"Spiritual persons ought to be equally ready to experience sweetness and consolation in the things of God, or to suffer and keep their ground in drynesses of spirit and devotion, and for as long as God pleases, without their making any complaint about it."

St Philip Neri

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"He who wishes to be perfectly obeyed, should give but few orders."

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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 St John of the Cross   (1542 - 1591)


 

THE DARK NIGHT (cont)

 

by St John of the Cross

 

Book Two

 

Ch 20. [The remaining five steps of love.]


1. The sixth step makes the soul run swiftly toward God and experience many touches in him. And it runs without fainting by reason of its hope. The love that has invigorated it makes it fly swiftly. The prophet Isaiah also speaks of this step: The saints who hope in God shall renew their strength. They shall take wings like the eagle and shall fly and not faint [Is. 40:31], as is characteristic of the fifth step. The following verse of the psalm also pertains to this step: As the hart desires the waters, so does my soul desire you, my God [Ps. 42:1], for the hart when thirsty races toward the waters.

The reason for the swiftness of love on this step is that the soul's charity is now highly increased and almost completely purified, as is also stated in the psalm: Sine iniquitate cucurri (Without iniquity have I run) [Ps. 59:4]; and in another psalm: I have run the way of your commandments, when you enlarged my heart [Ps. 119:32]. The soul is soon brought from the sixth to the seventh step.

2. The seventh step of the ladder gives it an ardent boldness. At this stage love neither profits by the judgment to wait nor makes use of the counsel to retreat, neither can it be curbed through shame. For the favor God now gives it imparts an ardent daring. Hence the Apostle says: Charity believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things [1 Cor. 13:7]. Moses spoke from this step when he besought God to forgive the people or else strike his name out of the book of life [Ex. 32:32]. These souls obtain from God what, with pleasure, they ask of him. David accordingly declares: Delight in God, and he will grant you the petitions of your heart [Ps. 37:4]. On this step the bride became bold and exclaimed: Osculetur me osculo oris sui [Sg. 1:1].1 It is illicit for the soul to become daring on this step if it does not perceive the divine favor of the king's scepter held out toward it [Est. 5:2; 8:4], for it might then fall down the step it has already climbed. On these steps it must always conserve humility. From the free hand and boldness God gives on this seventh step, that one may be daring in his presence with an ardent love, follows the eighth step. Here the soul captures the Beloved and is united with him as follows.

3. The eighth step of love impels the soul to lay hold of the Beloved without letting him go, as the bride proclaims: I found him whom my heart and soul loves, I held him and did not let him go [Sg. 3:4]. Although the soul satisfies its desire on this step of union, it does not do so continually. Some manage to get to it, but soon turn back and leave it. If one were to remain on this step, a certain glory would be possessed in this life, and so the soul rests on it for only short periods of time. Because the prophet Daniel was a man of desires, God ordered him to stay on this step: Daniel, remain on your step, because you are a man of desires [Dn. 10:11]. After this step comes the ninth, which is that of the perfect.

4. The ninth step of love causes the soul to burn gently. It is the step of the perfect who burn gently in God. The Holy Spirit produces this gentle and delightful ardor by reason of the perfect soul's union with God. St. Gregory accordingly says of the Apostles that when the Holy Spirit came upon them visibly, they burned interiorly and gently with love.2

We cannot speak of the goods and riches of God a person enjoys on this step because even were we to write many books about them the greater part would remain unsaid. For this reason and also because we will say something about them later, I will mention no more here than that this step of the ladder of love is succeeded by the tenth and final step, which is no longer of this life.

5. The tenth and last step of this secret ladder of love assimilates the soul to God completely because of the clear vision of God that a person possesses at once on reaching it. After arriving at the ninth step in this life, the soul departs from the body. Since these souls - few that there be - are already extremely purged through love, they do not enter purgatory. St. Matthew says: Beati mundo corde, quoniam ipsi Deum videbunt, etc. [Mt. 5:8].3 As we mentioned, this vision is the cause of the soul's complete likeness to God. St. John says: We know that we shall be like him [1 Jn. 3:2], not because the soul will have as much capacity as God - this is impossible - but because all it is will become like God. Thus it will be called, and shall be, God through participation.

6. Such is the secret ladder of which the soul here speaks, although on these higher steps it is not very secret to the soul, for love reveals a great deal through the remarkable effects it produces. But on this last step of clear vision at the top of the ladder, where God rests, as we said,4 nothing is any longer hid from the soul, and this because of its total assimilation. Accordingly our Savior exclaimed: On that day you will not ask me anything, etc. [Jn. 16:23]. Nevertheless, until that day, however high the soul may ascend, something will still be hidden in proportion to one's lack of total assimilation to the divine essence.

Thus, by means of this mystical theology and secret love, the soul departs from itself and all things and ascends to God. For love is like a fire that always rises upward as though longing to be engulfed in its center.