tradition, by way of an old Chaplain and a much loved picture in my junior school.  Since then I have been reflecting on the Sacred Heart as calling us to 'purify' our own hearts as we travel to Bethlehem this advent.   So today is a good day to put some thoughts down on what I have learnt thus far about a 'pure heart' and how this relates to Teilhard.  I was not really trying to make any connections, but just allow disparate thoughts to converge in their own time.  But, as always, all did converge!

Just a few points  to note here.  The first is, of course, St. John's 'dark night of the soul'.  They have not been my favourite times in my life.  And yet St. John makes us realise that  when we feel utterly alone and feel that God has abandoned us we are at critical points in the journey towards the divine centre. The cross on the icon for me now represents those dark nights when pain and failure and loss open the door to a deeper self-knowledge and a deeper relationship with God. Purity of heart can be a painful process: and perhaps it has to be so.   I think St. John's writings are about getting us to realise that the process of purifying the heart is about cutting out all the stuff, things, desires that get in the way of us becoming closer to God and that we have to understand that the pain of that process - carrying our cross - is an opportunity for growth.   I began to think that it is like the pain of someone who is trying to escape from an addiction.  I don't know much about it, but I do know from people who do know that it is a very painful process indeed.  So in a sense we are all addicts of some kind, and we can only really be ourselves when we are free from  our addictions.  Whatever they are.

As I thought about this I wondered if anyone had thought on similar lines and I soon came across a really excellent  book  by Francis Kelly Nemeck, OMI and Marie Theresa Coombes, a Hermit called : O Blessed Night.  (See HERE).  Imagine my delight that it was subtitled: 'Recovering from addiction, codependency and attachment based on the insight of St. John of the Cross and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin' !!   The authors show how close St. John and Teilhard are with regard to the role of pain and suffering in human individual and collective development/evolution.  The dark night for both becomes the blessed night.  I was not looking for convergence, but it came unbidden! I am only just reading it at the moment and  I need to think more about what they say: but the authors show how comparing the works of a saint and a scientist on the transformative effects of working through the 'dark night' can serve to illuminate both and also give us help on our advent journey.  The Sacred Heart is about pain.  But it is also about seeing pain  - and for Teilhard the pain of evolution - as transformative.  As we journey to Bethlehem we have to be asking ourselves what are we addicted to, what are we dependent on, and what are we attached to?  Sin is really just a form of addiction.  This advent I realise that  in order to become more centred on God we have to confront our own self-centeredness and our addictions.  I had a student many years ago who went through the 'hell' of  drug addiction but eventually he came through it. 'I'm clean!' he told me with a big smile on his face.  Like all addicts we  have to 'get clean'.  And that is not easy :  getting clean takes us to some dark places in our 'interior castle'.   But as Christians  we have the knowledge that the 'golden glow' radiating from the centre of the icon is giving us the energy to transform our dark nights into truly blessed nights.  At Christmas we should remember and pray for all those who are addicted, dependent or attached to things that keep them from the love of God.

Saint Maximilan Kolbe*, patron saint of drug addicts, pray for all those who are addicted this Christmas.

*Blessed John Paul called him the 'Patron Saint for our difficult century'  - and perhaps for an age which is full of addiction!

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