The Living Flame of Love
by St. John of the Cross
O living flame of Love
That tenderly wounds my soul in its deepest center!
Since now You are not oppressive,
Now perfect me if it be your will:
Tear through the veil of this sweet encounter!
O sweet cautery,
O deliqhtful wound!
O gentle hand!
O delicate touch
That tastes of eternal life and pays every debt!
In killing, You changed death to life.
O lamps of fire! In whose splendors
The deep caverns of feeling, once obscure and blind,
Now give forth, so rarely, so exquisitely,
Both warmth and light to their Beloved.
How gently and lovingly
You awake in my heart,
Where in secret You dwell alone;
And in your sweet breathing, filled with good and glory,
How tenderly You swell my heart with love.
* * * * * * * *
If such a flame described above were encased in a heart-shape on a Valentine Card, what would it say to you?
Valentine messages attempt to express an arduous love in as few words as possible since a vibrant love cannot be adequately conveyed simply by multiplying words.
The word “O” used frequently to begin St. John of the Cross’s first line of his poem above reminds one of another word, “Ah,” equally brief, used in his “Ascent/Dark Night”. John is attempting to draw us deeply into an ineffable mystery – a love so enflamed that it comes nearer to God than could ever be imagined in this life. But with mouth opened he is silenced by a little word which becomes nested in the Divine Word and he is at a loss for further words. While we often have difficulty in communicating our love, God communicates to the soul through an infusion of His love that which we are helpless to describe.
As John strives to utter the unspeakable to articulate the concept of perfection which goes beyond transformation or near bliss; such Divine Love leaves him mute. He cannot even comment on the end of his poem. What then can be more complete than the most perfect degree of perfection obtainable in this life? Perhaps St. Teresa of Avilla stated it best when she said, “I die because I do not die”.
In this life we have only a passing taste of the divine food that will be set out before us in the eternal divine Banquet. Just as a caterer may allow you to test out your food options before committing to a final decision and you approach the tasting session, not fully satisfied, so as to make a better selection for your final menu, so Our Lord sometimes bestows consolations or brief “touches” of the good things that are to come, but they are fleeting now so as to arouse our hunger for what is still to come.
In reading “The Living Flame” it becomes evident that even the best chosen words do not always convey the full sentiment. Most persons today have difficulty writing a Valentine Message to express their feelings toward another. Many Card Companies try to sell their cards by proposing possible messages that might fit another’s sentiments. Below are some examples of messages offered for such cards and along with the message is what St. John of the Cross might have chosen for such a card regarding both human and divine love.
Valentine Message: The most important things are the hardest to say because words diminish them.
John of the Cross: It is great wisdom to know how to be silent.
Valentine Message: My eyes are blind without your eyes to see.
John of the Cross: If a man wishes to be sure of the road he treads on, he must close his eyes and walk in the dark.
Valentine Message: Within you I lose myself, Without you I find myself wanting to be lost again.
John of the Cross: Beloved, all that is harsh and difficult I want for myself, and all that is gentle and sweet for thee.
Valentine Message: The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart.
John of the Cross: Love consists not in feeling great things but in having great detachment and in suffering for the Beloved.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
“Where there is no love, put love and you will find love.” Saint John of the Cross