Salt + Light Media Home
Salt + Light Media Home

“That the lover become like the one he loves” - Advent with St. John of the Cross

Hayley Barnes

Thursday, December 14, 2023

El Greco's landscape of Toledo depicts the priory in which John was held captive, just below the old alcázar (fort) and perched on the banks of the Tajo on high cliffs. Wikimedia Commons.
St. John of the Cross, whose feast we celebrate in the middle of our cold and dark Advent season, is often looked to for what he can teach us about suffering. However, in his tremendous suffering, he managed to write so profoundly of the joy brought to us by Christ. It’s a paradox we find in the lives of many great saints.
Imprisoned during Advent in 1577, St. John began to write a beautiful poem about the depths of God’s love and the human journey towards union with Him. He recounts salvation history, and the mutual, selfless love of the Trinity. In the darkness of his own life, he sought the face of God and found that God was in fact seeking him, too. This poem, entitled Romances, is a dialogue between God the Father and God the Son, in which the Father reveals His plan to give a bride to the Son, a bride who will rejoice in His grace and fullness.
Here’s an excerpt, from a translation by Fr. Kieran Kavanaugh, OCD:
Now you see, Son, that your bride
was made in your image,
and so far as she is like you
she will suit you well;
yet she is different, in her flesh,
which your simple being does not have.
In perfect love
this law holds:
that the lover become
like the one he loves;
for the greater their likeness
the greater their delight.
Surely your bride’s delight
would greatly increase
were she to see you like her,
in her own flesh.
(The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, p. 66.)
The bride is us. We, as the Church, are the Father’s gift to His Son. But, in our own human nature, we could never be united fully to the Son - unless, of course, the Son were to become flesh and blood like us. This romance between us, the Bride, and Christ, the Bridegroom, is the story of Christmas that we are anxiously awaiting in these Advent days. This is the story of a God who takes on our suffering Himself, gives us new life, and pulls us into union with Him. It’s a deeply selfless and sacrificial love, offered to each one of us.
Isn’t this the great mystery of the Christmas season? Indeed it is the Good news of our faith. The Lord comes into our world and becomes flesh like us, which changes the nature of our relationship with Him forever. In His flesh, He takes on our suffering, uniting us more wholly to Himself. By sharing in His humanity, we can truly become His bride. We are folded into the mysterious and perfect love of the Trinity.

Love, Loss, and the Light of Christmas

This year was one of both great love and great loss for me. Most of 2023 was spent in preparation for my wedding. Amidst the busyness that comes with planning the practicalities of a wedding day, I was able to spend much of the year preparing my heart for marriage as well. I spent time in prayer, dwelling on the sacrifice that is required of us in my and my now-husband’s vocations, and reflecting on my own shortcomings and selfishness. I was reminded time and again that I need to lean on the Lord’s grace and His example of true love.
And then, mere days before my wedding, I lost my grandmother, who was very dear to me. 
The week of my wedding showed me that in this life, we can hold such great joy and such deep sorrow in tandem. At my grandmother’s funeral Mass, as I knelt in front of the perfect Love displayed in the Blessed Sacrament and beside the man I would marry just 48 hours later, I was pierced by the beauty of seeing my pain taken on by those who love me. All those months of marriage preparations could not compare to seeing Love in action right before my very eyes - the joyful anticipation of my wedding day, and painful loss of a family member mirroring so closely the joy we have on Christmas day and the pain of the Crucifixion. In moments such as these, St. John of the Cross can remind us to rest in the comfort of a Lord who shares in the full range of our human experience, and offers us a perfect union with Him.
My husband and I have quickly learned in a few short months of marriage, that between the two of us we do not have perfect love. But that’s ok- we entered this sacrament of marriage with a Bridegroom – the Son of God – who has become like us to love us perfectly, to fold us into the selfless love of the Trinity, and to teach us to be more sacrificial. When suffering comes our way, we can rest in the Good News of the Incarnation, and know we have a God who loves us enough to take on our pain.

Related Articles:


Receive our newsletters
Stay Connected
Receive our newsletters
Stay Connected
Copyright © 2024 Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation
Registered Charity # 88523 6000 RR0001