Spiritual Poverty, The Message of John of the Cross,
Ernest Larkin, O.Carm.
Father Ernest Larkin, was a well known
spiritual writer and professor of Carmelite Spirituality.
He died in 2006 after more than sixty-six years in Carmel. Carmel in the World has previously
published several articles from the vast corpus of writings and publications he left and has
received much favorable notice by its readers for making Father Ernests writings available to
contemporary Carmelite audiences. This is a wonderful message on Saint John of the Cross.
Blessed are the poor in spirit. After nearly 2000 years, we
still trip and stumble over
Jesus first beatitude. St. John of the Cross did not. Spiritual poverty was the
cornerstone of his spirituality. What he wrote for the 16th century remains a timely
message for the twentieth.
Saint John of the Cross (1542-1591) is a
saint on a pedestal for most Catholics. They may
look for guidance to Teresa of Avila but they shy away from John. He either scares them or
otherwise puts them off with his intransigent, absolute demands. Some few have made the
discovery of the compassionate saint beneath the harsh surface of his writings. They no longer
look at him in terms of austerity and penance. They have found that he is single-minded and
unswerving in his search for God. But the choices he proposes are based on love, not heroic
asceticism. John is first and last a lover, and he would share the secrets of his own love life with
To those with only hearsay knowledge he is
an angel, perhaps the avenging angel of
divine prerogatives. But even in the yet to be demythologized hagiography that continues to be
the source for our knowledge of Johns life, we find a Pied Piper of a gentle confessor, who
exerts a mysterious attraction for weak sinners wherever he goes. He is the dutiful son of a
poverty-stricken but much loved mother, the widow Catalina, who turns up as part of the
monastery family wherever John is assigned. This man, whose first precaution is that you
should have an equal love for and an equal forgetfulness of all persons, whether relatives or not,
and withdraw your heart from relatives as much as from others, admits that his brother
Francesco is his closest friend, one whom he loved, more than anyone else in this life. As local
religious superior, he frequently takes over the care of the sick himself and moves into the
kitchen to prepare tasty morsels even against the dietary restrictions of his Orders Rule. Well
should he be sympathetic to suffering, whether physical or moral wherever he found it. Born in
economic insecurity, losing his father in infancy, and growing up in poverty, he had spent long
years in contact with human suffering. His last experience before entering the Carmelites in
Medina del Campo at the age of 20 was orderly work in the local hospital for contagious and
venereal diseases. John of the Cross learned by experience that life is tough. God is not to be
trifled with, and progress in the love relationship depended on fixing ones eyes on Him and
making choices in His favor. It is Johns honesty rather than his austerity that should frighten us.
John speaks forthrightly but warmly and
compassionately. This is especially true of his
letters which contain the same lessons as his commentaries. As for his poems there is only
intense passion and nothing of the didactic preaching. At one place in his commentary, The
Living Flame of Love, in the middle of a profound exposition of exalted mystical experience, he
launches into a long digression on beginnings, which, he admits, do not pertain to our subject.
But it is the compassion and grief that comes to my heart in seeing souls fall back that grips his
soul and moves him to the harsh words about ignorant spiritual directors (Living Flame 3, 27).
.In the next 15 pages John belabors the
point on the one thing necessary for spiritual
growth, the disposition of being free and transparent and poor in spirit in order to receive the
gentle anointings of the Lord. The passage addresses beginners on the threshold of
contemplation and develops the centerpiece of Johns doctrine on the way to the summit
namely, spiritual poverty. These fifteen pages are a beautiful, self-contained treatise and one well
worth study by spiritual directors. In this article I would like to contextualize the brief excursion
on spiritual poverty and develop as succinctly as possible the broad lines of Johns synthesis of
spirituality. This article is an overview and not a specific guide to his writings. It is presented
with the conviction that to know where John is coming from and where he is going is an
immense hermeneutical help for reading his works and catching his fire.
