St. John of the Cross was born in 1542 in central Spain. With the death of his father when he was only three years old, his mother and two brothers struggled to survive. Learning of this an uncle, who was a priest, took them in and looked after them. John was a very good student and at age 15 was admitted to the university where he pursued theology. He felt called to the priesthood and planned to become a Carmelite friar, but was uneasy with what he perceived as laxity in the order. A year before his ordination, while he was thinking of perhaps leaving the Carmelites and joining the Carthusians, he met St. Teresa of Avila. Teresa and John had a “meeting of the minds,” and Teresa convinced John to work with her for the reform of their order. While Teresa led the reform of the women Carmelites, John worked in establishing reform monasteries for men.
As you can imagine Teresa and John met many obstacles in their attempt to reform their order. “Who are these two goodie goodies to tell us how to live?” The order as a whole didn’t appreciate their efforts, and resisted them rather vigorously. At one point John’s own order abducted him from the church where he was serving, they blindfolded him, and brought him to one of their monasteries where he was placed in solitary confinement, with little light, no change of clothing, and very poor food. At regular intervals he was beaten and pressured into denying his efforts of reforming the order. You can see why they were in need of reform.
John’s cell measured 6’ x 10’, there was no heat, and there was only one tiny window high up near the ceiling. Yet in that darkness, cold, and desolation, his love and faith became his fire and light. In that tiny cell he had nothing left but God and God brought John his greatest joys. After nine months John escaped by unscrewing the lock on his door and sneaking past the guard. Taking only the poetry he had written on scraps of paper. He climbed out a window using a rope made from strips of blankets. With no idea of where he was he followed a dog who led him to a nearby town. He hid in a convent infirmary where he read his poetry to the nuns.
Eventually John and Teresa were allowed to work freely at reforming the Carmelites. John was asked if he harbored any hatred or ill will for those who had kidnapped him and beaten him. Emphatically he answered saying, “no” also adding, “Where there is no love, put love, and you will draw out love.” Adding further he said, “When God the Father didn’t find love in the human race, He put love in the human race, in the Incarnation of His son. Then, He found love; he found love in His son Jesus and in all who had become part of His body.”
This line, “Where there is no love, put love, and you will draw out love,” speaks of our Gospel today. Jesus I think is partial to images taken from the business world. He uses investment, risk, and return as a model for the spiritual life. The men who received 5 and 2 talents invested them, they were willing to risk, they put their money (talents) out into the world and in return they saw their money grow. The man who kept his (money) talent buried saw no such return, and is called wicked and lazy.
God is a giver. He exists in gift form; He is the one who gives. If we want God’s life in us to grow we must be conformed to his way of being and that means giving.
Where there is no love, put love, risk it.
Where there is no hope, put hope, risk it.
Where there is no faith, put faith, risk it.
Where there is no joy, put joy, risk it.
Where there is no life, put life, risk it.
The men with the five and two talents invested in the world, they risked, and they saw their money double. The man with one talent clung to it, he was not willing to put it out into the world and as a result it was taken away. Spiritually speaking he withered. Divine life (love, hope, faith, joy, peace, etc.) cannot be clung to, it must be given away, it must be risked on the world. Instead of filling ourselves up with all these good things we empty ourselves as soon as we receive. And in the measure we give it away it will grow within us. If we give a lot we will receive a lot. In the very act of sharing our faith, hope, love, joy, peace, etc. we find our own faith, hope, love, joy, and peace increasing and growing stronger.
Divine life is planted within us at Baptism; it’s supported by Holy Orders and Marriage, it’s nourished by the Eucharist and strengthened by Reconciliation. Within us we have this bank of Divine life, a bank to be drawn on, to plant, to invest, to put in places where there is none. St. John of the Cross put his faith, hope, and love into a community where he found very little but this act of giving/risking gave a return of riches. The divine life is no private matter it’s meant to be shared. Let us be like the first two servants putting love where there is no love, putting divine life where there is no divine life and drawing back a fortune with the Lord saying to us at the end, “Well done my good and faithful servant come share your master’s joy.”
Let us be great Saints,
Fr. Christopher J. Ankley