I heard a really beautiful story recently about a five year old girl who went with her family to see a relative who is a Nun in the Cloister. The family was speaking to the Sister and to their amazement the five year old girl started to climb up the grill, and she asked “How do you get in there?” The Nun replied with a smile, “You have to want to get in!”
I suppose this is similar to our Spiritual lives. In order to be in union with God, we need to want it! God will provide everything we need to be in union with Him, and God is ultimately in control. All we need to do is say “yes” and cooperate with His grace and God will send us everything we need in order to be united to him.
We have been talking about various aspects of the dark night of the senses. People can have various experiences with the dark night. It may depend on the degree of love that God wishes that person to have. It could also depend on what sins and imperfections we have had in our life. It may even depend on a person’s strength of soul. I found a quote by St. John of the Cross who says, “God has to work in the soul in secret and in darkness because if we fully knew what was happening, and what Mystery, transformation, God and Grace will eventually ask of us, we would either try to take charge or stop the whole process.”
The information that I will be providing in this post is from a course I took entitled Introduction to Christian Asceticism in St. John of the Cross. The professor based the course off of St. John of the Cross’ Dark Night of the Soul and has given me permission to use the information from the course pack that was provided and I am very happy to share it with you!
The more strong a soul is, the more quickly they will be brought to perfection in their life experience. Strong souls will undergo clear and pronounced dark nights that they receive with gratitude and peace of heart. They know that plunging through this dark night will bring them to God and this is very consoling. Strong souls will also experience trials that are typically more severe. For example: severe temptations against chastity, and other purging of the senses. They may even suffer severe scruples and interior trials. They might experience external trials of misjudgment by people they love, persecution for doing good and physical trials.
Weaker souls are brought more slowly to perfection through their experience of the dark night. They experience the dark night for a longer period of time, but every once in a while God will bestow consolations on them. Their perfection will come at the end of life. We need to persevere!! We need to persevere and not turn back!! It might be in the end that we reach perfection! Do not lack courage!!
Souls who never reach perfection in this life are souls who occasionally receive the night of the senses in order to remain humble. They rarely or never receive infused contemplation. God will grant them Divine consolations so as to prevent them from returning to the world.
I really recommend speaking through these trials with a spiritual director because the trials we are experiencing do have spiritual elements to them, but they could also be a result of an emotional, mental, or psychological difficulty that needs to be addressed by professionals. Sometimes our trials can be the result of experiences in the past that we need healing from. Do not automatically assume that it is just a spiritual trial you are having. Speak with a spiritual director and they will help you discern the next steps!
I know you are reading this and probably thinking: WHAT?? Why can’t the road be easier?? Why can’t God just zap me and make me a saint right now! The truth is God can zap you and make you a saint right now if He wanted to. However, this is typically not the way it works! God chose the way of the Cross in order to redeem us…so we also have a “way of the Cross” to help us on our way to the kingdom of heaven!
Think of it this way: let’s say you are preparing to run a marathon. You know you need to exercise and “get into shape” in order to run it successfully. Otherwise you would be huffing and puffing and you will feel like you are going to die! Exercising and stretching…that all takes work and self- discipline too!! You might need to eat more healthy (goodbye chocolate chip cookies… hello vegetables!!), you might have to get better rest…all of these things are difficult and hard. It is going to test everything you have! But in the end (spoiler alert!!) it is going to make you a stronger person…because it is not only about the running! The preparation will teach you discipline, perseverance and how to give your all! This preparation can teach you life-lessons about commitment, respect and how not to give up on God, yourself, or others. And…the bonus…you will be in shape!!
You may say “I don’t feel like exercising, and stretching…and I hate green food…but I still want to run the marathon.” You need someone to say to you: “Honey, stop crying…pull up your socks… and do whatever it takes to prepare well…it is worth it in the end!!” In the end, you will be so happy that God permitted you to endure what you did. Had you not endured it, you would not be the person you are today. You would not have grown stronger…you would have stayed swimming in a sea of pride and arrogance. This can be a hard lesson, especially in times when the suffering is very great. But if we make the decision to trust in faith then we will move forward with confidence and trust in God.
The saints knew that their suffering was not a waste…that it was actually strengthening them in virtue! Let’s not waste our suffering…let’s offer it humbly to God for our own growth in holiness and for the holiness of others. Any suffering born patiently and out of love is worth more than we can ever imagine! Suffering can be a proof of love. We can learn so much about ourselves and others when we suffer. When I was a teenager, I was at the “cool stage, and at the “cool stage” it is easy to be arrogant and rude. I remember a few times my mom telling me: “I carried you in my belly for nine months! Don’t forget that!” Our mothers have done so much for us! When we were babies and crying at night, they were the ones getting up and feeding us. Our moms changed our diapers…yes…it was nasty…. and they did it!! It caused them pain…but because they love us, it was worth it! Thank you mom!
Jesus Himself said: “Greater love hath no man than this, then to lay down his life for a friend.” St. John of Cross says, “The road is narrow. He who wishes to travel it more easily must cast off all things and use the cross as his cane. In other words, he must be truly be resolved to suffer willingly for the love of God in all things.”
Suffering actually purifies our love for God, for others and even for ourselves. Suffering can help our love to become more like Christ’s love. I think it is equally important to realize that you are not alone in your suffering. God is present entirely! He is holding you and embracing you like a good father. We can get angry and tell Him to go away…but he won’t because He knows that His place is right there with you.
So what do we do when we are experiencing the dark night of the senses?
- Complete and loving submission to the will of God, accepting with patience and resignation the painful trial of the dark night for as long as God decrees i.e. the soul abstains from seeking consolations.
- Perseverance in prayer in spite of all the difficulty purely out of imitation of Christ in the garden of Gethsemane with absolute trust in God.
- In prayer, the soul must remain in peace and quiet, content simply with a loving gaze on God, without any particular consideration and without any desire for delight or sensation.
- Docility to a prudent and experienced director if available, if not, God will use other means to guide the soul.
If you are going through a dark night, do not be afraid. Jesus is with you. He has your name in His Sacred Heart, and He is carrying you through!