Johns four extended
prose works, all of them commentaries on poems, are how
books, though not how to treatises. There is a difference. He provides the skeleton but not the
tissue and small bones of a spiritual life. He sees through and beyond the phenomena of daily life
to the ultimates deep within. Johns only concern is the fundamental option. He does illustrate
that basic option with multiple examples and on different levels. But to think he is laying down a
complete program of ascetical and mystical disciplines, covering all the angles of a Christian life,
is to mistake his purpose. He is giving basic orientations, not checks and balances. John is the
exuberant poet whose life goal was estarse amando al Amado, to be loving the Beloved. (The
Sum of Perfection) This ultimate, over-arching goal dictates a very simple life stance, but it does
not work out the details of human living. The exuberance of John-the-poet is reined in by the
plodding distinctions and elaborations of John-the-scholastic-theologian of the commentaries. He
lived in exuberant times among exuberant people. His truth is revealed in the poetry. The
commentaries, at least the two expositions on the way up the mountain, The Ascent of Mount
Carmel and The Dark Night, actually moderate that intensity; they establish rational foundations.
Both works submit life to sweet reason rather than let it suffer the hazards of excessive zeal. The
problem in contemporary spirituality is perhaps the reverse, viz., to light the fire rather than
control it. For this reason Johns poetry probably serves as a better introduction to Johns
teaching today. It must be noted, however, that The Spiritual Canticle and The Living Flame, his
other two prose works, are themselves mystical treatises, full of fervor and passion. What is
implicit in the poetry and often explicit in the commentaries is Johns simple view of reality as
either-or. For him there are two ultimates in spirituality, the void and divine union. These
elements are called the Nothing and the Everything, Nada y Todo. Actually the pair
denominates one ultimate in spirituality, which is God Himself. He is the beginning, the ground,
and the end of life. But the two names denote the double aspect of transformation into God. On
the one hand everything not of God or in God or for God needs to be voided, denied, and
mortified, i.e., killed. The goal is God Himself who is nothing of that previous existence. On the
other hand this transcendent Reality who is the supreme object of human existence is everything
that a fragmented creation expresses. When He is possessed, all creation sings of that infinite
beauty which belongs to Him. Thus God is the Nothing and the Everything of the spiritual
The anthropology behind John of the Cross
teaching may help to appreciate this
reductionism. For him there are two levels of life, the sensible and the spiritual. The sense level
describes human experience from the outside in and includes not only the action of the exterior
and interior senses, but all the lower operations of the spiritual level as well, such as our ordinary
thinking and willing. These are the natural functions of the human composite, as the scholastics
The higher operations of the spiritual level
move from the inside out. This is the level of
contemplation and mysticism. God is active in the lower, natural functions, but in a way
accommodated to the limitations of human functioning. On the level of pure spirit the person is
only receptive to divine grace. At this level the soul is open to receive God Himself and to enter
into a supernatural union with Him. It is the level of pure potential, the scholastic obediential
potency. Grace is at work in the lower operations and there is union with God; but any union
from the outside in is human and limited. The higher spiritual union comes by gift alone. God
himself actuates the persons deepest spirit, the substance of his soul. This is the divine union
to which all of Johns teaching leads.
The poem, The Living Flame seizes the
mystery of the deepest reality of the human
personality under the image of the deep caverns of feeling. These caverns are the void, the
substance of the soul, pure spirit. They are like a yawning canyon within us that aches for the
presence of God. Imagine the ache of an immense canyon. God alone can fill this space. But
the cost is considerable. The average person has neutralized the pull of these inner depths by
smothering the desire for God with ersatz substitutions, with goods and actions that distract and
sedate the restlessness within. These are the familiar attachments of the spiritual tradition. One
must be freed up from these enslavements by an affective freedom in their regard. One does not
necessarily give the things up, but one must be free to use or leave them in accordance with
whether or not they are from God, in God, and for God. The fear and anxiety, however, of
separating ones self from the defense systems of ones life is very great. Ones gratifications and
controls render a person secure and safe. Why? Because they beguile us from our own mortality.
The pain, in other words, of facing the void that is our utter emptiness and dependence on God
propels most people into self-defensive patterns of settling for the less instead of the more. John
would lead us out of this prison. He would guide us to the gift of God in Christ Jesus, which
alone satisfies the deep caverns of feeling. One can see here the obvious solution to the problem
described magisterially in Ernest Beckers The Denial of Death.
