My Journey with St. John of the Cross – Its potential import and wisdom for my life as a servant of God
When I look at my own experiences in life, my journey through memory lane, and my frequent references to what God has done for me, especially when I struggle to achieve my goals or to decide which direction in life I should follow, I begin to realize that there are attachments that I still hang on, a baggage of my past that compels me not to let go of it, especially my wounded relationship with others. This is the darkness that evokes anxiety, something beyond my mental control, but, in the course of time it has given me some meaning that life is more than just coping, harboring grudges, or adjusting to the expectations of other people. Rather there is something that love triumphs through time and space. It blends with justice and that great love for God through my calling has become the reason for everything. Yes, I have come to terms with joys and pains, sufferings and injustices, and even whims and caprices. They are the backdrops of my struggles which at times are intense, discouraging, or run-of-the mill.
However, living with them as ‘spices of life,’ they make me stronger in a creative way; more pragmatic and focused on the essentials of discipleship. They shape me from within where my perspective in life has been illumined with wisdom and inspired by the fact that my own wounds have become God’s location of grace. Indeed, many of God’s epiphanies have been in various experiences I have had.
There are times when the dark nights of the soul are replete with the kinds of mistakes, failures, and insecurities. Whenever I experience the “dark night” in my religious life, its emptiness, its out of touch with everyday life and testimony of orthodoxy, my prayer becomes my anchor. With that so-called ‘arpeggiated phrases of sensitivity’ in terms of relationship, I have learned to embrace the tough edges of different personalities in our community and acquire some insights that make me season against surrender. Of certain parameters, I have learned the process of letting go and taking on new things in life that aim to make a difference.
While there are virtually unanimous responses to familiar patterns that run the gamut from newsy pieces of hardship, tragedy and interpersonal conflicts, to stories of joy and success, I am drawn to carry out my good disposition to follow what God seems to tell me through events in my life. From what I discover, dream about and reflect on many aspects of life, I always say ‘the glass is half full rather than half empty.’ It thus becomes the heart of the deal that inspires me, strengthens me, and provides me with a sense of direction to create a focused vision that shines light on my own struggles.
In regard to my ministry, working with immigrants, e.g., Portuguese, Italian, Hispanic, Asian, one of the difficulties I encounter is to come to terms with their behavioral idiosyncrasies and fossilized mindsets on certain things that deal with their cultural differences. This is the context where I am faced with decisions to find appropriate ways that would enable me to embody God’s love for them — his caring presence as they continue to manifest their own faith traditions.
Love is John of the Cross’s area of expertise. It is at the heart of his writings, e.g., The Dark Night, The Living Flame of God, where he presents the faculty of memory with his prayerful (contemplative) and individual recollection that links with solitude and silence. Indwelling of the Blessed Trinity is the key in his writings. The hidden interior meaning, for instance, of his poetry of the soul has an intimate mystery to be loved and the infinite mystery to be lived. It has an elevated union within the intimate depths of the spirit. Its profundity in one’s vulnerability evokes movements of darkness, e.g., suffering, pain, or difficulty over a number of issues that behoove him/her to bear it creatively. Human effort is necessary in purgation and dark night, but ‘the initiation of God in his intervention is everything for John of the Cross.’ A person cannot take refuge in a God that is disconnected from life and creation. Who we are before God as a pilgrim divulges this movement of loving our neighbor and God. This becomes John’s goal as it reflects the anthropology of relationality.
Rev Mark A Escobar, c.s.
 Kieran Kavanaugh, O.C.D. & Otilio Rodriguez, O.C.D. (Trans). The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross. (Washington, D.C.: Institute of Carmelite Studies, 1991). 633.
 Quoted from class lecture on St. John of the Cross with Dr. Colleen Griffith. November 7, 2013
Movements in my Discernment
Over the years, I have gone through a number of discernments – great and small that are associated and built in to my life. However, there are times when a major decision has to be made which probably requires a great deal of reflection and even a more intensive discernment. I refer in particular to situations when one is caught up in a major crossroads where prayer, reflection, and discernment are needed to figure out what God wants him/her to do and how he/she can go about it. It is in this case that I am drawn to put my two cents worth as I am now faced again with another challenge to discern how God’s presence in my prayer touches me in my deepest affectivity. At first, I begin with silence – listening from the silence within. Then focus on my breath like a release or inner freedom within the sacred space. I center all my energy in this great solace. My sense of reasoning (intellect) and human emotion are acknowledged as they are implied elements that go together allowing me to identify the issue that I need to decide upon.
