Born in Spain in 1542,
John learned the importance of self-sacrificing love from his parents. His father gave up wealth, status, and comfort when
he married a weaver's daughter and was disowned by his noble family. After his father died, his mother kept the destitute
family together as they wandered homeless in search of work. These were the examples of sacrifice that John followed with
his own great love -- God.
When the family finally
found work, John still went hungry in the middle of the wealthiest city in Spain. At fourteen, John took a job caring for
hospital patients who suffered from incurable diseases and madness. It was out of this poverty and suffering, that John learned
to search for beauty and happiness not in the world, but in God.
After John joined
the Carmelite order, Saint Teresa of Avila asked him to help her reform movement. John supported her belief that the order
should return to its life of prayer. But many Carmelites felt threatened by this reform, and some members of John's own order
kidnapped him. He was locked in a cell six feet by ten feet and beaten three times a week by the monks. There was only one
tiny window high up near the ceiling. Yet in that unbearable dark, cold, and desolation, his love and faith were like fire
and light. He had nothing left but God -- and God brought John his greatest joys in that tiny cell.
After nine months,
John escaped by unscrewing the lock on his door and creeping past the guard. Taking only the mystical poetry he had written
in his cell, he climbed out a window using a rope made of stirps of blankets. With no idea where he was, he followed a dog
to civilization. He hid from pursuers in a convent infirmary where he read his poetry to the nuns. From then on his life was
devoted to sharing and explaining his experience of God's love.
His life of poverty
and persecution could have produced a bitter cynic. Instead it gave birth to a compassionate mystic , who lived by the beliefs
that "Who has ever seen people persuaded to love God by harshness?" and "Where there is no love, put love -- and you will
John left us many
books of practical advice on spiritual growth and prayer that are just as relevant today as they were then. These books include:
Ascent of Mount Carmel
Dark Night of the
Soul and A Spiritual Canticle
of the Soul and the Bridegroom Christ