"Obedience is the true holocaust which we sacrifice to God on the altar of our hearts."

St Philip Neri

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"If you wish to learn and appreciate something worth while, then love to be unknown and considered as nothing. Truly to know and despise self is the best and most perfect counsel."

Thomas á Kempis

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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)




by St John of the Cross


Stanza 4

O woods and thickets,
Planted by the hand of my Beloved!
O green meadow,
Coated, bright, with flowers,
Tell me, has he passed by you?


1. The soul has made known the manner of preparing oneself to begin this journey: to pursue delights and satisfactions no longer, and to overcome temptations and difficulties through fortitude. This is the practice of self-knowledge, the first requirement of advancing to the knowledge of God. Now, in this stanza, she begins to walk along the way of the knowledge and consideration of creatures that leads to the knowledge of her Beloved, the Creator.[1]

On this spiritual road the consideration of creatures is first in order after the exercise of self-knowledge. The soul thereby advances in the knowledge of God by considering his greatness and excellence manifested in creatures, as is brought out in that passage of St. Paul: Invisibilia enim ipsius a creatura mundi, per ea quae facta sunt intellecta conspiciuntur (The invisible things of God are known by the soul through creatures, both visible and invisible) [Rom. 1:20].

She addresses creatures, then, in this stanza, asking them about her Beloved. And it is noteworthy, as St. Augustine says, that the soul's interrogation of creatures is the reflection about the Creator that it makes through them.[2] This stanza contains a meditation on the elements and other inferior creatures, on the heavens together with the other material things in them that God created, and also on the heavenly spirits.

O woods and thickets

2. She calls the elements (earth, water, air, and fire) "woods," because like pleasant woods they are thickly populated with creatures. She labels these creatures "thickets" because of their vast number and the notable difference among them in each of the elements. On the earth there are countless varieties of animals and plants; in the water, numberless kinds of fish; and in the air, a remarkable diversity of birds; and the element fire concurs with the others for the animation and preservation of these creatures. Each kind of animal lives in its element and is placed and planted in it as in the woods and region where it is born and nurtured. Indeed, God commanded this when he created the elements. He ordered the earth to produce the plants and the animals; and the sea and water, the fish; and he made the air a habitation for birds [Gn. 1:11-12, 20-21, 24]. Seeing that as he commanded it was done, the soul says in the following verse:

planted by the hand of my Beloved!

3. This verse contains the following reflection: Only the hand of God, her Beloved, was able to create this diversity and grandeur. It is noteworthy that she deliberately says "by the hand of my Beloved." Although God often acts through the hand of another - as through those of angels and humans - he never created, nor does he carry on this work of creation by any other hand than his own. This reflection on creatures, this observing that they are things made by the very hand of God, her Beloved, strongly awakens the soul to love him. She then continues:

O green meadow,

4. This verse refers to her reflection on the heavens. She calls them a "green meadow" because the created things in them are as green growing plants that neither die nor fade with time, and in them, as in cool green meadows, the just find their recreation and delight. The diversity of the beautiful stars and other heavenly planets is also included in this meditation.

5. The Church likewise uses the word "green" to express heavenly things. In praying to God for the souls of the faithful departed, she says, speaking to them: Constituat vos Dominus inter amoena virentia, which means: May God set you in delightful green places.[3] And she says that this green meadow is also

coated, bright, with flowers,

6. By these "flowers" she understands the angels and saintly souls that adorn and beautify that place like a costly enamel on a vase of fine gold.

tell me, has he passed by you?

7. This question is the reflection mentioned above; it is similar to saying: Tell me of the excellent qualities he has created in you.

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