Thursday of the Second Week of Advent
Memorial of St. John of the Cross
Thursday, December 14, 2023
Holy Ghost Church – 8:00 Mass
Isaiah 41:13-20; Psalm 145:1 and 9, 10-11, 12-13ab; Matthew 11:11-15
Saint John of the Cross, reformer of the Carmelites along with another contemporary Carmelite and great mystic, Saint Teresa of Avila, endured many trials throughout his life, but God used those trials as a foundation for the spiritual formation he would provide to the Church through his deep mystical theology.
It could be argued that no one has captured the depths of the spiritual life lived well better than Saint John of the Cross. He did not shy away from describing, in great detail, the interior purifications a soul must endure on our journey to complete freedom.
Saint John described the necessity of these purifications when he said “How can you venture to live without fear, seeing that you must appear before God to give an account of your lightest words and thoughts?” His life gave witness to him being one who was among those who Jesus describes in today’s Gospel as being “violent” and taking the Kingdom of Heaven “by force.”
So just what does Jesus mean by this? Is he really telling us that we must be violent? In what way? From time to time, Jesus’ words are difficult to understand. Let’s take a quick look at what two holy saints have to say about this.
Saint Josemaría Escrivá explains that the “violent” are Christians who have “fortitude” and “boldness” when the environment they find themselves in is hostile to the faith. I dare say we live in just such a time. Do we have the fortitude and boldness to oppose the culture of death we find ourselves in today?
Saint Clement of Alexandria says that the Kingdom of Heaven belongs “to those who fight against themselves”. In other words, the “violent” who are taking the Kingdom of Heaven are those who vigorously fight against the enemies of their soul so as to obtain the Kingdom of Heaven.
And just what are the enemies of the soul? Traditionally, we speak of these enemies as the world, the flesh and the devil. These three enemies have caused much violence within the souls of Christians who are striving to live within God’s Kingdom.
Jesus is telling us that we must fight against these enemies with FORCE!This means that the Christian life cannot be one that is purely passive. We can’t simply smile our way into Heaven. You know, “I’m OK, you’re OK.”
NO! The enemies of our soul are real, and they are aggressive. Therefore, we must also become aggressive in the sense that we must directly take on these enemies with the fortitude and boldness of Christ.
How do we do this? We take on the enemy of the flesh by FASTING and SELF-DENIAL.
We take on the world by remaining GROUNDED in the Truth of Christ, the Truth of the Gospel, REFUSING TO CONFORM to the “wisdom” of the age.
And we take on the devil by becoming more aware of how deep is his HATRED for us and how his ONLY DESIRE is to deceive us, confuse us and mislead us in all things so as to drag us along with him into the pit of hell. We DEFEAT him by continuing to hold fast to our holy Catholic faith so as to rebuke him and reject his actions in our life.
Reflect, today, upon our call to grow in fortitude and boldness so we are able to combat those enemies that attack us within. Fear is useless in this battle. Confidence in the power and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ is the only weapon we need. Rely upon Him and do not give in to the many ways that these enemies seek to rob you of the peace of Christ.
As we honor that great saint and mystical doctor of the Church, Saint John of the Cross, ponder the profound spiritual truth—that complete union with God is an ongoing process that requires total surrender, interior purgations of the senses and spirit, mortification, and mystical annihilation.
Though these concepts are deep and entirely otherworldly, they are beautiful truths that the Church continues to uphold. Let’s ask Saint John of the Cross to inspire us to go deeper in our faith journey so that our divine union will evolve and blossom into the glorious life God desires for us.
Let him inspire us and pray for us that we will do violence to the enemies of our soul so as be counted among those who are taking the Kingdom of heaven by force.
God bless you.
Inspiration and much of the content of this homily came from My Catholic Life! I highly recommend them for their daily reflections on the Gospel readings.