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Feast Day of St. John Climacus

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Mar. 30, 2012

Born around 769 near Palestine, St. John Climacus (also called “the Scholastic”) was a disciple of St. Gregory of Nazianzen.  As a young man he joined the monastery on Mount Sinai, where he professed vows and was ordered by his spiritual director to become a hermit (for it seems St. John liked to chat a lot, this drastic step was meant to remedy that problem).  St. John excelled as a hermit—cultivating virtue and experiencing a deeper prayer life.  He became so profoundly sanctified that over the next forty years throngs of people came to him for spiritual direction and counsel.  Too, he was an acclaimed thinker and spiritual writer—his masterpiece being “The Ladder.”  It was not surprising that he came to be regarded as another Moses—who in his holy place on the mountain “talked to God face to face, and then came down to his fellows bearing the tables of God’s law, his Ladder of Perfection.”

By the time St. John was 70 years old he was the most revered monk of the Mount Sinai monastery, and accordingly tapped to be the next abbot.  Hesitantly, he accepted the post, and returned to the monastery that he was turned away from almost 50 years earlier to become a hermit.  For four years he lead the monastery, assisting his brothers and the people with his holy and wise advice (especially helping others with chastity and purity), as well as his efficacious prayers (having once prayed the local town out of a desperate drought).

After four years as abbot, however, St. John Climacus wanted to return to his eremitical life.  The monastery, grateful for his leadership, granted his wish—naming his disciple, George the new abbot.  Six years later, St. John Climacus died at the age of 80.  The year was 849.  In iconography, this saint is often depicted with a ladder—the enduring symbol of the timeless masterpiece he penned.

Practical Take-Away: Building-off of Criticism

When St. John Climacus was charged with wasting time in idle talk by his fellow peers he did not get huffy and defensive.  Too often, we are prone to waylay any and all who have the “audacity” to criticize us.  Yet, in our journeys toward holiness, we must remember that perfect sanctity has not only NOT been achieved by others, but most importantly, NOT yet by ourselves.  It is a corporal work of mercy to admonish sinners.  We all do a terrific job of admonishing, at times.  But how do we handle being the one admonished?  How do we accept criticism?  Do we build upon our own sanctity as St. John Climacus did?  Or do we tear down the one pointing out our shortcomings and faults? 

The path of sanctity requires honesty—with others and yourself.  The path of sanctity requires faithful brothers and sisters who can charitably give advice and charitably receive advise.  Criticism need not necessarily be interpreted as hateful or intrusive.  Scrutiny by others sometimes denotes the concern they have for your well-being.  Tact and charity must be used when criticizing; but not fear.  Our willingness to hear our imperfections and be considerate of those so concerned for us will alleviate the fear others might have in pointing out a fault.  Indeed, it is common in monasteries and convents for the community to gather regularly for what is called, “the chapter of faults,” where everyone charitably states the faults of others and expects to hear their own faults, as well.  Wouldn’t it be nice if we could do this in the secular world?  In our homes?  In our workplace?  In our parishes?  It would.  But we must first begin to accept it in our own individual lives.