"Before a man chooses his confessor, he ought to think well about it, and pray about it also; but when he has once chosen, he ought not to change, except for most urgent reasons, but put the utmost confidence in his director."

St Philip Neri

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"It is not God's will that we should abound in spiritual delights, but that in all things we should submit to his holy will."

Blessed Henry Suso

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"As the flesh is nourished by food, so is man supported by prayers"

St Augustine

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 St John of the Cross   (1542 - 1591)


 

THE DARK NIGHT (cont)

 

by St John of the Cross

 

Book Two

 

Ch 6. [Other kinds of affliction suffered in this night.]


1. The two extremes, divine and human, which are joined here, produce the third kind of pain and affliction the soul suffers at this time. The divine extreme is the purgative contemplation, and the human extreme is the soul, the receiver of this contemplation. Since the divine extreme strikes in order to renew the soul and divinize it (by stripping it of the habitual affections and properties of the old self to which the soul is strongly united, attached, and conformed), it so disentangles and dissolves the spiritual substance - absorbing it in a profound darkness - that the soul at the sight of its miseries feels that it is melting away and being undone by a cruel spiritual death. It feels as if it were swallowed by a beast and being digested in the dark belly, and it suffers an anguish comparable to Jonah's in the belly of the whale [Jon. 2:1-3]. It is fitting that the soul be in this sepulcher of dark death in order that it attain the spiritual resurrection for which it hopes.

2. David describes this suffering and affliction - although it is truly beyond all description - when he says: The sighs of death encircled me, the sorrows of hell surrounded me, in my tribulation I cried out [Ps. 18:5-6].

But what the sorrowing soul feels most is the conviction that God has rejected it, and with abhorrence cast it into darkness. The thought that God has abandoned it is a piteous and heavy affliction for the soul. When David also felt this affliction he cried: In the manner of the wounded, dead in the sepulchers, abandoned now by your hand so that you remember them no longer, so have you placed me in the deepest and lowest lake, in the darkness and shadow of death, and your wrath weighs on me, and all your waves you have let loose on me [Ps. 88:4-7].

When this purgative contemplation oppresses a soul, it feels very vividly indeed the shadow of death, the sighs of death, and the sorrows of hell, all of which reflect the feeling of God's absence, of being chastised and rejected by him, and of being unworthy of him, as well as the object of his anger. The soul experiences all this and even more, for now it seems that this affliction will last forever.

3. Such persons also feel forsaken and despised by creatures, particularly by their friends. David immediately adds: You have withdrawn my friends and acquaintances far from me; they have considered me an abomination [Ps. 88:8]. Jonah, as one who also underwent this experience, both physically and spiritually in the belly of the whale, testifies: You have cast me out into the deep, into the heart of the sea, and the current surrounded me; all its whirlpools and waves passed over me and I said: I am cast from the sight of your eyes; yet I shall see your holy temple again (he says this because God purifies the soul that it might see his temple); the waters encircled me even to the soul, the abyss went round about me, the open sea covered my head, I descended to the lowest parts of the mountains, the locks of the earth closed me up forever [Jon. 2:4-7]. The "locks" refer to the soul's imperfections that hinder it from enjoying the delights of this contemplation.

4. Another excellence of dark contemplation, its majesty and grandeur, causes a fourth kind of affliction to the soul. This property makes the soul feel within itself the other extreme - its own intimate poverty and misery. Such awareness is one of the chief afflictions it suffers in the purgation.

The soul experiences an emptiness and poverty in regard to three classes of goods (temporal, natural, and spiritual) which are directed toward pleasing it, and is conscious of being placed in the midst of the contrary evils (the miseries of imperfections, aridities and voids in the apprehensions of the faculties, and an abandonment of the spirit in darkness).

Since God here purges both the sensory and spiritual substance of the soul, and its interior and exterior faculties, it is appropriately brought into emptiness, poverty, and abandonment in these parts, and left in dryness and darkness. For the sensory part is purified by aridity, the faculties by the void of their apprehensions, and the spirit by thick darkness.

5. God does all this by means of dark contemplation. And the soul not only suffers the void and suspension of these natural supports and apprehensions, which is a terrible anguish (like hanging in midair, unable to breathe), but it is also purged by this contemplation. As fire consumes the tarnish and rust of metal, this contemplation annihilates, empties, and consumes all the affections and imperfect habits the soul contracted throughout its life. Since these imperfections are deeply rooted in the substance of the soul, in addition to this poverty, this natural and spiritual emptiness, it usually suffers an oppressive undoing and an inner torment. Thus the passage of Ezekiel may be verified: Heap together the bones, and I shall burn them in the fire, the flesh shall be consumed, and the whole composition burned, and the bones destroyed [Ez. 24:10]. He refers here to the affliction suffered in the emptiness and poverty of both the sensory and the spiritual substance of the soul. And he then adds: Place it also thus empty on the embers that its metal may become hot and melt and its uncleanness be taken away from it and its rust consumed [Ez. 24:11]. This passage points out the heavy affliction the soul suffers from the purgation caused by the fire of this contemplation. For the prophet asserts that in order to burn away the rust of the affections the soul must, as it were, be annihilated and undone in the measure that these passions and imperfections are connatural to it.

6. Because the soul is purified in this forge like gold in the crucible, as the Wise Man says [Wis. 3:6], it feels both this terrible undoing in its very substance and extreme poverty as though it were approaching its end. This experience is expressed in David's cry: Save me, Lord, for the waters have come in even unto my soul; I am stuck in the mire of the deep, and there is nowhere to stand; I have come unto the depth of the sea, and the tempest has overwhelmed me. I have labored in crying out, my throat has become hoarse, my eyes have failed while I hope in my God [Ps. 69:1-3].

God humbles the soul greatly in order to exalt it greatly afterward. And if he did not ordain that these feelings, when quickened in the soul, be soon put to sleep again, a person would die in a few days. Only at intervals is one aware of these feelings in all their intensity. Sometimes this experience is so vivid that it seems to the soul that it sees hell and perdition open before it. These are the ones who go down into hell alive [Ps. 55:15], since their purgation on earth is similar to what takes place there. For this purgation is what would have to be undergone there. The soul that endures it here on earth either does not enter that place, or is detained there for only a short while. It gains more in one hour here on earth by this purgation than it would in many there.