On this day, the church commemorates Juan (John) de Yepes Álvarez. He was born at Fontiveros in Spain on the feast day of John the Baptist, June 24, 1542. Juan’s only ambition in life was to spend his life in prayer and meditation. As a young boy, his father died, and Juan was placed in an institution for the poor. He displayed a remarkable incapacity for manual work and was returned by all to whom he was apprenticed. Eventually, Juan joined an Order of Carmelites, where he met Teresa of Avila, who had begun a reform of the Carmelite Order to restore the austere and predominately contemplative nature of the Order. The followers of these reforms wore sandals instead of shoes and so were known as “Discalced” (barefoot) Carmelites.
Juan was impressed with Teresa and these reforms, and began to encourage others to follow her reform. However, others in the Carmelite Order disliked the reform greatly, and had Juan imprisoned outside of Madrid. Juan escaped after nine months, and fled to a monastery in southern Spain. He spent his next years writing poems and guiding others in the spiritual life. St. John of the Cross is known as a supreme lyric poet and as a mystical spiritual writer. Some consider him to be the greatest Spanish poet. Salvador Dalí’s painting of the crucifixion as seen from above the cross is based on a drawing Juan made of a vision he had.
We can learn a great deal from the life of St. John of the Cross. It can be a lonely venture to call others to change, particularly if the change we are calling them to is an inconveniencing or uncomfortable one. It certainly might not make you many friends; Juan was thrown into jail for pushing his ideas of change. Another great Reformer was also persecuted for his ideas of changing the church less than 60 years before Juan. Martin Luther took the pope and the church to task for what he considered were egregious spiritual abuses, and was locked away in the castle for daring to challenge the status quo.
Whenever we question and seek to change the powers and systems that rule our world, we may make enemies, run into resistance, find ourselves in prison, or threatened with and put to death. But that is also the way of Jesus. As Christians, we are called to an alternative way of living, one that proclaims justice for the poor and oppressed, one that proclaims freedom to those in captivity, and one that proclaims life in places the world says are dead.
We are called to always be examining the ways in which our lives are or are not in line with God’s vision for the world. We are called to be reformers; always reforming.
Questions for reflection: What are some of the ways that you are living in line with God’s vision for the world? What are some aspects of your life that may need reforming? What is the greatest obstacle to change in the world? In the country? In this city? In your life? To what lengths would you go to see change in the way things are done?