The goal, then, is life in God, the fullness
of the divine self-communication announced in
Scripture as life in Christ Jesus and developed in theology over the centuries, notably in our time
in the magnificent God-centered theology of Karl Rahner. John fixes his eyes on this goal and
allows no deviation, no compromise, no watering down, no pragmatic bartering away of the
divine in favor of divided spoils. In this he is profoundly biblical and asks no more of his
followers than do the prophets of the old covenant or Jesus in the gospel. God is over all and
above all and He alone demands our absolute allegiance. Put in this way, the divine demands are
intelligible. They are the cost of being children of God. But so exalted a goal means absolute
renunciation. The transcendent character of the kingdom of God is at issue. John does not let us
forget this. He describes in great detail how all our desires must be rooted in this divine
orientation. This means that our wants and needs must shed their limited finiteness and be rooted
in the infinity of God. Any desire outside God is too small. All desires must take on the
unconditional character of Desire itself. We need to let ourselves be swept up in that Desire. It is
the life of God spread into the universe. It is God possessed in Himself and only secondarily in
the concrete realities of human life. God alone is the worthy object of human striving and that
means that every human desire must be reoriented into the divine pattern or else it must be
rejected. Ultimately the only way it can be fully reoriented into God is to have our life proceed
from the inside out. We only possess God to the extent that we come at the world from the
presence of God and do not go to Him with our own non-negotiable game plan.
To accept this challenge is to enter the
dark night. This is the beginning of true
spirituality. It means to put God first in ones life and to honor nothing that leaves him aside.
John is even more categoric. The first task, he says, is to fix our eyes on Jesus and the second,
which is like a condition for the first, is to free our heart in order to see only Jesus. These two
rules are set down as practical directives in the famous chapter 13 of Book 1 of The Ascent of
Mount Carmel. The simplicity of this double principle is based on the Sanjuanist perspective.
The two operative principles are the void and divine union. Nothing is said about the many other
elements that go into the formation of a spiritual program. Relatively little is said explicitly about
the role of Christ, the Scriptures, the Church, the Sacraments; there is no consideration given
directly to the physical and psychological development of the person. John hardly mentions the
fate of the less-than-ultimate in ones life, for example, ones cultural and professional
development, ones participation in community and ministry, the values of secularity in all its
ramifications. For John the penultimate values will take care of themselves if they are rooted in
the one ultimate source. John does not busy himself with problems on this secondary level, on
the self-deceptions and deviations, for example, that might be perpetrated in the name of the
Nothing or the All. Visible creation for him is the symbol of the invisible Reality; it flows
out from God, not vice versa. The source is within, never without, so that the visible leads to the
invisible only if, and as, it originates there in the first place. In all of this John of the Cross is no
different from the prophets of God from Jeremiah to Jesus, who are caught up with divine
It is obvious that John of the Cross teaches a spirituality of contemplation. Very early on
in this system God meets the struggler with the divine unctions, with the contemplative graces
that make divine union possible. For this reason John has no extended direction for the
uninitiated, for real beginners in the spiritual journey. The work of socialization in the spiritual
life is presupposed. The divine encounter of contemplation takes place soon after one begins to
follow Johns program. It may occur in crisis fashion and we have the experience of the dark
night, really and properly called the passive dark night of the senses, in which the person is
disoriented by the impact of beginning contemplation. The person loses the ability to use the old
natural methods of functioning at prayer and the new way of Gods breaking into
consciousness from within is still too weak to be self- validating. Johns teaching is clear. The
new way is to be prized and fostered in prayer; one is to practice simple, loving attention, such as
is promoted today in the schools of centering prayer. In ones normal daily activities one
continues to function in the usual manner. But in prayer the efforts of much activity give way to
simple receptivity, in a relaxed though alert state, and even this loving attention is disregarded if
God takes hold of the person in an experience of divine absorption. These are the initial stages of
the contemplative way. Until divine union is reached when the person lives habitually under the
divine influence, there will be undulating patterns of darkness and light, anxiety and serenity, as
the persons make their way into the fullness. Everything is grace; all depends on the divine in-
breaking. But from the human point of view the determinant is spiritual poverty. As the person
becomes more free, detached, and hence spiritually poor, as one comes more in touch with the
emptiness and void within, the pain of separation from the Ground of our being becomes more
intense, the darkness more profound. One must know by experience ones own emptiness before
he/she can accept and own it and not be destroyed in the process. This is the way of the cross.
