I apologize - this post was intended to appear on Sunday, December 13th but was scheduled incorrectly. The feast of St. John of the Cross took place on Monday, December 14th.
St. John of the Cross lived in the sixteenth century in Spain. John’s father had been disowned by his wealthy Spanish family when he married a poor weaver rather than a woman of equal economic status.
John's father died when he was three, and his older brother, Luis died two years after that, likely because of malnutrition. John's mother eventually found work weaving which helped her to feed her family.
As a child, John was sent to a boarding school for poor and orphaned children where he was clothed, fed, and given an elementary education. At the age of 17, he found a job in a hospital and was accepted into a Jesuit college.
In 1563 he entered the Carmelite Order. Eventually he enrolled in another university, where he did so well that he was asked to teach a class and to help settle disputes.
When he met Teresa of Ávila and learned from her about the reform of the Carmelite Order, John decided to help with it. As part of this decision, he wore sandals instead of shoes and lived very simply in prayer and solitude.
John traveled to Avila at the invitation of Theresa to become her confessor and spiritual guide. While there, he had a vision of Christ and made a drawing that remains to this day called, "Christ from Above." The little drawing shows Christ on the cross, looking down on him from above. The image has been preserved for centuries.
John was caught up in a misunderstanding and imprisoned at Toledo, Spain. A cell was made for him in the monastery that was so small he could barely lie on the floor. He was fed only bread and water, and occasional scraps of salt fish. Each week he was taken into public and lashed, then returned to his cell. His only luxuries were a prayer book and an oil lamp to read it by. To pass the time he wrote poems on paper that was smuggled to him by the friar charged with guarding his cell.
During those months of darkness in that little cell, John could have become bitter, revengeful, or filled with despair. But instead, he had many beautiful experiences and encounters with God in prayer. Later he would describe these experiences in poetry.
After nine months, John managed to pry his cell door from its hinges and escape. He joined Teresa's nuns in Toledo, and spent six weeks in the hospital to recover. There he held leadership positions and wrote reflections on his experiences, which showed his deep spirit of prayer.
During the last few years of his life, John traveled and established new houses across Spain. When he became ill, he chose to go to the city of Ubeda, where no one knew him. It was there that he died.
His feast day is December 14. St. John of the Cross, pray for us.
During his time in prison, St. John of the Cross composed a poem called the Spiritual Canticle. Part of this poem goes:
“We must dig deeply in Christ. He is like a rich mine with many pockets containing treasures: however deep we dig we will never find their end or their limit. Indeed, in every pocket new seams of fresh riches are discovered on all sides.”
One way to introduce St. John of the Cross and his beautiful poetry to children is to accompany it with a few mining activities. Also talk about the treasures we can find when we “dig deeply into Christ.”
Pan for Gold
Teach your children the prayer and then have them find their own treasures by panning for “gold”. The gold in this activity are painted rocks. Mix them in a sandbox and then let your kids use traditional panning methods to separate out the “gold”. Read how to do this activity.
Make a “gem” mosaic
Purchase some inexpensive sparkly mosaic tiles. Let children arrange them and glue them onto cardboard or photo frames. Give them away as a gift to remind a friend or loved one that they are a treasure.