We all want benefits! I am sure that in your places of employment that is one of the first things you ask…what are the benefits that my family receives if I work here?? I know my family was always very happy when there was coverage at a workplace in order to go to the dentist. I always found the dental profession very interesting…spending your time looking into people’s mouths and poking at their teeth with sharp objects…what an interesting profession!! We need to be healthy in soul and body…that includes our teeth! Thank you dentists!!
So…back to the topic of benefits. You might ask Religious Sisters or priests: “what are the benefits you have received in embracing this call from God?” I would say the great benefit of being a priest or Religious Sister is that we have embraced a life where God is to be our everything. We are striving to have a life, where everything is centered on God and loving God. But to say that we have embraced a life where God is our everything means that we are striving to be holy and that means embracing the joys and beauty in the life. It also means embracing the Cross when it comes. You might ask: “Sister, you are actually saying that carrying the Cross is a benefit…you mean that the Cross is actually something valuable?” The answer is “yes” provided that we carry it with our Lord in a spirit of Faith, Hope, Charity and I add with patience and humility. Embracing the Cross can help you become a great saint! The Saints became saints because they carried their Cross with love. We can do that to!
So what is the benefit of the dark night in our souls…well there is not just one…there are about three that I can think of. Firstly, we have a greater knowledge of self and our own misery that leads to respect and reverence toward God, spiritual humility, love of neighbour and obedience and submission to others. Someone who has gone through the dark night sees they are totally dependent on God and they need to have an awe of God and true self-acceptance. Having spiritual humility involves recognizing our sinfulness, but also seeing and loving that God has set His merciful gaze upon us. We see that as we go through the dark night our compassion and love for our neighbour increases. When we look at our neighbour, we no longer judge them as we used to do, but we just see God’s mercy when we look at them. Finally, obedience and submission to others, especially to parents, Superiors, teachers etc… gets easier as we make our way through the dark night. Obedience comes easier when we realize we are not the center of the universe and that we don’t know everything!!
The second benefit that I can think of is that the dark night helps us to grow in virtue and uproot vices. In our unconscious there are things that need to be rooted out. Our initial virtues begin to become strong virtues. We no longer seek the delights that we received from spiritual exercises. We are more aware of our sinfulness and we move towards unity with God and love God through the aridity.
Finally, the third benefit to having the dark night of the soul is that there is a purity of love that happens. The soul grows in love for God and begins to love God for Himself. After the dark night the devil is vanquished (yes!!) The soul is now full of zeal…now the soul needs the night of the spirit.
What is interesting is that we are not all called to the same level of holiness as each other. God calls some to higher levels of sanctity. Not all souls have the same starting point…some begin their road to conversion later in life. However we all need a purgation…we all need a cleansing…just like our teeth need cleansing once in a while (thank you again dentists!) …so does our soul need cleansing and the more open we are to God’s work the more shiny and beautiful our soul will be before the throne!!
I once heard a priest talk on one of our annual retreats in the summer time, and he talked to us about heaven. He said that when we get to heaven, there will be no jealousy about the holiness of another saint. Our conversations will be much like: “Oh! What a great degree of holiness you have!! That’s awesome!!” and the other will reply, “Your degree of holiness is awesome too!!” It was super funny when he was explaining it. He was making the point that we will not have the same degree of holiness as each other in heaven…but the important thing is that we will be there together for all eternity!!