"Every man naturally desires knowledge; but what good is knowledge without fear of God? Indeed a humble rustic who serves God is better than a proud intellectual who neglects his soul to study the course of the stars."

Thomas á Kempis

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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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"If, devout soul, it is your will to please God and live a life of serenity in this world, unite yourself always and in all things to the divine will. Reflect that all the sins of your past wicked life happened because you wandered from the path of God's will. For the future, embrace God's good pleasure and say to him in every happening: "Yea, Father, for so it hath seemed good in thy sight." "

St Alphonsus de Liguori

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 St John of the Cross   (1542 - 1591)

 

THE SPIRITUAL CANTICLE (cont)

 

by St John of the Cross

 

Stanza 17


Introduction

1. For a greater understanding of the following stanza it should be pointed out that the experiences of the Beloved's absence, which the soul suffers in this state of spiritual betrothal, are very painful; some are of such a kind that no suffering is comparable to them. The reason for such affliction is that since she has a singular and intense love for God in this state, his absence is a singular and intense torment for her. Added to this torment is the disturbance that she receives at this time from any kind of converse or communication with creatures. Since she lives with that driving force of a fathomless desire for union with God, any delay whatever is very burdensome and disturbing, just as anything in the path of a stone that is racing on toward its center would cause a violent jolt in that void. Since the soul has already received the delight of these sweet visits, they are more desirable than gold and all beauty. Fearing as a result the great lack - even if momentary - of so precious a presence, she speaks in this stanza both to dryness and to the spirit of her Bridegroom:

Be still, deadening north wind;
south wind come, you that waken love,
breathe through my garden,
let its fragrance flow,
and the Beloved will feed amid the flowers.

Commentary

2. Besides what was said in the previous stanza, spiritual dryness also hampers the interior satisfaction and sweetness of which she spoke.1 Dreading this, she does two things here:

First, she impedes dryness by closing the door to it through continual prayer and devotion.

Second, she invokes the Holy Spirit; it is he who will dispel this dryness and sustain and increase her love for the Bridegroom. He also moves the soul to the interior exercise of the virtues, so that the Son of God, her Bridegroom, may rejoice and delight more in his bride. She invokes the Holy Spirit because her entire aim is to please her Bridegroom.

Be still, deadening north wind;

3. The north wind is very cold; it dries up and withers the flowers and plants, or at least makes them shrink and close when striking them. Because the spiritual dryness and affective absence of the Beloved produce this same effect in the soul by extinguishing the satisfaction, delight, and fragrance of the virtues she was enjoying, she calls it a "deadening north wind." It deadens the virtues and affective exercise, and as a result the soul pleads, "Be still, deadening north wind."

It should be understood that this plea of the soul flows from prayer and the spiritual exercises and is directed toward a detainment of the dryness. Yet since God's communications to the soul are so interior that she cannot actively move her own faculties to the enjoyment of these communications unless the Spirit of the Bridegroom causes this movement of love, she invokes him, saying:

south wind, come, you that waken love,

4. The south wind is a delightful breeze: it causes rain, makes herbs and plants germinate, opens flowers, and spreads their fragrance. Its effects are the opposite of those of the north wind. The soul, by this breeze, refers to the Holy Spirit, who awakens love. When this divine breeze strikes her, it wholly enkindles and refreshes her, quickens and awakens the will, and elevates the previously fallen appetites that were asleep to the love of God; it does so in such a way that she can easily add, "you that waken love," both his love and hers. What she asks of the Holy Spirit is expressed in this verse:

breathe through my garden,

5. This garden is the soul. As the soul above calls herself a "vineyard in flower" because the flower of her inner virtues supplies sweet-tasting wine, here she calls herself a garden because the flowers of perfections and virtues planted within her come to life and begin to grow.

It should be noted that the bride does not say "breathe into my garden" but "breathe through my garden," for there is a considerable difference between God's breathing into the soul and his breathing through the soul. To breathe into the soul is to infuse graces, gifts, and virtues. To breathe through the soul is to touch and put in motion the virtues and perfections already given, renewing and moving them in such a way that of themselves they afford the soul a wonderful fragrance and sweetness, as when you shake aromatic spices and they spread their abundant fragrance that before this was neither so strong nor so highly perceptible. The soul is not always actually experiencing and enjoying the acquired or infused virtues because, as we shall say later, they remain within her in this life like flowers enclosed in the bud or like aromatic spices whose scent is not perceived until shaken and uncovered.