This, however, becomes the way for me to reflect deeply on what my most important priority or goal is as a missioner. With the recent colloquy I have had with our provincial superior, I have been asked to embark on another community; a new place for a missionary assignment after my studies. There is an interior awareness that this is the kind of life I chose and the inner movement leads me to pay attention to my superior who is speaking to me at that moment. As I engage in listening, somehow anger afflicts me as I reason out, “Why always me? How about my other confreres? Some of them have hardly been moved as if they already own their positions?” My desolation makes me focus only on myself without looking at a wider perspective of our province. I complain about others. In this light, however, my inner voice struggles to ask God for enlightenment; for acceptance; and above all, for deeper finding and discovery where he really wants me to go so that I could be his instrument of love, service and commitment to people in my ministry.
My imagination brings me to different avenues, for instance, in regard to some elements of change and transition; worries and fears that are tantamount to human mobility. I begin to imagine myself working with a new confrere, making a reconnaissance of the place, smelling the food in the kitchen, touching the piano in the living room, and shaping my ministry through peoples and cultures. I come to terms with a kind of approach in leadership that I may unpack in the course of settling into a new environment, working with my other confreres as a team in the same community. I also get to blend with the potential pros and cons in sharing relationship and ministry as co-workers in God’s vineyard. By the same token, indifference allows me to keep in the game – to pay attention to what my calling entails in an authentic way. This becomes my consolation where God leads me, inspires me, and shows me where I should direct my focus, e.g., working with poor immigrants. Here I engage much time reflecting on it as I dwell on a wider perspective and the essence of being called to this kind of life – simple and focused.
Frederick Buechner once said, “To find your mission in life is to discover the intersection between your heart’s deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger.” It has crossed my mind as I plunge myself in the inner movement of discerning what to do based on the love of God – for his greater glory on earth, i.e., what God’s people in the world need and crave for their faith.
The first rule in “The Second Method of Making a Sound and Good Election” that says: “love which moves me and makes me choose such thing should descend from above, from the love of God, so that he who chooses feel first in himself . . .” It has been especially helpful to me in choosing what to focus on as regards discerning the direction of my missionary vocation or base my determination in serving people across cultures, rather than incline my will to my own preference prevails, e.g., comfort zone. When God’s love takes its prominent role in discernment, the gift of the Spirit leads me with certainty to direct my focus outside and beyond – to be people oriented who knows no border. This enables me to see the joys and sorrows of other people; “the intersection between my heart’s deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger.”
What do you notice regarding your own tendencies in this intentional discernment process?
Well, I notice that I need to take the time to reflect, e.g., to create a space for deeper prayer, to be patient in the process with the use of imagination, the gift of openness, inner freedom, and trust that God will lead me to the right path. In this case I need to let my faith shape my priorities in dialogue with other people’s needs. There are ‘signs of the times’ as well as the ‘signs of grace’ that reflect my mission in the context of service.
What do you conclude are the most integral components of any discernment process?
The journey of discernment process involves the heart and mind as ways or a medium for God to guide us through the Holy Spirit. It is also a connecting link to find where any resonance occurs. To be aligned in God’s will is to allow God to lead us by his Spirit. Then, awareness of God’s presence in our lives, along with being free in God (2 Cor. 3:17) helps us see the whole situation that we are not alone in our decision making. Hence, we need to trust him. The role of prayer is also considered as something integral and important. It is a tool for discernment with no time frame that can logically be expected. God’s time is kairos. It opens the door for God to get involved with us; to strengthen our lives which reflect deeply discerned values; and this also affords us the opportunity to seek God’s wisdom, guidance, insight, and enlightenment.
Rev. Mark Escobar, c.s.
 Quoted from Parker J. Palmer’s book. Let Your Life Speak. (San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass, Inc., 2000). 36.