.Only the way of the cross, the example of
Jesus on Calvary gives us an inkling about the mystery
of darkness and light, of sin and grace, of the death that leads to life. John of the Cross helps us
understand the central mystery of our faith, the Paschal Mystery of dying and rising with Jesus.
John of the Cross writes for those who
really love God but who also still love the things
of this transitory world. His goal is to describe the process whereby the love of God is purified,
i.e. whereby all other loves are integrated into the unconditional love for God. This state is called
divine union or spiritual marriage. The way is up the slopes of Mount Carmel, the Mount of
Perfection, which is a pencil sketch from Johns own hand which delineates the cancellation of
our worldly or heavenly desires that do not flow out of God. There are six such nothings
described in the picture, corresponding to six limited desires for temporal or spiritual goods.
These errant loves are going nowhere. They need to be redeemed by incorporating them into the
only one legitimate thrust in life, the Desire for God. In that context they can be repossessed.
Johns concern is about the ultimate questions of life, the no to anything less than God and the
full yes to God. On analysis this means losing our identity in God, not in a metaphysical sense
but affectively. God himself is the Nada and the Todo. He is no-thing (Nada), because he is
beyond everything; He is everything (Todo), because all reality expresses Him. On our side our
no becomes utter spiritual poverty. It is our way to experience our true self. Spiritual poverty
means dwelling in the caverns of deep feeling. To experience that void is so threatening that
we spend our lives protecting ourselves against it. But our hearts are restless until they go down
into the depths, until they get in touch with this void. Then indeed the restlessness will cease,
because our hearts will rest in God.
.Sermons of St. Peter Chrysologus
Love desires to see God
When God saw the world falling to ruin because of fear, he immediately acted to call it back to himself with love. He invited it by his grace, preserved it by his love, and embraced it with compassion. When the earth had become hardened in evil, God sent the flood both to punish and to release it. He called Noah to be the father of a new era, urged him with kind words, and showed that he trusted him; he gave him fatherly instruction about the present calamity, and through his grace consoled him with hope for the future. But God did not merely issue commands; rather with Noah sharing the work, he filled the ark with the future seed of the whole world. The sense of loving fellowship thus engendered removed servile fear, and a mutual love could continue to preserve what shared labor had effected.
God called Abraham out of the heathen world, symbolically lengthened his name, and made him the father of all believers. God walked with him on his journeys, protected him in foreign lands, enriched him with earthly possessions, and honored him with victories. He made a covenant with him, saved him from harm, accepted his hospitality, and astonished him by giving him the offspring he had despaired of. Favored with so many graces and drawn by such great sweetness of divine love, Abraham was to learn to love God rather that fear him, and love rather than fear was to inspire his worship.
God comforted Jacob by a dream during his flight, roused him to combat upon his return, and encircled him with a wrestler's embrace to teach him not to be afraid of the author of the conflict, but to love him. God called Moses as a father would, and with fatherly affection invited him to become the liberator of his people.
In all the events we have recalled, the flame of divine love enkindled human hearts and its intoxication overflowed into men's senses. Wounded by love, they longed to look upon God with their bodily eyes. Yet how could our narrow human vision apprehend God, whom the whole world cannot contain? But the law of love is not concerned with what will be, what ought to be, what can be. Love does not reflect; it is unreasonable and knows no moderation. Love refuses to be consoled when its goal proves impossible, despises all hindrances to the attainment of its object. Love destroys the lover if he cannot obtain what he loves; love follows its own promptings, and does not think of right and wrong. Love inflames desire which impels it toward things that are forbidden. But why continue?
