Love Awakened by Love – Refectory Book

Mid-day meal is the main meal at New Melleray, the time when, having put in a morning’s work, you arrive at table with an appetite and a three course meal waiting for you.  It is an odd juxtaposition then to sit down to eat, following the prayer, and hear the Refectory Reader for the week introducing us the teaching of St. John of the Cross, one of the most ascetically challenging programs for spiritual renewal ever devised by a Catholic saint.  Fr. Mark O’Keefe, a monk and priest of St. Meinrad Archabbey, is introducing us to John in his book: “Awakened by Love: The Liberating Ascent of Saint John of the Cross”.  Are you enjoying the taste of that garlic bread with the pesto spread?  Forget it.  In the “dark night of the senses” all such enjoyment will be taken from you as preparation for the “dark night of the spirit” and then the real fasting begins.  Actually, all St. John is teaching is what Christians have believed since the time of Christ: that the gift of authentic and deep prayer is bestowed on those whose daily living has made them fertile ground for the gift of contemplation.  Also, Christians learned, centuries before St. John, that on’es feelings or particular “experience” in prayer are not the best measure when judging the quality and depth of one’s prayer or communion with God.  “Do not run from the bitterness that may be found in spiritual exercises”, John tells us.  Our own Cistercian spiritual masters, especially St. Bernard of Clairvaux, had a special devotion to the humanity of Christ and Cistercian spirituality has often been characterized as “the school of light” in contra-distinction to the Carmelite “school of darkness”.  Cistercian monks seek an experience of God, (with apologies to no one), and excel at finding the fullness of God in human realities, especially community and friendship.