6. God sometimes grants these favors to the soul, his bride. With his Spirit he breathes through her flowering garden, opens all these buds of virtues, and uncovers these aromatic spices of gifts, perfections, and riches; and, disclosing this interior treasure and wealth, he reveals all her beauty. And then it is something wonderful to behold and pleasant to feel: the richness of her gifts unveiled to the soul and the beauty of these flowers of virtues now in full bloom. And the fragrant scent each one with its own characteristics gives to her is inestimable. She calls this the flowing of the garden's fragrance when she says in the following verse:

let its fragrance flow,

7. Sometimes the fragrance is so abundant that it seems to the soul that she is clothed with delight and bathed in inestimable glory to such an extent that the experience is not only within her but overflows and becomes manifest outside her, and those capable of recognizing it are aware of her experience. It seems to them that she is in a pleasant garden filled with the delights and riches of God. And not only when these flowers are open can you see this in these holy souls, but they ordinarily bear in themselves an "I-don't- know-what" of greatness and dignity. This causes awe and respect in others because of the supernatural effect diffused in such persons from their close and familiar conversation with God. It is said of Moses in Exodus that others were unable to look on his countenance because of the honor and glory that remained with him after he conversed face to face with God [Ex. 34:29-30; 2 Cor. 3:7].

8. In this breathing through the soul, which is the Holy Spirit's visit of love, the Bridegroom, the Son of God, is himself sublimely communicated. He sends his Spirit, as he sent his Apostles [Lk. 22:8], to act as his quartermaster, to prepare his dwelling, the bride-soul, by raising her up in delight and adorning this garden, opening its flowers, uncovering the gifts, and decorating her with the tapestry of graces and riches.

And thus the bride has immense longing that the north wind be stilled and the south wind come and breathe through her garden. For then the soul gains many things together: She gains the agreeable exercise of the perfect virtues; she gains enjoyment of the Beloved in them, since by their means he communicates himself to her with more intimate love and grants her a more particular favor than before; her Beloved delights more in her through this exercise of the virtues, and this is what she most enjoys (pleasing the Beloved); and she also gains the continuation of this delight and sweetness of the virtues. This endures as long as the Bridegroom thus sustains his bride and gives her sweetness in her virtues, as she says in the Song of Songs: While the king was at his repose (in the soul), my flowering spikenard gave forth its fragrance [Sg. 1:12]. This fragrant spikenard refers to the soul herself, who from the flowers of the virtues within her gives forth the scent of sweetness to her Beloved dwelling in her in this union.

9. Hence this divine breeze of the Holy Spirit should be greatly desired. Let each soul petition that he breathe through her garden so the divine fragrance might flow. Since this is so necessary and brings such glory and good to the soul, the bride in the Song of Songs desired and asked for it in the same terms as here, saying: Arise north wind, come south wind and blow through my garden, and its fragrance and precious spices will flow [Sg. 4:16].

The soul desires this, not for her own pleasure and glory but because she knows that her Bridegroom delights in this, and it is a preparation and foretelling of the coming of the Son of God to take his delight in her. She says next:

and the Beloved will feed amid the flowers.

10. The soul applies the word "feed" to the delight the Son of God takes in her at this time. This term provides an appropriate description, since food is something that not only gives pleasure but also sustains. The Son of God finds delight in the soul in these her delights, and is sustained in her; that is, he dwells in her as in a place that pleases him, for the soul is indeed pleasing to him. This, I believe, is what he meant through what Solomon said in Proverbs: My delights are with the children of this earth [Prv. 8:31], that is, when their delight is to be with me, who am the Son of God.

It should be noted that the soul does not say the Beloved will feed on the flowers, but amid the flowers. Since the Bridegroom communicates himself to the soul by means of the adornment of these virtues, he feeds on the soul, transforming her into himself, now that she is prepared and seasoned with the flowers of virtues, gifts, and perfections; these are the seasonings with which, and among which, he feeds on her. By means of the Holy Spirit, who prepares the dwelling, these virtues delight the Son of God so that through them he may feed more on the love of the soul. This is characteristic of the Bridegroom: to unite himself with the soul amid the fragrance of these flowers.

The bride of the Song of Songs, as one who knows so well, notes this characteristic in these words: My Beloved is gone down into the garden, to the small threshing floor and the air scented with the aromatic spices, to pasture in the gardens and gather lilies [Sg. 6:2]. And again she says: I for my Beloved and my Beloved for me, who feeds among the lilies [Sg. 6:3], that is, who feeds and delights in my soul, which is his garden, amid the lilies of my virtues, perfections, and graces.


 

 
   
 
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