"God looks neither at long nor beautiful prayers, but at those that come from the heart."

The Cure D'Ars

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"Before a man chooses his confessor, he ought to think well about it, and pray about it also; but when he has once chosen, he ought not to change, except for most urgent reasons, but put the utmost confidence in his director."

St Philip Neri

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"The more you know and the better you understand, the more severely will you be judged, unless your life is also the more holy. Do not be proud, therefore, because of your learning or skill. Rather, fear because of the talent given you."

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 30


Introduction

1. Everything is a gain for the soul whose gain is God, because all the strength of her faculties is converted into a spiritual communion of exceedingly agreeable interior love with him. These interior exchanges between God and the soul bear such delicate and sublime delight that no mortal tongue can describe it or human intellect understand it. For the espoused one on the day of her espousal understands nothing else than what belongs to the festivity and delight of love and to the revealing of all her jewels and graces for the sake of pleasing and gladdening the Bridegroom. And similarly, her Bridegroom manifests to her all his wealth and excellent qualities in order to bring her consolation and happiness. In this spiritual espousal then, in which the soul truly experiences what the bride says in the Song of Songs - I for my Beloved and my Beloved for me [Sg. 6:3] - the virtues and graces of the bride as well as the grandeurs and graces of the Bridegroom, the Son of God, are brought to light. They both display these riches in order to celebrate the feast of this espousal, and they mutually communicate their goods and delights with a wine of savory love in the Holy Spirit. The soul declares this by addressing the Bridegroom in this stanza:

With flowers and emeralds
chosen on cool mornings
we shall weave garlands
flowering in your love,
and bound with one hair of mine.

Commentary

2. In this stanza the bride returns to address the Bridegroom in the communion and refreshment of love. She describes the solace and fruition the bride-soul and the Son of God possess in the wealth of the virtues and gifts of each other, and in the interchange of these treasures that they enjoy mutually in the communion of love. In speaking to him, therefore, she asserts that they will weave rich garlands of gifts and virtues, acquired and gained at a pleasant and suitable time, made beautiful and attractive in the love he bears for her, and sustained and preserved through her love for him. She calls this enjoyment of the virtues a weaving of garlands from them, for both the bride and the Bridegroom enjoy them together in their love for each other, as though these virtues were flowers twisted into garlands.

With flowers and emeralds

3. The flowers are the soul's virtues, and the emeralds are the gifts received from God. These flowers and emeralds are

chosen on cool mornings

4. This means they are acquired at the time of youth, which is life's cool morning. She points out that they are chosen because she obtained them during her youth when the vices put up more strenuous opposition and nature is more inclined and ready to lose them; also by beginning to gather the virtues at this early season, she acquired more perfect and choice ones.

She terms this time of youth "cool mornings." For just as fresh spring mornings are more pleasant than other times of day, so too the virtue of youth pleases God more. And these cool mornings can even refer to the acts of love by which the virtues are acquired. These acts of love give more pleasure to God than do cool mornings to the children of the earth.

5. The cool mornings also bear reference to works done in difficulty and dryness of spirit. God highly esteems these works denoted by the chill of the winter mornings and done for him in aridity and hardship, for by such means the virtues and gifts are acquired in a high degree. Those acquired through this labor are for the most part more select, refined, and stable than if they were obtained with spiritual relish and enjoyment, for virtue takes root in dryness, difficulty, and labor, as God says to St. Paul: Virtue is made perfect in weakness [2 Cor. 12:9]. To stress, then, the excellence of the virtues from which garlands for the Beloved are woven, the words "chosen on cool mornings" are very apt, because the Beloved rejoices only in these flowers and emeralds of select and perfect virtues and gifts, and not in imperfect ones. As a result the bride declares here that with them

we shall weave garlands

6. To understand this verse it should be known that all the virtues and gifts the soul (and God within her) acquires are like a garland of various flowers within her with which she is wonderfully adorned, as though in a robe of rich variety. For a better understanding it should be noted that while gathering material flowers one weaves them into the garland being made at the same time, so too while one acquires the spiritual flowers of virtues and gifts, they are at the same time fixed firmly in the soul. And when these spiritual flowers are wholly obtained, the garland of perfection in the soul is complete. Both the soul and the Bridegroom rejoice in the beauty and adornment of this garland, as is proper to the state of perfection.

These are the garlands she declares they must weave, that is, she must be girded, surrounded with an assortment of flowers and emeralds that are perfect virtues and gifts, so that, wearing this beautiful and costly adornment, she may appear worthily before the King and deserve that he make her his equal and place her at his side like a queen; this she merits through the beauty of such variety. Hence David speaks to Christ on this subject: Astitit regina a dextris tuis in vestitu deaurato, circumdata varietate (The queen stood at your right hand, clothed in a garment of gold, surrounded with variety) [Ps. 45:9]. This would be similar to saying: She stood at your right, clothed in perfect love and surrounded with a variety of perfect gifts and virtues.

