"Men should often renew their good resolutions, and not lose heart because they are tempted against them."

St Philip Neri

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"Whoever wants to stand alone without the support of a master and guide will be like the tree that stands alone in a field without a proprietor. No matter how much the tree bears, passers-by will pick the fruit before it ripens. "

St John of the Cross, OCD - Doctor of the Church

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"Spiritual persons ought to be equally ready to experience sweetness and consolation in the things of God, or to suffer and keep their ground in drynesses of spirit and devotion, and for as long as God pleases, without their making any complaint about it."

St Philip Neri

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 St John of the Cross   (1542 - 1591)

 

THE SPIRITUAL CANTICLE (cont)

 

by St John of the Cross

 

Stanza 8


Introduction

1. When God favors the soul by disclosing to it a spiritual knowledge and experience of other creatures, he gives it some illuminations concerning these creatures in the way we mentioned,1 although these illuminations are not always so sublime as the others. It seems these creatures impart to the soul an understanding of the grandeurs of God, which are not entirely understandable; and it is as if they were making these grandeurs understood while yet they remain to be understood. Hence there is an "I-don't- know-what behind their stammering." The soul continues with her complaint, and in the following stanza speaks to her life, saying:

How do you endure
O life, not living where you live,
and being brought near death
by the arrows you receive
from that which you conceive of your Beloved?

Commentary

2. Since the soul is aware that she is dying of love, as she has just declared, but she does not die entirely and thus enjoy love freely, she complains about the duration of life in the body, on account of which the spiritual life is delayed.

In this stanza she addresses her own life, stressing the grief it causes her. The meaning of the stanza is: Life of my soul, how can you endure in this bodily life, for it is death to you and a privation of that true spiritual life of God, in which through essence, love, and desire you live more truly than in the body? And now that this understanding of God's grandeur has not caused you to go out and be freed from the body of this death [Rom. 7:24] so as to live and enjoy the life of your God, how can you still live in a body so fragile? Moreover, the wounds of love that you receive from the grandeurs of the Beloved communicated to you are in themselves alone enough to end your life. For all of them leave you wounded with vehement love. And the things you experience and understand of him are as numerous as the touches and wounds you receive of a love that slays. The verse follows:

How do you endure
O life, not living where you live?

3. To understand these lines it should be known that the soul lives where she loves more than in the body she animates; for she does not live in the body, but rather gives life to the body and lives through love in the object of her love.

Yet besides this life of love through which the soul that loves God lives in him, her life is radically and naturally centered in God, like that of all created things, as St. Paul says: In him we live and move and are [Acts 17:28]. This was like saying: In God we have our life and our movement and our being. And St. John says that all that was made was life in God [Jn. 1:3-4]. Since the soul knows she has her natural life in God by the being she has in him, and her spiritual life through the love by which she loves him, she complains and laments that so fragile a life in the mortal body can achieve so much as to hinder her from the enjoyment of a life so strong, true, and delightful as the one she lives in God through nature and love.

The soul puts great stress on this complaint, for she announces here that she suffers from two contraries: natural life in the body and spiritual life in God. They are contraries insofar as one wars against the other [Rom. 7:23]. And living both in the body and in God, she necessarily feels great torment, since the one painful life thwarts the other delightful one, so much so that the natural life is like death to her, because through it she is deprived of the spiritual life in which she has all her being and life through nature, and all her operations and affections through love. To indicate further the hardship of this fragile life, she says next:

and being brought near death
by the arrows you receive

4. This is like saying: Moreover, how can you endure in the body, since the touches of love (indicated by the arrows) that the Beloved causes in your heart are enough to take away your life? These touches so impregnate the soul and heart with the knowledge and love of God that she can truthfully say she conceives of God, as she does in the following verse:

from that which you conceive of your Beloved?

5. That is, from the grandeur, beauty, wisdom, grace, and virtues you understand of him.
 

 
   
 
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