"Let persons in the world sanctify themselves in their own houses, for neither the court, professions, or labour, are any hindrance to the service of God."

St Philip Neri

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"A man should keep himself down, and not busy himself in mirabilibus super se."

St Philip Neri

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

The Cure D'Ars

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 St John of the Cross   (1542 - 1591)

 

THE SPIRITUAL CANTICLE (cont)

 

by St John of the Cross

 

Stanza 32


Introduction

1. The power and the tenacity of love is great, for love captures and binds God himself.1 Happy is the loving soul, since she possesses God for her prisoner, and he is surrendered to all her desires. God is such that those who act with love and friendship toward him will make him do all they desire, but if they act otherwise there is no speaking to him or power with him, even though they go to extremes. Yet by love they bind him with one hair. Knowing this, and knowing how far beyond her merits it was that he should have favored her with such sublime love and rich tokens of virtues and gifts, she attributes all to him in this stanza:

When you looked at me
your eyes imprinted your grace in me;
for this you loved me ardently;
and thus my eyes deserved
to adore what they beheld in you.

Commentary

2. It is the property of perfect love to be unwilling to take anything for self, nor does it attribute anything to self, but all to the beloved. If we find this characteristic in base loves, how much more in love of God, where reason so strongly obliges us to this. Because, therefore, it seems in the two previous stanzas that the bride attributed something to herself (saying that she would make garlands with the Bridegroom, and weave them together with one of her hairs - a work of no small importance - and afterward announcing and glorying in the fact that her hair captivated the Beloved and her eye wounded him, in which she also takes some credit), she desires in this stanza to explain her intention and to remove the false impression that may have been received. For she is anxious and fearful lest she give herself some credit and attribute less to God than is his due and her desire. So she accredits all to him and thanks him, stating that the reason the hair of her love captivated him and the eye of her faith wounded him was that he favored her by looking at her with love. By this look of love he made her gracious and pleasing to himself. And she adds that from this grace and value she received from him, she merited his love and a value within herself enabling her to adore her Beloved in a fashion pleasing to him and to perform works worthy of his grace and love. The verse follows:

When you looked at me

3. That is, with the affection of love, because we have already pointed out that here for God to look is for him to love.2

your eyes imprinted your grace in me;

4. By the eyes of the Bridegroom she refers to God's mercy: He descends in mercy on the soul, impressing and infusing his love and grace in her, making her beautiful and lifting her so high as to make her a partaker of his very divinity [2 Pt. 1:4]. Seeing the height and dignity in which he has placed her, the soul proclaims:

for this you loved me ardently;

5. To love ardently is to love very much. It is more than loving simply; it is like loving doubly, for two reasons. In this verse the soul points to the two motives or causes of the Bridegroom's love for her. Not only did he love her in being captivated by her hair, but he loved her ardently in being wounded by her eye.

And she states in this verse that the cause of his loving her so ardently and intimately was his desire in looking at her to give her grace by which he could find his pleasure in her. Thus he gave her love, which is her hair, and he gave her faith, which is her eye, formed with his charity. She says therefore: "For this you loved me ardently." By infusing his grace in the soul, God makes it worthy and capable of his love. This verse, then, is like saying: Because you have infused your grace into me, which was a worthy token of your love, you loved me ardently, that is, you gave me more grace on this account. St. John makes the same affirmation: He gives grace for the grace he has given [Jn. 1:16], which is to give more grace. Without his grace one cannot merit his grace.

6. It should be noted for an understanding of this that just as God loves nothing outside himself, he bears no love for anything lower than the love he has for himself. He loves all things for himself; thus love becomes the purpose for which he loves. He therefore does not love things because of what they are in themselves. With God, to love the soul is to put her somehow in himself and make her his equal. Thus he loves the soul within himself, with himself, that is, with the very love by which he loves himself. This is why the soul merits the love of God in all her works insofar as she does them in God. Placed in this height, this grace, she merits God himself in every work. Consequently, she continues:

and thus my eyes deserved

7. That is, by the favor and grace the eyes of your mercy granted me, when you looked at me and made me pleasing to your eyes and worthy of your sight, my eyes deserved

to adore what they beheld in you.

8. This is like saying: My faculties, the eyes through which I can see you, my Spouse, merited this elevation that enables them to look at you. These faculties were previously fallen and lowly in the misery of their inferior operation and natural ability, for the power to look at God is, for the soul, the power to do works in the grace of God. The faculties of the adoring soul merited this because they adored in the grace of God, by which every work becomes meritorious. Illumined and elevated by his grace and favor, they adored what they saw in him, which they did not previously see because of their blindness and lowliness.

What was it, then, they beheld? They beheld in God sublime virtues, abundant sweetness, immense goodness, love, and mercy, and the numberless benefits received from him, either before or since these close ties with him were wrought. The soul's eyes now deserved to adore all this meritoriously, for they were now gracious and pleasing to the Bridegroom. Previously they did not merit to adore or behold this; they did not even deserve to reflect on some of these things about God. Great is the rudeness and the blindness of the soul without God's grace!

9. There is much to note here and much to grieve over in observing how far from the fulfillment of its obligations is the soul unillumined by the love of God. Having the obligation to know these and countless other favors, both temporal and spiritual, she has received and continues to receive from God at every step, and to adore and serve God ceaselessly with all her faculties, she fails to do so. Not only this, she does not even merit to look at and know him or even to be aware of the possibility; such is the misery of those who live, or better are dead, in sin.
 

 
   
 
   
   
   
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