This remarkable priest prayed for hours every day while carrying on an active ministry, directing hundreds of souls, leading academic institutions, going in and out of imprisonment and helping to reform of the Carmelite Order in the 16th Century. His writings are filled with beautiful poetry and solid teaching for the spiritual life. His doctrine constantly focuses on Christ Jesus, and he invites his readers to ponder Christ in everything that happens to them, in all the different experiences of prayer, even the most arid.
It is in living in solidarity with what Christ suffered for oursakes that his doctrine takes on its riches proportions. In the mystery of Christ, John of the Cross teaches that there are the most precious treasures of wisdom and knowledge of God waiting to be discovered. To see the world, those we love, and even oneself with the eyes of God: nothing in life is as precious as this kind of knowing, this vision of the whole.
This is why contemplation, beholding the mystery of Christ in our hearts, is for him the most important human activity - so essential that all other human activity finds its fullest meaning in being directed to this end. This means life should be ordered around prayer. (But how often do we approach prayer as something to fit into our busy lives instead?) No matter how much we know about Christ, there is always more beautiful and wonderful to know in Him - truths He knows we need and that he yearns to share. His mystery is inexhaustible and holds everything we need to thrive, to live life to the full.
John of the Cross is a realist about this achievement and what it costs - although it is primarily God's work, the soul must cooperate in faith even in the most difficult trials. No matter the cost, he insists, what is to be gained is worth it - for we gain the Lord himself. In the Office of Readings, the whole Church ponders his words on this point:
The soul cannot enter into these treasures, nor attain them, unless it first crosses into and enters the thicket of suffering, enduring interior and exterior labors, and unless it first recieves from God very many blessings in the intellect and in the senses, and has undergone long spiritual training ... it is quite impossible to reach the thicket of riches and wisdom of God except by first entering the thicket of much suffering, in such a way that the soul finds there consolation and desire. The soul that longs for divine wisdom chooses first, and in truth, the thicket of the cross.
Spiritual Canticle, 36-37.