"God speaks to us without ceasing by his good inspirations."

The Cure D'Ars

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"The Lord has always revealed to mortals the treasures of his wisdom and his spirit, but now that the face of evil bares itself more and more, so does the Lord bare his treasures more."

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

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

St Augustine

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 St John of the Cross   (1542 - 1591)

 

THE SPIRITUAL CANTICLE (cont)

 

by St John of the Cross

 

Stanza 28


Introduction

1. Because we said that God makes use of nothing other than love, it may prove beneficial to explain the reason for this before commenting on the stanza. The reason is that all our works and all our trials, even though they be the greatest possible, are nothing in the sight of God. For through them we cannot give him anything or fulfill his only desire, which is the exaltation of the soul. Of these other things he desires nothing for himself, since he has no need of them. If anything pleases him, it is the exaltation of the soul. Since there is no way by which he can exalt her more than by making her equal to himself, he is pleased only with her love. For the property of love is to make the lover equal to the object loved.1 Since the soul in this state possesses perfect love, she is called the bride of the Son of God, which signifies equality with him. In this equality of friendship the possessions of both are held in common, as the Bridegroom himself said to his disciples: I have now called you my friends, because all that I have heard from my Father I have manifested to you [Jn. 15:15]. She then recites the stanza:

Now I occupy my soul
and all my energy in his service;
I no longer tend the herd,
nor have I any other work
now that my every act is love.

Commentary

2. Since in the last stanza the soul - or better, the bride - said she surrendered herself entirely to the Bridegroom without keeping anything back, she now tells her mode and method of accomplishing this, saying that now she occupies her soul and body, her faculties and all her ability, in nothing other than the service of her Bridegroom. And she says that on this account she no longer goes about in search of her own gain or pleasures, nor occupies herself with things and matters foreign to God; and even in dealing with God himself she has no other style or manner than the exercise of love, since she has now traded and changed all her first manner of dealing with him into love, as is now said:

Now I occupy my soul

3. By saying that she occupies her soul, she refers to her surrender to the Beloved in that union of love where now the soul and all the faculties (intellect, memory, and will) are dedicated and devoted to his service. She employs the intellect in understanding and carrying out the things that are more for his service, and the will in loving all that is pleasing to him, attaching it to him in all things, and her memory and care in what most pleases and serves him.

and all my energy in his service;

4. By all her "energy" she refers to all that pertains to the sensory part of the soul. The sensory part includes the body with all its senses and faculties, interior and exterior, and all natural ability (the four passions, the natural appetites, and other energies).

All of this, she says she occupies, as she does the rational and spiritual part referred to in the preceding verse, in the service of her Beloved. By directing the activity of the interior and exterior senses toward God, her use of the body is now conformed to his will. She also binds the four passions of the soul to him, for she does not rejoice except in God or hope in anything other than God; she fears only God and has no sorrow unless in relation to him. And likewise all her appetites and cares go out only to God.

5. All this energy is occupied in God and so directed to him that even without advertence all its parts, which we have mentioned, are inclined from their first movements to work in and for God. The intellect, will, and memory go out immediately toward God; and the affections, senses, desires, appetites, hope, joy, and all the energy from the first instant incline toward God, although, as I say, the soul may not advert to the fact that she is working for him. As a result she frequently works for God, and is occupied in him and in his affairs, without thinking or being aware that she is doing so. For her custom and habit of acting in this way causes her to lack advertence and care and even the fervent acts she used to make in beginning some work. Because this energy is now all employed in God, the soul necessarily achieves the condition described in the following verse:

I no longer tend the herd,

6. This is like saying: I no longer follow after my pleasures and appetites. For having placed them in God and given them to him, she no longer feeds them or keeps them for herself. She does not merely say she no longer tends this herd, but even more:

nor have I any other work

7. Before reaching this gift and surrender of herself and her energy to the Beloved, the soul usually has many unprofitable occupations by which she endeavors to serve her own appetite and that of others. For we can say she had as much work as she had many habitual imperfections. These habitual imperfections can be, for example, the trait or "work" of speaking about useless things, thinking about them, and also carrying them out, not making use of such actions in accord with the demands of perfection. She usually has desires to serve the appetites of others, which she does through ostentation, compliments, flattery, human respect, the effort to impress and please people by her actions, and many other useless things. In this fashion she strives to please people, employing for them all her care, desires, work, and finally energy.

She says she no longer has all this "work" because all her words, thoughts, and works are of God and are directed toward him without any of the former imperfections. Thus the verse means: I no longer go about satisfying my appetite or that of others, nor am I occupied or detained with other useless pastimes or things of the world.

now that my every act is love.

8. This is like saying that now all this work is directed to the practice of love of God, that is: All the ability of my soul and body (memory, intellect, and will, interior and exterior senses, appetites of the sensory and spiritual parts) move in love and because of love. Everything I do I do with love, and everything I suffer I suffer with the delight of love. David meant this when he said: I shall keep my strength for you [Ps. 59:10].

9. It should be known that when the soul reaches this state, all the activity of the spiritual and sensory parts (in what she does or in what she suffers and in whatever manner) always causes more love and delight in God, as we have said. Even the very exercise of prayer and communion with God, in which she was accustomed to considerations and methods, is now wholly the exercise of love.2 Hence whether her work is temporal or spiritual, this soul can always say, "Now that my every act is love."

10. Happy is the life and state, and happy the person who attains it, where everything is now the substance of love and the pleasure and delight of espousal. The bride in this state can indeed say to the divine Bridegroom those words she spoke to him out of pure love in the Song of Songs: All the new and old apples I have kept for you [Sg. 7:13], which is equivalent to saying: My Beloved, all that is rough and toilsome I desire for your sake, and all that is sweet and pleasant I desire for your sake. Yet the accommodated sense of this verse is that the soul in this state of spiritual espousal ordinarily walks in the union of love of God, which is a habitual and loving attentiveness of the will to God.
 

 
   
 
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