Monday, November 30, 2020

Special Advent 2020 City Notes | Vibrant Paradoxes: How to Be a Saint in the Darkness





St. John saw the dark night as a cleansing and purifying process, initiated and directed by God Himself. We find ourselves, John of the Cross taught, in the midst of a good and beautiful world, but we are meant finally for union with God. Therefore, the soul has to become free from its attachments to finite things so as to be free for communion with God. + Vibrant Paradoxes


Fr. Paul Murray, a Dominican professor of spiritual theology at the Angelicum University in Rome who was also a close confidant of Mother Teresa, wrote an astonishing little book on the saint of Calcutta's interior life, called I Have Loved Jesus in the Night

In it, Fr. Murray states the paradox of Mother Teresa succinctly: he had never known anyone more radiantly joyful than this woman who, in hundreds of private letters and notes, admitted to an almost unremitting inner darkness, a practically unrelenting sense of the absence of God. Fr. Murray clarifies that Mother Teresa was not a depressive—as the rich accomplishments of her life and work bear witness—and that the dark night, in the strict sense, has little to do with emotional melancholy. 

Rather, he said, the dark night of the soul is like the shadow cast by the overwhelming light of the indwelling God. Especially when He deigns to comes close, God floods the faculties of the mind and the heart so that they are incapable of processing and understanding in the ordinary sense. The eye can see objects illuminated by the sun, but it becomes dysfunctional, even to the point of blindness, when it turns to gaze at the sun itself. So it is with the soul that has been invaded by God. Perhaps this is why, Fr. Murray hinted, so many of the greatest saints report the experience of the dark night.

St. John of the Cross, the Spanish mystic, wrote extensively about what he called la noche oscura. Fr. Paul reminds us that St. John saw the dark night as a cleansing and purifying process, initiated and directed by God Himself. We find ourselves, John of the Cross taught, in the midst of a good and beautiful world, but we are meant finally for union with God. Therefore, the soul has to become free from its attachments to finite things so as to be free for communion with God. 

This purification first involves what John called "the night of the senses," that is to say, the letting go of physical and sensual pleasures, and it continues with the "night of the soul," which is a detachment from the thoughts, ideas, and mental images that one can use as a substitute for God. Like all purifications, this one is painful, especially if one's attachment to the finite things is intense. It will often manifest itself, John of the Cross said, as dryness in prayer and a keen sense of the absence of God, even of God's active abandonment. In this process, God is not toying with the soul; rather, He is performing a kind of surgery upon it, cutting certain things away so that its life might intensify.

To close, our Dominican friend offers another interpretation of Mother Teresa's experience. It was perhaps, he said, a vivid participation in the desolation that Christ Jesus felt on the cross when He said, "My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?" 

We can say, blithely enough, that the spiritual life consists in following Christ to life His life in us. But this means that He will live His passion in us, that He will permit us fully to feel what He felt at the bitter end of His earthly life. In Mother Teresa's case, this participation was particularly intense, precisely because her ministry was to the lonely, the poor, the hopeless and the abandoned. She identified with their physical and psychological suffering, but her terrible sense of isolation from God allowed her to identify even with their spiritual suffering. And from that solidarity flowed her compassion ...

... And perhaps that is why she said, "If I ever become a saint, I will be a saint of darkness."

The content above is from excerpts of "A Saint of Darkness" in Vibrant Paradoxes: The Both/And of Catholicism by Bishop Robert Barron


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Christ is all,

Rev. Mike "Sully" Sullivan

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