"A single act of uniformity with the divine will suffices to make a saint."

St Alphonsus de Liguori

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"Lord, here burn, here cut, and dry up in me all that hinders me from going to You, that You may spare me in eternity."

St Louis Bertrand

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"This is the greatest wisdom -- to seek the kingdom of heaven through contempt of the world. "

Thomas á Kempis

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 St John of the Cross   (1542 - 1591)




by St John of the Cross


Book Two


Ch 13. [Other delightful effects of this dark night of contemplation in the soul.]

1. Through this inflaming of love we can understand some of the delightful effects this dark night of contemplation now gradually produces in the soul. Sometimes, as we said, it illumines in the midst of these darknesses, and the light shines in the darkness [Jn. 1:5], serenely communicating this mystical knowledge to the intellect and leaving the will in dryness, that is, without the actual union of love. The serenity is so delicate and delightful to the feeling of the soul that it is ineffable. This experience of God is felt now in one way and now in another.

2. Sometimes, as we said, this contemplation acts on both the intellect and will together, and sublimely, tenderly, and forcibly enkindles love. We already pointed out that once the intellect is purged more these two faculties are sometimes united; and in the measure that they are both purged, this union becomes so much more perfect and deeper in quality. Yet before reaching this degree, it is more common to experience the touch of burning in the will than the touch of understanding in the intellect.

3. A question arises here: Why does one in the beginning more commonly experience in purgative contemplation an inflaming of love in the will rather than understanding in the intellect, since these two faculties are being purged equally? We may answer that this passive love does not act upon the will directly because the will is free, and this burning love is more the passion of love than a free act of the will. The warmth of love wounds the substance of the soul and thus moves the affections passively. As a result the enkindling of love is called the passion of love rather than a free act of the will. An act of the will is such only insofar as it is free. Yet, since these passions and affections bear a relation to the will, it is said that if the soul is impassioned with some affection, the will is. This is true, because the will thus becomes captive and loses its freedom, carried away by the impetus and force of the passion. As a result we say that this enkindling of love takes place in the will, that is, the appetites of the will are enkindled. This enkindling is called the passion of love rather than the free exercise of the will. Since the receptive capacity of the intellect can only take in the naked and passive knowledge, and since the intellect, unless purged, cannot receive this knowledge, the soul, prior to the purgation of the intellect, experiences the touch of knowledge less frequently than the passion of love. For to feel the passion of love it is unnecessary that the will be so purged in relation to the passions; the passions even help it experience impassioned love.

4. Since this fire and thirst of love is spiritual, it is far different from the other enkindling of love we discussed in the night of the senses. Although the sensory part shares in this love, because it does not fail to participate in the work of the spirit, the root and keenness of the thirst is felt in the higher part of the soul. The spirit so feels and understands what it experiences and the lack that this desire causes in it that all the suffering of sense - even though incomparably greater than that of the night of the senses - is nothing in comparison to this spiritual suffering. For the soul is conscious deeply within itself of the lack of an immense and incomparable good.

5. We ought to point out that the burning of love is not felt at the beginning of this spiritual night because the fire of love has not begun to catch. Nevertheless, God gives from the outset an esteeming love by which he is held in such high favor that, as we said, the soul's greatest suffering in the trials of this night is the anguish of thinking it has lost God and been abandoned by him. We can always assert, then, that from the commencement of this night the soul is touched with urgent longings of love: of esteeming love, sometimes; at other times, also of burning love.

The soul is aware that the greatest suffering it experiences in these trials is this fear. If such persons could be assured that all is not over and lost but that what they suffer is for the better - as indeed it is - and that God is not angry with them, they would be unconcerned about all these sufferings; rather, they would rejoice in the knowledge that God is pleased with them. Their love of esteem for God is so intense, even though obscure and imperceptible, that they would be happy not only to suffer these things but even to die many times in order to please him. When the fire now inflames the soul together with the esteem of God already possessed, individuals usually acquire such strength, courage, and longings relative to God, through the warmth of the love that is being communicated, that with singular boldness they do strange things, in whatever way necessary, in order to encounter him whom they love. Because of the strength and inebriation of their love and desire, they perform these actions without any consideration or concern.

6. Mary Magdalene, in spite of her past, paid no heed to the crowds of people, prominent as well as unknown, at the banquet. She did not consider the propriety of weeping and shedding tears in the presence of our Lord's guests. Her only concern was to reach him for whom her soul was already wounded and on fire, without any delay and without waiting for another more appropriate time [Lk. 7:37-38].1 And such is the inebriation and courage of love: Knowing that her Beloved was shut up in the tomb by a huge sealed rock and surrounded by guards so the disciples could not steal his body, she did not permit this to keep her from going out with ointments before daybreak to anoint him [Mt. 27:64-66; Mk. 16:1-2; Jn. 20:1].

