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Of all the saints of Advent, none is more attuned to the season than St. John of the Cross, whose feast we celebrate on December 14.

During Advent, Christians reflect upon the birth of their Savior and their personal standing with Him—now, and at the end of time. Advent is the perfect season for drawing lessons from this great saint, whose work centers upon achieving unity with Jesus Christ.

Though he is now celebrated as a major reformer, mystical poet, and Doctor of the Church, what John had to endure to reach those heights is almost unimaginable. Born Juan de Yepes y Alvarez to a Spanish father of noble heritage, John grew up in poverty. His father, Gonzalo, had married for love a woman of lesser means—and had been disinherited because of it.

Gonzalo worked hard as a silk merchant to keep the family afloat. He died when John was just three. Two years later, John’s older brother, Luis, died—likely from malnourishment. At that point, John’s mother Catalina, desperate to save her two remaining children, moved the family to Medina del Campo, where she was able to find work and some food for her sons. But they remained underfed, leaving John with a small, underdeveloped stature for the rest of his life.

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