Walking the streets of Toledo, Spain, it’s hard not to get caught up in history. Of course, it doesn’t help that one of my favorite games to play is time travel: if you could go to any time in history (just as an observer), where and when would you like to go? For me, I’d love to go all the way back to creation to see the world brand new. It must have been stupendously beautiful and vast…the absolute quiet, broken only by wind and animals – I can’t imagine what that was like. My second choice (because the time of Christ is an “of course”) would be the time of the Reformation in Europe. God’s movement in the social, political, religious, and educational life of everyday Europe was tangibly seen. And it happened through the Reformation.
The main cause of the Protestant Reformation was the corruption and abuses of the Catholic Church. Martin Luther and John Calvin are well-known leaders of the Protestant revolution. But over in the Catholic sector, there were two people who also labored sacrificially to bring about reforms in the Catholic Church. Theresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross, the 52-year-old nun and the 25-year-old friar, spearheaded a movement “To pray with their own words and to seek to hear God’s voice,” not outside in the confessional, but interiorly, within their own hearts. This was particularly dangerous because of the protestant reformation. “Spain reacted passionately against reformers and the grim visage of the Inquisition watched over everyone who took religious life and practice earnestly. Anyone given to mental prayer, any kind of prayer other than the recitation of memorized formulas or the reading of prepared texts, or interested in any private reading of Scripture, was automatically suspected of heresy. Reformers at that time could have been linked or mistaken to be part of the Protestant Reformation and would often be opposed because they saw that the Church was becoming corrupt and wanted to change it back to living by Jesus and God and prayer.” *
It is no surprise then to learn that while Theresa became ill with uterine cancer, John, later known as St. John of the Cross, would be thrown in jail, sitting day after day listening to the brook outside his cell. I know this because I walked by it and paused to reflect on what it would be like to give your life to something with purity and passion, see some success, then have it all taken away and be thrown in jail.
When others might moan and reflect bitterly on their circumstance, John saw it as an opportunity to deepen communion and understand further the love of God. From his cell, John “testifies to a God who longs to meet us in our deepest need. Whilst rejection and imprisonment played their part in the life of this sixteenth-century Spanish friar, John’s poetry and prose reveal the beauty and power of a wondrous God. It gives us courage to believe in the possibility of change in our own lives, however unlikely or impossible this may seem.” (Back cover of The Impact of God)
I don’t know where you are today, what you’re experiencing, or what you may be up against. But I do know this: all the darkness is the backdrop for the bright light of God’s tender and powerful love. How all that works is a mystery that invites us, again and again, to enter, plumb, and discover for ourselves the beauty, wonder, and richness of God’s love.
The Impact of God…read it slowly. You’ll want to stop and ponder along the way.
Good Read #3: The Impact of God (Soundings from St. John of the Cross) by Father Iain Matthews