And she does not say I alone shall weave the garlands, or you alone will, but we shall weave them together. The soul cannot practice or acquire the virtues without the help of God, nor does God effect them alone in the soul without her help. Although it is true that every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, having come down from the Father of lights, as St. James says [Jas. 1:17], yet this gift is not received without the ability and help of the soul receiving it. So the bride in the Song of Songs said to the bridegroom: Draw me; we shall run after you [Sg. 1:4]. The movement toward good, therefore, comes only from God, as is declared here. But she does not state that he alone or she alone runs, but that we shall both run, which means that God and the soul work together.

7. This verse most appropriately refers to the Church and Christ, for in it the Church, the Bride of Christ, addresses him, saying: Let us weave garlands (understanding by garlands, all the holy souls engendered by Christ in the Church). Each holy soul is like a garland adorned with the flowers of virtues and gifts, and all of them together form a garland for the head of Christ, the Bridegroom.

The lovely garlands can refer as well to what we call aureoles; these are also woven by Christ and the Church and are of three kinds:

The first kind is made from the beautiful white flowers of all the virgins. Each virgin possesses her own aureole of virginity, and all these aureoles together will be joined into one and placed on the head of Christ, the Bridegroom.

The second aureole contains the resplendent flowers of the holy doctors. All these aureoles will be entwined into one and set upon the head of Christ over that of the virgins.

The third is fashioned from the crimson carnations of the martyrs. Each martyr has the aureole of martyrdom, and all these red aureoles woven together will add the final touch to the aureole of Christ, the Bridegroom.

So beautiful and fair will Christ the Bridegroom be with these three garlands that the bride's words in the Song of Songs will be repeated in heaven: Go forth, daughters of Zion, and behold king Solomon in the crown with which his mother crowned him on the day of his espousal and on the day of the joy of his heart [Sg. 3:11]. We shall weave these garlands, she says:

flowering in your love,

8. The flower of these works and virtues is the grace and power they possess from the love of God. Without love these works will not only fail to flower but will all wither and become valueless in God's sight, even though they may be perfect from a human standpoint. Yet because God bestows his grace and love, they are works that have blossomed in his love.

and bound with one hair of mine.

9. This hair is her will and the love she has for the Beloved. This love assumes the task of the thread in a garland. As the thread binds the flowers together, so love fastens and sustains the virtues in the soul. In St. Paul's words: Charity is the bond of perfection [Col. 3:14]. The supernatural virtues and gifts are so necessarily tied together in this soul's love that if the love should break, by an offense against God, the virtues would immediately become loose and fall away, just as the flowers would fall away if the thread of the garland were broken. Consequently it is insufficient that God love us and thereby give us virtues, for we must also love him in order to receive and preserve them.

She says they were held with only one hair, not with many, in order to point out that now her will is alone, detached from all other strands of hair, that is, from all extraneous loves. She clearly stresses here the value of these garlands of virtues, for when love is fixed solely and firmly in God, as she says, the virtues are also perfect, complete, and full-flowering in the love of God. Then God's love for the soul is inestimable, as she also experiences.

10. Even if I wanted to, I could not find words to express the beauty arising from the interweaving of these flowers of virtues and these emeralds, nor could I describe the strength and majesty their order and arrangement give to the soul or the loveliness and charm in which this garment of variety clothes her.

In the Book of Job, God declares that the devil's body is like shields of molten metal protected with scales closely knit and so joined that air cannot pass through [Jb. 41:6-7]. If the devil, since he is clothed with evils (the scales) that are bound and ordained one to the other, is so strong that his body is comparable to a shield of molten metal, and since all evils in themselves are weakness, how tremendous will be the might of this soul that is all clothed with strong virtues and has them so fastened and interwoven that no ugliness or imperfection can get between them! By its strength every virtue adds strength to the soul, by its beauty it adds beauty, by its value it enriches her, and by its majesty it imparts power and grandeur to her. How marvelous, then, to the spiritual eye will this bride-soul appear, at the right hand of the King, her Bridegroom, in the charm of these gifts. How beautiful are your steps in sandals, O prince's daughter, exclaims the bridegroom in the Song of Songs [Sg. 7:1]. He calls her "prince's daughter" to denote her royal inheritance. And if he calls her beautiful because of her sandals, what will be the beauty afforded her by her garment!

11. Not only does her beauty in this robe of flowers stir one's admiration, but the strength she possesses from the orderly arrangement of these flowers interspersed with both emeralds and innumerable divine gifts fills one with terror. On this account the groom declares of her in the Song of Songs: You are terrible, like an army in array [Sg. 6:4]. As these virtues and gifts of God give refreshment by their spiritual fragrance, so too, when they are joined together in the soul, they impart strength by their substance. As a result the bride in the Song of Songs, when she was weak and love-sick over not having attained the union and interweaving of these flowers and emeralds by means of the hair of love, desired to be strengthened by this union and joining of them, and asked for this, saying: Strengthen me with flowers, surround me with apples, because I languish with love [Sg. 2:5]. By "flowers" she means the virtues, and by "apples," the remaining gifts.
 

 
   
 
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