NAME THAT SAINT – ST. JOHN OF THE CROSSLaurence Tiblis
NAME THAT SAINT – ST. JOHN OF THE CROSS
Which saint is credited for having started the tradition of Las Posadas?
Take a nine-day novena, mix it with a daily candlelight procession, lively music, and delicious food, and you have Las Posadas: a nine-day commemoration of Mary and Joseph’s search for a place to stay. From December 16 through 24, participants start at their parish and then walk in a candlelight procession through the neighborhood, visiting a different home each night (every household agrees to be part of the festivities). At the door of the home, those gathered sing La Cancion Para Pedir Posada, requesting a room. But the “innkeepers” respond with their sung verse: “Find somewhere else you can stay.” On the ninth day, however, the home opens its doors, welcomes Joseph and Mary, and a great celebration begins.
It’s believed that St. Ignatius of Loyola developed the first Christmas Novena, but St. John of the Cross fashioned it into a procession in 1580. Less than a decade later, the Spanish missionaries introduced it to the Americas. Since that time, it’s been woven into the fabric of the Hispanic Advent season.
Like the participants of Las Posadas, we are all on a procession. Ours is a spiritual one, and St. John of the Cross has special insights to help us arrive at our heavenly home. While many people shy away from him because of his asceticism (it’s not easy to embrace the radical self-denial he lived and taught) at its heart, his teachings are really about love: God’s love for us, our love for Him, and our love for one another.
When he was very young, St. John’s father died, and his mother was left to raise her three sons alone. Their poverty was extreme; it’s believed that malnourishment caused the death of St. John’s older brother only two years later. His mother’s work as a weaver wasn’t enough to provide shelter, clothing, or food for the family, so St. John was sent to a school for the poor, where he received an education and his basic necessities. During his youth, he was saved twice by the Blessed Mother: once when he fell into a pond and another time when he fell into a well. It’s not surprising that his deep love for Mary stayed with him throughout his life.
After graduating from the Jesuit school in Medino del Campo in Spain, he entered the Carmelite Order. As a religious priest, he synthesized an austere life with service and love for others. He continually reached out to help the poor, both materially and spiritually.
St. John of the Cross and Las Posadas give us a valuable roadmap to a more profound union with God. During this Advent season, even if you’re unable to gather in groups, you can spiritually commemorate the journey of Mary and Joseph. You can make space in your day to welcome Jesus and Mary in prayer. You can make room in your mind for unplanned situations that bring inconvenience or hardship. And, you can make a place in your heart for those in need, and share with them the gifts you’ve been blessed with. For, as St. John of the Cross tells us, “In the twilight of life, God will not judge us on our earthly possessions and human successes, but on how well we have loved.” Give God’s Love—through your actions and words—to the world for Christmas.
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