It is intolerable for love not to see the object of its longing. That is why whatever reward they merited was nothing to the saints if they could not see the Lord. A love that desires to see God may not have reasonableness on its side, but it is the evidence of filial love. It gave Moses the temerity to say: If I have found
Blessed are the peacemakers
Blessed are the peacemakers, the evangelist said, dearest brethren, for they shall be called the sons of God. Truly Christian virtues grow in a man who enjoys the unchangeable possession of Christian peace, nor does one come to the title of son of God except through that of peacemaker.
Peace, dearest brethren, rescues man from servitude , provides him with the name of a free man, changes his identity before God together with his condition, from a servant to a son, and from a slave to a free man. Peace among brethren is the will of God, the joy of Christ, the completion of holiness, the rule of justice, the teacher of truth, the guardian of morals and a praiseworthy discipline in every regard. Peace lends strength to our prayers; it is the way our petitions can reach God easily and be credited; it is the plentitude which fulfills our desires. Peace is the mother of love, the bond of concord and the manifest sigh of a pure soul, one which seeks to please God, which seeks to be fulfilled and has its desire rewarded. Peace must be preserved according to the Lord's precepts, as Christ said: I leave you peace, my peace I give you, that is, as I left you in peace, in peace shall I find you. As Christ left the world, he wished to leave the gift he wanted to find when he returned.
We have a commandment from heaven to retain his gift; his one word is: "I shall find what I left." God's is the planting of peace in the root, but the uprooting is from the enemy; for, just as brotherly love comes from God, so hatred comes from the devil; therefore, we must condemn our hatred of men, for it is written: He who hates his brother is a murderer.
Now you see, dearest brethren, why we should love peace and cultivate harmony: because they beet and nurture love. But you know also from the apostle John that, Love comes from God, and that whoever is not with God does not possess love.
Let us therefore, my brethren, keep the commandments, which are life for us; let us carry on together the obligations of our brotherhood in profound peace; let us bind one another with the ties of salvific charity in this mutual love which covers a multitude of sins. Love ought to be embraced with the grasp of all our desires, since the goods it provides amount to as many rewards. We just keep peace before all other virtues, since God is always in peace.
Love peace, and all the world will be tranquil and quiet. By doing so you store up rewards for me, and joy for yourselves, that the Church of God may be founded on the bond of peace and may cling to perfect observance in Christ.
Each one of us is called to be both a sacrifice to God and his priest
I appeal to you by the mercy of God. This appeal is made by Paul, or rather, it is made by God through Paul, because of God's desire to be loved rather than feared, to be a father rather than a Lord. God appeals to us in his mercy to avoid having to punish us in his severity.
Listen to the Lord's appeal: In me, I want you to see your own body, your members, your heart, your bones, your blood. You may fear what is divine, but why not love what is human? You may run away from me as the Lord, but why not run to me as your father? Perhaps you are filled with shame for causing my bitter passion. Do not be afraid. This cross inflicts a mortal injury, not on me, but on death. These nails no longer pain me, but only deepen your love for me. I do not cry out because of these wounds, but through them I draw you into my heart. My body was stretched on the cross as a symbol, not of how much I suffered, but of my all-embracing love. I count it no loss to shed my blood: it is the price I have paid for your ransom. Come, then, return to me and learn to know me as your father, who repays good for evil, love for injury, and boundless charity for piercing wounds.
Listen now to what the Apostle urges us to do. I appeal to you, he says, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice. By this exhortation of his, Paul has raised all men to priestly status.
How marvelous is the priesthood of the Christian, for he is both the victim that is offered on his own behalf, and the priest who makes the offering. He does not need to go beyond himself to seek what he is to immolate to God: with himself and in himself he brings the sacrifice he is to offer God for himself. The victim remains and the priest remains, always one and the same. Immolated, the victim still lives: the priest who immolates cannot kill. Truly it is an amazing sacrifice in which a body is offered without being slain and blood is offered with being shed.
