Under the influence of the Gift of Wisdom, what is bitter becomes sweet, and weariness becomes repose.
Saint Thomas Aquinas
The whole trouble about modern civilization seems to me to lie just in this: here is too much love of science and too little science of love.
John C. H. Wu (1899–1986)
Those alone who acquire the wisdom of God who are like ignorant children, and laying aside their knowledge, walk in His service with love.
Saint John of the Cross
The contemplation of God ought to, even here on earth, be fruitful. It gives peace… The inspirations of the gift of wisdom give us a radiating peace, not only for ourselves but for our neighbour. They make us peacemakers; they help to calm troubled souls, to love our enemies, to find the words of reconciliation which put the end to strifes.
Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange OP (1877–1964)
It’s probably still Christmas Day where most readers of this blog are. But here in Thailand it’s already well into the morning of the Feast of Saint Stephen, the first martyr. In the Acts of the Apostles, it is recorded that even his false accusers looked on him and saw he had the face of an angel (Acts 6:15). Stephen’s very appearance was transfigured, or lit up (so to speak), in Christ. John of the Cross sings of this reality as the “living flame of love” taking the whole person into it and converting the person into the Spirit’s fire. The Eastern Church lays emphasis on the word transfiguration, by analogy with Christ’s Transfiguration on Mount Tabor. Whatever word we use, the point is clear and it appears openly in the Scriptures: grace, though an interior reality, has signs and symbols in the world and in the body. There are many examples of this in the Church’s history.
This year, I’m thinking especially of Saint John Chrysostom, too. He meditated on Saint Stephen’s transfiguration a fair bit. “For even to the body,” he says when commenting on the martyrdom of Stephen, “the composure of the soul imparts a beauty of its own.” It’s true. But John doesn’t miss the growth of evil alongside good in this world. He adds elsewhere: “There are faces full-fraught with spiritual grace, lovely to them that love, awful to haters and enemies.” Not everyone loves the faces fully transfigured by love. This was Stephen’s fate.
Of course, John Chrysostom has a point. We need to love holiness to be in love with the holiness in others and to really notice it as such. The interaction between the observer of sanctity and the saint depends on two people: “Just as water reflects the face,” says Solomon, “so one human heart reflects another.” (Prov 27:19) Perception of sanctity is not a science except in a practical way. We can be certain, however, that sanctity becomes manifest when it overflows from God’s transformation within. This is attested by throughout the Old Testament: “A person is known by his appearance” (Sir 19:29). “The heart changes the countenance” (Sir 13:25). “Wisdom makes one’s face shine, and the hardness of one’s countenance is changed” (Eccles 8:1).
None of that has been overwritten. In the present time of the Church, even those who entertained false accusations against the protomartyr looked on him and saw the face of an angel. Of course, the name given to each of us may be secret, but even secrets have signs and symbols in the world. These signs and symbols are not predetermined and humanly predictable, and they are not seen by everyone in the same way, but they nonetheless exist. May God, in his infinite mercy and from his infinite bounty, give us a share, however small, in the grace of transfiguration.
Saint John of the Cross, whose feast day it is today, is always intent on getting us forward in our spiritual life and letting Jesus, his Father, and his Spirit, fully transform us into the image of the Blessed Trinity. He sings the song of the Bride and the Bridegroom. He tells of how the the heavens and the earth are his, and the nations are his, and the just, and the sinners, and the angels, and the Mother of God, because they are Christ’s and Christ is all for him. He shows what the heights of love are and how much they can be realized here on earth. It’s all about God’s Love and making us one with that supernatural love.
But at the same time, John loves the Cross. He knows that Jesus is the One on the Cross. We are to be made one with Jesus, so that Cross is the path also. In the Spiritual Canticle (st. 36 and 37), John writes,
If only people would understand how impossible it is to reach God’s riches and wisdom except by passing through the thicket of toil and suffering! The soul must first put aside every comfort and desire of its own. A soul that truly years for divine wisdom begins by yearning to enter the thicket of the Cross.
For the gate to these riches of God’s wisdom is the Cross; many desire the consoling joy to which the Cross leads, but few desire the Cross itself.
And so me must desire the Cross – not, of course, in the sense that we might think the Cross an absolute good or suffering an absolute good; no, but rather as something good for us, transformative for us and (as a result) for the world. It is the Gate to God’s riches. It is the Door through which we pass to enter into God’s light, wisdom, strength, transfiguration, and indeed all his possessions.
Jesus, after all, “did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited” (Phil 2:6), and so it ought to be with us, too. Few may desire the Cross. Yet all of us are called to It. This is part of the message of Saint John.
The knowledge of faith and the love of hope and charity tend under the divine influence to fuse into a gaze of supernatural love. This gaze is nascent contemplation, an eminent source of action… This loving contemplation supposes an inspiration of the Holy Spirit. His Gifts, especially the Gift of Wisdom, which we receive in Baptism and which increases in us with charity, render us particularly docile to these good inspirations.
Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange OP (1877–1964)