Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Spiritual voice (2): from St. John of the Cross' The Dark Night of the Soul

[St. John of the Cross was born in Fantiveros, Spain and became a Carmelite monk in 1564. Three years after becoming monk he met St. Teresa of Avila who admired his life-style and leadership. He spent his life establishing several new orders and being at the service of Catholic Reformation through his leadership and writings. He was arrested at one point and put into confinement by those opposed to the Reforms. It was during this time that he wrote "The Dark Night of the Soul" which describes the work of God upon the soul, not through joy but through sorrow and pain. This concept continues to hold great influence on Christian spirituality.]

At a certain point in the spiritual journey God will draw a person from the beginning stage to a more advanced stage. At this stage the person will begin to engage in religious exercises and grow deeper in the spiritual life.

Such souls will likely experience what is called "the dark night of the soul." The "dark night" is when those persons lose all the pleasure that they once experienced in their devotional life. This happens because God wants to purify them and move them on to greater heights.

After a soul has been converted by God, that soul is nurtured and caressed by the Spirit. Like a loving mother, God cares for and comforts the infant soul by feeding it spiritual milk. Such souls will find great delight in this stage. They will begin praying with great urgency and perseverance; they will engage in all kinds of religious activities because of the joy they experience in them.

But there will come a time when God will bid them to grow deeper. He will remove the previous consolation from the soul in order to teach it virtue and prevent it from developing vice. The following sections deal with the seven capital sins. In each of the sins it becomes clear how the soul has begun to misuse its spiritual consolation and why God must take it away in order to purify the soul from these imperfections.

Beginners in the spiritual life are apt to become very diligent in their exercises. The great danger for them will be to become satisfied with their religious works and with themselves. It is easy for them to develop a kind of secret pride, which is the first of the seven capital sins.

Such persons become too spiritual. They like to speak of "spiritual things" all the time. They become content with their growth. They would prefer to teach rather than to be taught. They condemn others who are not as spiritual as they are. They are like the Pharisee who boasted in himself and despised the publican who was not as spiritual as he.

The devil will often inflame their fervor so that their pride will grow even greater. The devil knows that all of their works and virtues will become valueless and, if unchecked, will become vices. For they begin to do these spiritual exercises to be esteemed by others. They want others to realize how spiritual they are. They will also begin to fear confession to another for it would ruin their image. So they soften their sins when they make confession in order to make them appear less imperfect.

They will beg God to take away their imperfections, but they do this only because they want to find inner peace and not for God's sake. They do not realize that if God were to take away their imperfections from them, they would probably become prouder and more presumptuous still.

But those who are at this time moving in God's way will counter this pride with humility. They will learn to think very little of themselves and their religious works. Instead, they will focus on how great and how deserving God is and how little it that they can do for him. The Spirit of God dwells in such persons urging them to keep their treasures secretly within themselves.

[Questions to think about:

*According to St. John of the Cross, why does God impose a "dark night of the soul" upon a person? Don't forget that it is not just the saints or any holy person we might know who are called to this, but rather everyone is called to enter into a "dark night of the soul."

*Have you experienced what might be called a "dark night" in your spiritual journey, a time when the joys and delights of discipleship seemed to vanish?

*Would you agree that the outward signs of spirituality and devotionalism can become a source of pride in itself? How should one avoid this? What does St. John of the Cross say?]

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