The Apostle says: I appeal to you by the mercy of God to present your bodies as a living sacrifice. Brethren, this sacrifices follows the pattern of Christ's sacrifice by which he gave his body as a living immolation for the life of the world. He really made his body a living sacrifice, because, though slain, he continues to live. In such a victim death receives its ransom, but the victim remains alive. Death itself suffers the punishment. This is why death for the martyrs is actually a birth, and their end a beginning. Their execution is the door to life, and those who were thought to have been blotted out from the earth shine brilliantly in heaven.
Paul says: I appeal to you by the mercy of God to present your bodies as a sacrifice, living and holy. The prophet said the same thing: Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but you have prepared a body for me. Each of us is called to be both a sacrifice to God and his priest. Do not forfeit what divine authority confers on you. Put on the garment of holiness, gird yourself with the belt of chastity. Let Christ be your helmet, let the cross on your forehead be your unfailing protection. Your breastplate should be the knowledge of God that he himself has given you. Keep burning continually the sweet-smelling incense of prayer. Take up the sword of the Spirit. Let your heart be an altar. Then, with full confidence in God, present your body for sacrifice. God desires not death, but faith; God thirsts not for blood, but for self-surrender; God is appeased not by slaughter, but by the offering of your free will.
Prayer knocks, fasting obtains, mercy receives
There are three things, my brethren, by which faith stands firm, devotion remains constant, and virtue endures. They are prayer, fasting and mercy. Prayer knocks at the door, fasting obtains, mercy receives. Prayer, mercy and fasting: these three are one, and they give life to each other.
Fasting is the soul of prayer, mercy is the lifeblood of fasting. Let no one try to separate them; they cannot be separated. If you have only one of them or not all together, you have nothing. So if you pray, fast; if you fast, show mercy; if you want your petition to be heard, hear the petition of others. If you do not close your ear to others you open God's ear to yourself.
When you fast, see the fasting of others. If you want God to know that you are hungry, know that another is hungry. If you hope for mercy, show mercy. If you look for kindness, show kindness. If you want to receive, give. If you ask for yourself what you deny to others, your asking is a mockery.
Let this be the pattern for all men when they practice mercy: show mercy to others in the same way, with the same generosity, with the same promptness, as you want others to show mercy to you.
Therefore, let prayer, mercy and fasting be one single plea to God on our behalf, one speech in our defense, a threefold united prayer in our favor.
Let us use fasting to make up for what we have lost by despising others. Let us offer our souls in sacrifice by means of fasting. There is nothing more pleasing that we can offer to God, as the psalmist said in prophecy: A sacrifice to God is a broken spirit; God does not despise a bruised and humbled heart.
Offer your soul to God, make him an oblation of your fasting, so that your soul may be a pure offering, a holy sacrifice, a living victim, remaining your own and at the same time made over to God. Whoever fails to give this to God will not be excused, for if you are to give him yourself you are never without the means of giving.
To make these acceptable, mercy must be added. Fasting bears no fruit unless it is watered by mercy. Fasting bears no fruit unless it is watered by mercy. Fasting dries up when mercy dries up. Mercy is to fasting as rain is to the earth. However much you may cultivate your heart, clear the soil of your nature, root out vices, sow virtues, if you do not release the springs of mercy, your fasting will bear no fruit.
When you fast, if your mercy is thin your harvest will be thin; when you fast, what you pour out in mercy overflows into your barn. Therefore, do not lose by saving, but gather in by scattering. Give to the poor, and you give to yourself. You will not be allowed to keep what you have refused to give to others.
In choosing to be born for us, God chose to be known by us
In the mystery of our Lord's incarnation there were clear indications of his eternal Godhead. Yet the great events we celebrate today disclose and reveal in different ways the fact that God himself took a human body. Mortal man, enshrouded always in darkness, must not be left in ignorance, and so be deprived of what he can understand and retain only by grace.
In choosing to be born for us, God chose to be known by us. He therefore reveals himself in this way, in order that this great sacrament of his love may not be an occasion for us of great misunderstanding.
Today the Magi find, crying in a manger, the one they have followed as he shone in the sky. Today the Magi see clearly, in swaddling clothes, the one they have long awaited as he lay hidden among the stars.
