“St. John of the Cross is probably best known for his masterpiece on the spiritual life The Dark Night of the Soul. But it is his commentary and exposition on The Dark Night, entitled The Ascent of Mount Carmel, that is likely his most helpful work. In it, he describes three paths that souls may follow in their spiritual life. Two are wide, one is narrow. The two wide paths are labeled “the goods of heaven” and “the goods of earth.” The narrow path is labeled simply as “nothing.” Each of the paths aims to lead up the mountain to God, but only one path makes it. While the Christian knows that the goods of earth alone do not lead a soul to God, St. John of the Cross also dismisses the path of the goods of heaven. Only the path of nothingness leads us to God. And while it is a path with nothing on it, I think we can still use the benefit of a guide along the journey. And there may be no better guide than St. John of the Cross.
The goods of heaven and the goods of earth listed by St. John of the Cross compose a rather attractive list: rest, consolation, knowledge, joy, and glory. It is a collection of goods that would be hard to refuse. But, when goods other than God are sought, we are paradoxically unable to possess them. As he says, “The more I desired to possess them, the less I had.” When sought for their own sake, they lose what makes them truly good. For example, it is impossible to simply find joy. One must find it in something or someone else. In the spiritual life, when we desire not joy, but God, we end up possessing both. Or, as he puts it, “Now that I no longer desire them, I have them all without desire.”
But, the real goal remains ahead: God alone. St. John still serves as our guide. He is one who has gone through it and is showing us the way. He helps keep our gaze firmly on what is truly good and worthy of our love. But, this path of nothing is nonetheless full. It is filled with the witness, teaching, and prayers of saints. While we seek God alone, we know we are never alone: a cloud of witnesses surrounds us.
The example of numerous witnesses attests to the wisdom of St. John of the Cross. He has been a guide for such figures as St. Thérèse of Lisieux, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Holy Cross (Edith Stein), and Pope St. John Paul II. In fact, it was under the guidance of another great theologian, the Dominican master Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange, that a young Karol Wojtyla wrote a dissertation on the thought of St. John of the Cross. Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange had long been a proponent of the consistency of thought between the scholastic insights of St. Thomas Aquinas and the mystical ones of St. John of the Cross. It was with his consultation that St. John of the Cross was named a Doctor of the Church. And that “doctoral” status may be as good a reason as any to trust him as our guide.”
“To possess all, do not possess anything at all. To be all, be nothing of nothing . . .” -St John of the Cross
Summa Catechetica, "Neque enim quaero intelligere ut credam, sed credo ut intelligam." – St Anselm, "Let your religion be less of a theory, and more of a love affair." -G.K. Chesterton, "I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men and women who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, and who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it."- Bl John Henry Newman, Cong. Orat., "Encounter, not confrontation; attraction, not promotion; dialogue, not debate." -cf Pope Francis, "Without good books and spiritual reading, it will be morally impossible to save our souls." —St. Alphonsus Liguori, "God here speaks to souls through…good books“ – St Teresa of Avila, Interior Castle, "You will not see anyone who is really striving after his advancement who is not given to spiritual reading. And as to him who neglects it, the fact will soon be observed by his progress.” -St Athanasius, "To convert someone, go and take them by the hand and guide them." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP. 1 saint ruins ALL the cynicism in Hell & on Earth. “When we pray we talk to God; when we read God talks to us…All spiritual growth comes from reading and reflection.” -St Isidore of Seville, “Also in some meditations today I earnestly asked our Lord to watch over my compositions that they might do me no harm through the enmity or imprudence of any man or my own; that He would have them as His own and employ or not employ them as He should see fit. And this I believe is heard.” -GM Hopkins, SJ, "Only God knows the good that can come about by reading one good Catholic book." — St. John Bosco, "Why don't you try explaining it to them?" – cf St Peter Canisius, SJ, Doctor of the Church, Doctor of the Catechism, "Already I was coming to appreciate that often apologetics consists of offering theological eye glasses of varying prescriptions to an inquirer. Only one prescription will give him clear sight; all the others will give him at best indistinct sight. What you want him to see—some particular truth of the Faith—will remain fuzzy to him until you come across theological eye glasses that precisely compensate for his particular defect of vision." -Karl Keating, "The more perfectly we know God, the more perfectly we love Him." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP, ST, I-II,67,6 ad 3, “But always when I was without a book, my soul would at once become disturbed, and my thoughts wandered." —St. Teresa of Avila, "Let those who think I have said too little and those who think I have said too much, forgive me; and let those who think I have said just enough thank God with me." –St. Augustine, "Without good books and spiritual reading, it will be morally impossible to save our souls." —St. Alphonsus Liguori "Never read books you aren't sure about. . . even supposing that these bad books are very well written from a literary point of view. Let me ask you this: Would you drink something you knew was poisoned just because it was offered to you in a golden cup?" -St. John Bosco " To teach in order to lead others to faith is the task of every preacher and of each believer." —St. Thomas Aquinas, OP. "Prayer purifies us, reading instructs us. Both are good when both are possible. Otherwise, prayer is better than reading." –St. Isidore of Seville “The aid of spiritual books is for you a necessity.… You, who are in the midst of battle, must protect yourself with the buckler of holy thoughts drawn from good books.” -St. John Chrysostom