7. Finally, this inebriation and urgent longing of love prompted her to ask the man she thought was the gardener if he had stolen him and, if he had, to tell her where he had put him so she could take him away [Jn. 20:15]. She did not stop to realize that her question in the light of sound judgment was foolish, for obviously if he had stolen the Lord he would not have told her, and still less would he have allowed her to take him away.

The strength and vehemence of love has this trait: Everything seems possible to it, and it believes everyone is occupied as it is; it does not believe anyone could be employed in any other way or seek anyone other than him whom it seeks and loves; it believes there is nothing else to desire or to occupy it and that everyone is engaged in seeking and loving him. When the bride went searching for her Beloved in the plazas and suburbs, she thought that others were doing the same and told them that if they found him they should tell him she was suffering for love of him [Sg. 3:2; 5:8]. Mary's love was so ardent that she thought she would go and take Jesus away, however great the impediments, if the gardener would tell where he was hidden.

8. Such are the traits of these longings of love that the soul experiences when it is advanced in this spiritual purgation. The wounded soul rises up at night, in this purgative darkness, according to the affections of the will; as the lioness or she-bear that goes in search of her cubs when they are taken away and cannot be found [2 Sm. 17:8; Hos. 13:8], it anxiously and forcibly goes out in search of its God. Since it is immersed in darkness, it feels his absence and feels that it is dying with love of him. Such is impatient love, which one cannot long endure without either receiving its object or dying. Rachel bore this love for children when she said: Give me children, otherwise I shall die [Gn. 30:1].2

9. It should be explained here why, even though the soul feels as miserable and unworthy of God as it does in these purgative darknesses, it possesses an energy bold enough to go out to be joined with God.

The reason is that since love now imparts a force by which the soul loves authentically, and since it is the nature of love to seek to be united, joined, equaled, and assimilated to the loved object in order to be perfected in the good of love, the soul hungers and thirsts for this union or perfection of love still unattained. And the strength now bestowed by love, and by which the will has become impassioned, makes this inflamed will daring. Yet since the intellect is not illumined but in darkness, the soul feels unworthy and knows that it is miserable.

10. I do not want to fail to explain why this divine light, even though it is always light for the soul, does not illumine immediately on striking as it will afterward, but instead causes trials and darkness.

We already said something on this matter.3 Yet we may reply particularly that the darknesses and evils the soul experiences when this light strikes are not darknesses and evils of the light but of the soul itself. And it is this light that illumines the soul so that it may see these evils. From the beginning the divine light illumines the soul; yet at the outset it can only see through this light what is nearest - or rather within - itself, namely, its own darknesses and miseries. It sees these by the mercy of God, and it did not see them before because this supernatural light did not shine in it. Accordingly, it only feels darknesses and evils at the outset. After being purged through the knowledge and feeling of these darknesses and evils, it will have eyes capable of seeing the goods of the divine light. Once all these darknesses and imperfections are expelled, it seems that the immense benefits and goods the soul is acquiring in this happy night of contemplation begin to appear.

11. It is clear, consequently, how God grants the soul a favor by cleansing and curing it. He cleanses it with a strong lye and a bitter purge in its sensory and spiritual parts of all imperfect affections and habits relative to temporal, natural, sensory, and spiritual things. He does this by darkening the interior faculties and emptying them of all these objects, and by restraining and drying up the sensory and spiritual affections, and by weakening and refining the natural forces of the soul with respect to these things. A person would never have been able to accomplish this work alone, as we shall soon explain.4 Accordingly, God makes the soul die to all that he is not, so that when it is stripped and flayed of its old skin, he may clothe it anew. Its youth is renewed like the eagle's [Ps. 103:5], clothed in the new self, which is created, as the Apostle says, according to God [Eph. 4:24]. This renovation illumines the human intellect with supernatural light so it becomes divine, united with the divine; informs the will with love of God so it is no longer less than divine and loves in no other way than divinely, united and made one with the divine will and love; and is also a divine conversion and changing of the memory, the affections, and the appetites according to God. And thus this soul will be a soul of heaven, heavenly and more divine than human.

As we have gradually seen, God accomplishes all this work in the soul by illumining it and firing it divinely with urgent longings for God alone. Rightly and reasonably does the soul add the third verse of the stanza:

- Ah, the sheer grace! -