February 16, 2022
At one of the peaks of Mount Carmel stands the Carmelite Monastery of Ave Maris Stella. Walking into the chapel is an overwhelming experience. The chapel surrounds the cave in which it is believed the prophet Elijah lived while on the summit (1 Kings 19). Above the cave is a platform with the altar and a reredos dedicated to Our Lady of Mount Carmel holding her scapular. Above that is a grand cupola tying the whole space together. Throughout the entire chapel are magnificent paintings and frescoes that draw the mind to God.
I was taken aback by the beauty of the chapel, and after Mass I lingered to pray and examine the works of art. As I was surveying the walls, I noticed there was one piece that I had overlooked; it was very plain and simply designed. It was a wall mount depicting St. John of the Cross’s Ascent of Mount Carmel. The artwork, designed by St. John himself, depicts a mountain with many paths, but only one that reaches the summit. Along the path is written the words: “Nada, Nada, Nada.”
Nada– the Spanish word for “nothing” – is St. John’s well-known keyword to his entire spirituality. It is by a detachment from consolation, by hardship and trials that the soul ascends through the spiritual life, because it is through them that its love for God is purified and freed from all self-interest. The path to union with God is blanketed by the inability to fully see what’s going on, letting God draw us up through faith rather than climbing ourselves. At the heart of the spiritual journey is even the experience of God’s absence (the dark night), but the nevertheless unswerving confidence in His love, such as was experienced by Jesus on the Cross: “My God, My God, why have You abandoned Me?” (Psalm 22).Persevering in the face of hardship, constantly purifying our love for God and growing in the knowledge of His love for us – this is the way of St. John of the Cross.
The plain, drab artwork with the hard message was a stark contrast with the rest of the beautiful chapel. Yet, so it is with our faith. There’s a wide gap between the suffering we must embrace and the eternal glory prepared for us. Here’s the key – We don’t embrace the Cross for its own sake. Rather, we do it so that through the Cross we can experience the eternal life that the Father longs to give us. Yet without the Cross, without those sufferings and trials, without the “nothing”, we could never reach the summit – the full realization and possession of God’s great love for us.
May God, our loving Father, give each of us the grace to accept the “nada” of our lives, and to see in each trial the Hand of God drawing us further up the mountain. St. John of the Cross, pray for us.
Diocese of Saginaw