Today the Magi gaze in deep wonder at what they see: heaven on earth, earth in heaven, man in God, God in man, one whom the whole universe cannot contain now enclosed in a tiny body. As they look, they believe and do not question, as their symbolic gifts bear witness: incense for God, gold for a king, myrrh for one who is to die.
So the Gentiles, who were the last, become the first: the faith of the Magi is the first fruits of the belief of the Gentiles.
Today Christ enters the Jordan to wash away the sin of the world. John himself testifies that this is why he has come: Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Today a servant lays his hand on the Lord, a man lays his hand on God, John lays his hand on Christ, not to forgive but to receive forgiveness.
Today, as the psalmists prophesied: The voice of the Lord is heard above the waters. What does the voice say? This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.
Today the Holy Spirit hovers over the waters in the likeness of a dove. A dove announced to Noah that the flood had disappeared from the earth; so now a dove is to reveal that the world's shipwreck is at an end for ever. The sign is no longer an olive-shoot of the old stock: instead, the Spirit pours out on Christ's head the full richness of a new anointing by the Father, to fulfill what the psalmist had prophesied: Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness above your fellows.
Today Christ works the first of his signs from heaven by turning water into wine. But water [mixed with wine] has still to be changed into the sacrament of his blood, so that Christ may offer spiritual drink from the chalice of his body, to fulfill the psalmist's prophecy: How excellent is my chalice, warming my spirit.
The Word, the Wisdom of God was made flesh
The holy Apostle has told us that the human race takes its origin from two men, Adam and Christ; two men equal in body but unequal in merit, wholly alike in their physical structure but totally unlike in the very origin of their being. The first man, Adam, he says, became a living soul, the last Adam a life-giving Spirit.
The first Adam was made by the last Adam, from whom he also received his soul, to give him life. The last Adam was formed by his own action; he did not have to wait for life to be given him by someone else, but was the only one who could five life to all. The first Adam was formed from valueless clay, the second Adam came forth from the precious womb of the Virgin. In the case of the first Adam, earth was changed into flesh; in the case of the second Adam, flesh was raised up to be God.
What more need be said? The second Adam stamped his image on the first Adam when he created him. That is why he took on himself the role, and the name, of the first Adam, in order that he might not lose what he had made in his own image. The first Adam, the last Adam; the first had a beginning, the last knows no end. The last Adam is indeed the first; as he himself says: I am the first and the last.
I am the first, that is, I have no beginning. I am the last, that is, I have no end. But what was spiritual, says the Apostle, did not come first, what was living came first, then what is spiritual. The earth comes before its fruit, but the earth is not so valuable as its fruit. The earth exacts pain and toil; its fruit bestows subsistence and life. The prophet rightly boasted of this fruit: Our earth has yielded its fruit. What is this fruit" The fruit referred to in another place: I will place upon your throne one who is the fruit of your body. The first man, says the Apostle, was made from the earth and belongs to the earth; the second man is from heaven, and belongs to heaven.
The man made from the earth is the pattern of those who belong to the earth; the man from heaven is the pattern of those who belong to heaven. How is it that these last, though they do not belong to heaven by birth, will yet belong to heaven, men who do not remain what they were by birth but persevere in being what they have become by rebirth? The reason is, brethren, that the heavenly Spirit, by the mysterious infusion of his light, gives fertility to the womb of the virginal font. The Spirit brings forth as men belonging to heaven those whose earthly ancestry brought them forth as men belonging to the earth, and in a condition of wretchedness; he gives them the likeness of their Creator. Now that we are reborn, refashioned in the image of our Creator, we must fulfill what the Apostle commands: So, as we have worn the likeness of the man of earth, let us also wear the likeness of the man of heaven.
Now that we are reborn, as I have said, in the likeness of our Lord, and have indeed been adopted by God as his children, let us put on the complete image of our Creator so as to be wholly like him, not in the glory that he alone possesses, but in innocence, simplicity, gentleness, patience, humility, mercy, harmony, those qualities in which he chose to become, and to be, one with us.