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Souls are often purged painfully from false peace, to turn them towards true peace

5 min • Digitized on October 14, 2021

From The Dark Night of the Soul, page 104
By St. John of the Cross

For this night is drawing the spirit away from its ordinary and common sense of things, that it may draw it towards the divine sense, which is a stranger and an alien to all human ways; so much so that the soul seems to be carried out of itself.

At other times it looks upon itself as if under the influence of some charm or spell, and is amazed at all that it hears and sees, which seem to it to be most strange and out of the way, though in reality they are as they usually are, the same.

The reason is this: the soul has become a stranger to the ordinary sense of things, in order that being brought to nothing therein, it might be informed in the divine. Now this belongs more to the next life than to this.

The soul suffers all these afflictive purgations of the spirit that it may be born again to the life of the spirit through the divine inflowing, and in these pangs bring forth the spirit of salvation, fulfilling the words of Isaias: “So are we become in Thy presence, O Lord. We have conceived, and been as it were in labour, and have brought forth the spirit” of salvation.

Moreover, as in the night of contemplation the soul is prepared for that tranquillity and inward peace which is such and so full of delight as, in the words of Scripture, to “pass all understanding,” it is necessary for the soul that all its former peace, which, because involved in so many imperfections, was no peace, though it seemed to be a twofold peace, namely, of sense and spirit, because it was pleasing, should first of all be purified, and the soul withdrawn from and disturbed in that imperfect peace, as Jeremias felt and lamented in the words cited before to express the trials of the night that is now past, namely: “My soul is repelled from peace.”

This is a painful unsettling, full of misgivings, imaginations, and inward struggles, in which the soul, at the sight and in the consciousness of its own misery, imagines itself to be lost, and all its good to have perished for ever.

In this state the spirit is pierced by sorrow so profound as to occasion strong spiritual groans and cries, to which at times it gives utterance, and tears break forth, if there be any strength left for them, though this relief is but rarely granted.

The royal prophet David has well described this state, being one who had great experience of it, saying, “I am afflicted and humbled exceedingly; I roared with the groaning of my heart.”

This roaring proceeds from great pain; for sometimes the sudden and sharp recollection of the miseries that environ the soul, makes it feel such pain and grief that I know not how it can be explained otherwise than by the words of Job: “as overflowing waters so is my roaring.”

For as waters sometimes overflow, drown and fill all places, so this roaring, and sense of pain, become occasionally so strong as to flow over and into the soul, filling all its deepest affections and energies with spiritual pain and sorrow which defy all exaggeration.

Such is the work wrought in the soul by this night that hideth the hopes of the light of day. It was in reference to it that Job said, “In the night my mouth is pierced with sorrows, and they that feed upon me do not sleep.” The mouth here is the will, pierced by these sorrows which cease not to tear the soul, neither do they sleep, for the doubts and misgivings which harass it are never at rest.

This warfare and combat are deep, because the peace hoped for is most deep: the spiritual sorrow is interior, refined, and pure, because the love to be enjoyed must be also most interior and pure. The more interior and perfect the work, the more interior, perfect, and pure must the labour be that produces it; and the stronger the building, the more solid it is.

“My soul fadeth within myself,” saith Job, and the days of affliction possess me. So, in the same way, because the soul has to attain to the enjoyment and possession, in the state of perfection to which it journeys in this purgative night, of innumerable blessings, of gifts, and virtues, both in the substance of the soul and in the powers thereof, it is necessary that it should first consider and feel itself generally a stranger to and deprived of them all, and regard them as so far beyond its reach as to be persuaded that it never can attain to them, and that all goodness is perished from it. This is the meaning of those words of Jeremias, “I have forgotten good things.”

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