"As the flesh is nourished by food, so is man supported by prayers"

St Augustine

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"Whom do you seek, friend, if you seek not God? Seek him, find him, cleave to him; bind your will to his with bands of steel and you will live always at peace in this life and in the next."

St Alphonsus de Liguori

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"It is vanity to be concerned with the present only and not to make provision for things to come."

Thomas á Kempis

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 St John of the Cross   (1542 - 1591)

 

THE SPIRITUAL CANTICLE (cont)

 

by St John of the Cross

 

Stanza 10


Introduction

1. A stag wounded by a poison arrow neither rests nor remains calm, but searches everywhere for remedies, plunging now into these waters, now into those, and the effect of the poison arrow ever increases in all circumstances and with all remedies taken until finally it seizes upon the heart and the stag dies. Similarly, the soul touched by the poison arrow of love, as is this soul we are discussing, never stops seeking remedies for her sorrow. Yet she not only fails to find them, but everything she thinks, says, and does brings her greater sorrow. Conscious of this, and knowing she has no other remedy than to put herself in the hands of the one who wounded her, so that in relieving her he may slay her now entirely with the force of love, she turns to her Beloved, the cause of all this, and speaks to him in the following stanza:

Why, since you wounded
this heart, don't you heal it?
And why, since you stole it from me,
do you leave it so,
and fail to carry off what you have stolen?

Commentary

2. The soul, then, in this stanza, still complaining of her grief, turns once more to speak with the Beloved. For the impatient love here manifested will endure no idleness and allow no rest to the soul in its affliction, but shows its longings in every way until it discovers a remedy. Aware that she is sorely wounded and alone, without any other remedy or medicine than her Beloved, the one who wounded her, she questions him: Why didn't he heal her with the vision of his presence, since he wounded her heart with love coming from knowledge of himself? She also asks, since he stole her through the love by which he captivated her and carried her away from her own power, why he leaves her thus drawn out of her own power (for the lover does not possess her heart but has given it to the beloved) and does not truly place her heart in his own, taking it for himself in complete transformation of love in glory. She asks then:

Why, since you wounded
this heart, don't you heal it?

3. Her complaint is not that he wounded her for the more a loving soul is wounded the more its love is repaid but that in sorely wounding her heart, he did not heal her by slaying her completely. The wounds of love are so sweet and delightful that if they do not cause death they cannot satisfy. Yet they are so delightful that she would want them to wound her sorely until they slay her completely. Consequently she says: "Why, since you wounded this heart, don't you heal it?" This is equivalent to saying: Why, since you wounded this heart until it has become sorely wounded, do you not heal it by wholly slaying it with love? Since you cause the sore wound in the sickness of love, may you cause health in the death of love. As a result the heart, wounded with the sorrow of your absence, will be healed with the delight and glory of your sweet presence. And she adds:

And why, since you stole it from me,
do you leave it so,

4. To steal is to dispossess an owner of something and take possession of it oneself. This is the complaint the soul here sets before the Beloved in asking, since he has stolen her heart through love and taken it out of her power and possession, why he left it so without really taking possession of it, as the thief does, in fact, by carrying off the stolen goods.

5. Lovers are said to have their heart stolen or seized by the object of their love, for the heart will go out from self and become fixed on the loved object. Thus their heart or love is not for themselves but for what they love. Accordingly, the soul can know clearly whether or not she loves God purely. If she loves him her heart or love will not be set on herself or her own satisfaction and gain, but on pleasing God and giving him honor and glory. In the measure she loves herself, that much less she loves God.

6. Whether the heart has been truly stolen by God will be evident in either of these two signs: if it has longings for God or if it finds no satisfaction in anything but him, as the soul demonstrates here. The reason is that the heart cannot have peace and rest while not possessing, and when it is truly attracted it no longer has possession of self or of any other thing. And if it does not possess completely what it loves, it cannot help being weary, in proportion to its loss, until it possesses the loved object and is satisfied. Until this possession the soul is like an empty vessel waiting to be filled, or a hungry person craving for food, or someone sick moaning for health, or like one suspended in the air with nothing to lean on.1 Such is the truly loving heart. The soul experiencing this love exclaims: "Why do you leave it so," that is, empty, hungry, alone, sorely wounded and sick with love, suspended in the air,

and fail to carry off what you have stolen?

7. That is, Why do you fail to carry off the heart you have stolen through love; and why do you fail to fill, satisfy, accompany, and heal it, giving it complete stability and repose in you?

The loving soul, however great her conformity to the Beloved, cannot cease longing for the wages of her love, for which she serves the Beloved. Otherwise there would not be true love, for the wages of love are nothing else neither can the soul desire anything else than more love, until perfect love is reached. Love is paid only with love itself, as the prophet Job brought out when he exclaimed with the same yearning and desire the soul has: Just as the servant desires the shade, and the day laborer waits for the end of his work, so I had empty months and I counted the nights wearisome for myself. If I lie down to sleep, I shall say: When will the day come that I might arise? Then again I turn to awaiting the evening and I shall be full of sorrows till the darkness of night [Jb. 7:2-4]. The soul, then, enkindled with love of God, yearns for the fulfillment and perfection of love in order to have complete refreshment therein. As the servant, wearied by the summer heat, longs for the refreshing shade, and as the hireling awaits the end of his work, the soul awaits the end of hers.

It is noteworthy that the prophet Job did not say the hireling was awaiting the end of his labor, but the end of his work, in order to indicate what we are explaining, that is, that the soul that loves does not await the end of her labor but the end of her work. Her work is to love, and of this work, which is love, she awaits the end, which is the perfection and completeness of it. Until this work is accomplished the soul is always in the condition of the picture Job paints in this passage; she considers her days and months empty and counts her nights as long and wearisome.

We have explained how the soul that loves God must not desire or hope for any other reward for her services than the perfect love of God.
 

 
   
 
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