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By Michael Warren Davis, Editor of Crisis magazine, November 4, 2019
In 1577, St. John of the Cross was taken prisoner by a group of Carmelites from Toledo who were opposed to the reforms of the Order he was undertaking with St. Teresa of Ávila. For eight or nine months, he was held in a six-by-ten-foot cell. The ceiling was so low that John (not a tall man) could hardly stand up. His one tunic was constantly soaked with blood from the frequent scourgings. The food they gave him was so bad that he suspected his guards were trying to poison him; he would say an Act of Love with every bite to steel himself against calumny.
Yet it was here that he wrote the Spiritual Canticle and parts of his masterpiece, Dark Night of the Soul. He bore captivity and torture with such love, patience, and determination that the older Carmelites called him “the coward”. The younger monks—not yet poisoned by the decadence and factionalism of the 16th- century Church—wept at John’s courage in the face of suffering. “This is a saint,” they whispered among themselves. ….