Today’s guest post is by Brandon Rappuhn, a Logos marketing copywriter.
I am the light of the world; whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.—John 8:12
Juan de Yepes y Álvarez followed Teresa Sánchez de Cepeda y Ahumada barefoot across the fields and hills of Spain. He was 25 years old when he met this pious 52-year-old woman, this incredible woman of God whose spiritual presence and purity won the respect of Catholics and Protestants everywhere between Rome and Portugal. Together they traversed the semi-arid valleys and plains, Teresa guiding Juan with her contemplative, spiritual devotion to Jesus through fasting, prayer, and teaching. Juan was perfectly suited to learn from her—he, too, sought solidarity and spent much time in spiritual reflection with God.
Juan was born in 1542 near Ávila to a poor family. His father died when he was seven, and his older brother died two years later, likely from malnourishment. His mother moved the remainder of his family to Medina, where Juan entered a school for orphans and poor children; later, he worked at a hospital and studied with the Jesuits. He was ordained a priest in 1567, only just before meeting Teresa.
Teresa was also originally from Ávila, where she was born in 1515. She, too, suffered intense grief in her life. Having lost her mother at 14, she spent much of her early life hounded by illness and by persecution from within the Church. When she saw a vision of Jesus himself, in bodily form—visible, yet invisible—she devoted her heart to God for all things, especially for her helplessness in confronting sin.
Together, as they journeyed through Spain reforming religious communes in more charismatic and devout ways, they may have shared the similar tragedies of their lives. Or perhaps they never spoke about their shared sorrows. Perhaps their walk across Spain, talking about their devotion to Jesus, was enough.
The two arrived in Valladolid in 1568. After learning much about her reforms to religious orders and her deep, spiritual insights, Juan decided to subscribe himself to her principles. That year, he founded a new monastery for friars just outside of Valladolid, which became the first among many orders to follow the teachings of the Teresa who saw Jesus. He then changed his name to Juan de la Cruz—John of the Cross.
Teresa of Jesus guided this young man in his spiritual ways into a closer relationship with Jesus. The Catholic Church now celebrates both of these tragic heroes as saints, whom we honor as they celebrate joyfully the triumph of their Savior. And just as a young Juan grew in his relationship with Jesus through Teresa, his spiritual mentor, we look to St. John of the Cross today for spiritual guidance that will lead us to walk together out of the spiritual desert and into Jesus’ light of life.
Thank you for this write-up. I am a spiritual daughter of St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila. Have read many books on them. God Speaks in the Night by Kieran K et al, and a Contemporary Challenge of St. John of the Cross by Leonard Doohan are two good ones. Also A Companion to the Dark Night by Susan Muto. Fire Within by Thomas Dubay.