We often mistakenly think a prophet speaks about the future, but this function is minor and accidental to the prophet’s main task. The word “prophet” comes from Greek and means to speak on behalf of God. A prophet challenges people to live in the present according to the values of God, and surely there are few people to whom this applies more than John of the Cross. The influences on his life are at times unusual, but he pursues his goal of union with God in love no matter the circumstances. At times his is a voice in the wilderness proclaiming the wonders of God and calling us all to faithfully pursue transformative union even through the nights of life.
John lived with many people who had a wrong set of values. Whether they were political leaders who saw greatness in expansionism, wars, power, and wealth, or religious leaders forcing conversions, controlling other people’s belief, and imposing their own views on others. Likewise the social caste system stressed wealth, status, bloodlines as important aspects of life. John lived with people who were attached to the structures that gave them power and prestige. John understood how useless it was to force belief systems on people who did not want them. All around him he saw people creating God in their own image and likeness, unwilling to let go and let God be a transforming presence in their lives. A prophet condemns such warped views of humanity and challenges us to follow God, for faith needs to be a loving self-gift
John was poor in spirit, or even more, poor with spirit. He loved being poor and appreciated how this could lead to greatness. He lived peacefully in spite of religious corruption all around him. In fact, he always lived with love for the Church with its awkwardness and with its graciousness. He knew that even bad situations have potentiality for good, and he sought such goodness amidst the horrors inflicted on him. It is amazing how John kept focused on his goals of union with God no matter the circumstances around him. But, he was practical too, and knew when enough is enough; so he knew when it was time to escape from the prison that the religiously arrogant had created for him.
As a prophet of God, John above all told us how to see God’s love everywhere, in nature, in people, and even in oppressors. John appreciated his own enduring purpose in life, his own destiny. He yearned for transformation in loving union with God. John pursued spiritual growth but never selfishly, rather always with a sensitivity and compassion towards everyone he met. He was not a lonely mystic in selfish pursuit of perfection. He was a man for others; enjoying others’ company, facilitating their growth, and seeking whatever was best for them. More than anything, this prophet lived his life aware of a realm of life beyond this one that gave meaning to this one. No matter the situations of his day and the nights he had to live, John speaks of God and reminds us the nights might be dark, but they can be guiding, transforming, and beautiful.