"To do God's will -- this was the goal upon which the saints constantly fixed their gaze. They were fully persuaded that in this consists the entire perfection of the soul. "

St Alphonsus de Liguori

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"O Lord, my God, who will seek you with simple and pure love, and not find that you are all one can desire, for you show yourself first and go out to meet those who seek you? "

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

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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 34


Introduction

1. The gifts of friendship the Bridegroom bestows on the soul in this state are inestimable, and the praises and endearing expressions of love that frequently pass between the two are indescribable. She praises and thanks him; and he extols, praises, and thanks her, as is apparent in the Song of Songs where he tells her: Behold you are beautiful, my love, behold you are beautiful and your eyes are those of doves. And she replies: Behold you are beautiful, my Beloved, and fair [Sg. 1:14-15]. There are many other expressions of gratitude and praise they repeat to each other throughout the Song of Songs. In the preceding stanza she belittled herself, calling herself dark and ugly, and lauded him for his beauty and grace since with his regard he gave her beauty and grace. And since he customarily exalts those who humble themselves [Lk. 14:11; Mt. 23:12], he fixes his eyes on her as she requested, and in the next stanza he extols her and does not call her dark, as she called herself, but a white dove, praising her good characteristics that are like those of the dove and the turtledove. Thus he says:

Bridegroom
The small white dove
has returned to the ark with an olive branch;
and now the turtledove
has found its longed-for mate
by the green river banks.

Commentary

2. It is the Bridegroom who takes up the song here and describes the soul's purity in this state and her riches and reward for laboring and preparing herself to come to him. He also tells of her good fortune in having found her Bridegroom in this union, and of the fulfillment of her desires and of the delight and refreshment she possesses in him, now that the trials of this life and time are over. And thus he says:

The small white dove

3. He calls the soul a "white dove" because of the whiteness and purity imparted by the grace she has found in God. And he calls her "dove," because this is the name he gives her in the Song of Songs [Sg. 2:10] to denote both the simplicity and meekness of her character and her loving contemplation. For not only is the dove simple and meek, without gall, but also it has bright and loving eyes. As a result the Bridegroom in addition remarked there that she had dove's eyes to denote this property of loving contemplation by which she looks at God [Sg. 4:1]. He declares that this dove

has returned to the ark with an olive branch;

4. Here the Bridegroom compares the soul to the dove of Noah's ark, taking that flight back and forth from the ark as a figure of what has happened to the soul in this case. For the dove flew back and forth from the ark because it found no place among the waters of the flood where it could alight, until it returned with an olive branch in its beak as a sign of God's mercy in the cessation of the deluge [Gn. 8:8-11]. Similarly this soul that left the ark of God's omnipotence when he created her passed through the waters of sin and imperfection and, finding no place for her appetite to rest, flew back and forth through the air of the anxieties of love from the ark of the Creator's breast. And he did not take her in until he made the waters of all the imperfections on the land of the soul to cease, and she returned with the olive branch (which denotes her victory over all things through the clemency and mercy of God) to this happy and perfect recollection at the breast of her Beloved. She returns not only victorious over her enemies but with the reward of her merits, for both are denoted by the olive branch. Thus the small dove, the soul, not only returns to the ark of her God as clean and white as when he created her before her departure, but also carries in addition the olive branch that signifies the reward and peace obtained in her victory over self.

and now the turtledove
has found its longed-for mate
by the green river banks.

5. The Bridegroom calls the soul a "turtledove" because, in looking for her Beloved, she acted as the turtledove when it does not find the mate it longs for. To make this clear we ought to recall what they say about the turtledove: When it does not find its mate, it will not perch on the green branch or drink the cool, clear water, nor does it rest in the shade or join the company of others; but when it finds its mate, then it will enjoy all these other goods.

The soul possesses all these traits, and it is necessary for her to possess them in order to reach this union with her Bridegroom, the Son of God. For she must advance with such love and solicitude as not to set the foot of her appetite on the green branch of any delight, or drink the clear water of any worldly honor and glory, nor should she desire to taste the cool water of any temporal refreshment or comfort, or to settle in the shade of any creature's favor and protection, nor should she desire in any way to rest in anything or have the company of other affections; but she should always sigh for solitude in all things until she reaches her Bridegroom in complete satisfaction.

6. Because the soul, before reaching this high state, went about with deep love in search of her Beloved and was satisfied with nothing else than him, the Bridegroom himself describes in song the end of her fatigues and the fulfillment of her desires, saying that now the turtledove has found its longed-for mate by the green river banks. This is similar to saying: Now the bride alights on the green branch, delighting in her Beloved; now she drinks the clear water of sublime contemplation and wisdom of God, and the cool water of her refreshment and comfort in God; and she also rests in the shade of his protection and favor that she so longed for, where she is divinely and delightfully consoled, fed, and refreshed, as she happily declares in the Song of Songs: I sat down in the shade of him whom I desired, and his fruit was sweet to my palate [Sg. 2:3].
 

 
   
 
   
   
   
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