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Love Songs in the Night

February 14, 2013 by  
Filed under Anthony Lilles, John of the Cross, Love, Prayer

With rich biblical imagery, St. John of the Cross describes the soul as a jubilant bride who sings mysterious verses and Love Songs in the Nightwants nothing other than to live in intimacy with her bridegroom. She ventures out with courage while the beauty of night cloaks her from anyone and anything that might prevent her from finding the One for whom her heart longs.  This living icon of the Church, tenderly touched and delicately embraced by her Crucified Savior, burns with love in the darkness of this present life.

The pilgrim Bride knows that the hidden trials of life are necessary for love because she is convinced that one can only love at one's own expense.  She is not confident in her own ability but rather she trusts in Christ's strength in her.  She knows she is awaited by Love and can only find Him by entering into the secret of love. She is not only not afraid to enter into such hiddenness, she desires nothing else but to enter into this darkness so that she might find the One for whom she longs. She wants to know Him alone.  Her heart sings for Him in the night.  Nothing else will satisfy her but the song of love He sings to her.  This is why she goes out into the darkness of faith.

Beautiful and holy desires drench the prayer of those who allow themselves to be vulnerable to Christ in the secret darkness of faith.  They are the desires that only the Holy Spirit can produce. We give Him the freedom to sew these in our hearts when we allow Him to work in ways we do not understand, ways with which we are not familiar, ways that test us and are difficult to bear.   When such spiritual darkness renders us vulnerable to God in love, God can accomplish anything through us, and with this spiritual liberty, He gives us a joy that nothing in this world can take away.  A fullness of life is ours when we are finally liberated from our own selfish whims, when we are no longer trapped by anxiety over our weakness, when we are finally able to love completely, without measure, the way true love ought to be given.

This kind of love was never meant only for the spiritual elite.  The whole world needs this love. Civilizations, societies, and communities need this love.  Families need this love. Husbands and wives need this love.  It is the love that saves marriages.  It is the love that reconciles parents and children.  This is the kind of love Christ offers us when He comes to us in the night.

If you want a secret encounter of the heart with Jesus, serenely accept your displeasure with your “self” and rejoice that the feelings of inadequacy that you suffer are the clever disguise under which God has decided to work in your heart. To enter into this loved filled darkness, believe in Him more than you believe in your failures — it is His love and not our failures that most define us in any event.  When it seems impossible, choose to love out of devotion to Him. You will not only discover even deeper depths of your own poverty, you will also find the inexhaustible riches of Christ!  Those who trust, who serenely accept their inadequacy, who believe that God's power is revealed in their weakness – these are the souls that have set out in the night.

To such as these, it belongs to learn the great song of the Bride.  This song is sung only by those who know the heart-piercing love of Christ, the secrets of which He only imparts in that blessed night in which He awaits us with great expectation.  Even the faintest sound of His mysterious canticle can cause us to raise our eyes from our own failures and really see those whom God has given us to love.  Even the first notes in that sacred melody Christ teaches make us free enough of self as to begin to understand what most ought to be rendered in love.  Purified by this tender divine harmony, nothing can diminish the total self-donation which we yearn to give and which faith makes possible.  By whispering this song to us in secret, Love Himself frees us from ourselves so that we might give a total gift of our very lives to those whom He has entrusted to us with so much confidence.  In this way, they too begin to learn this beautiful song which resounds in the frailty of our humanity.


Art for this post on Love Songs in the Night: St Jerome in Prayer, Titian, between 1570 and 1575, PD-US author's life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons.

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About Anthony Lilles

Anthony Lilles, a graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville, completed his graduate and post-graduate studies in Rome at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas. He and his lovely wife, Agnes, are blessed with three children and live in California, where he is the Academic Dean, and Associate Professor of Theology, St. John's Seminary, Archdiocese of Los Angeles, and Academic Advisor at Juan Diego House, House of Formation for Seminarians. For over twenty years, Dr. Lilles worked for the Denver Archdiocese directing parish religious education, R.C.I.A. and youth ministry, as well as serving as Director of the Office of Liturgy for the Archdiocese and as Coordinator of Spiritual Formation for the permanent diaconate. In 1999, he became a founding faculty member of St. John Vianney Theological Seminary where he was Academic Dean for nine years and Associate Professor of Theology. He is a Board Member for the Society of Catholic Liturgy. Dr. Lilles has provided graduate level courses on a variety of topics including the Eucharist, the Sacraments of Healing, Church History, Spiritual Theology, Spiritual Direction and on various classics of Catholic Spirituality. His expertise is in the spiritual doctrine of Saint Elisabeth of the Trinity and the Carmelite Doctors of the Church: St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross and St. Thérèse of Lisieux. In 2012, Discerning Hearts published his book "Hidden Mountain, Secret Garden: A Theological Contemplation on Prayer," a compilation of discussions with seminarians, students, and contemplatives about the spiritual life. He collaborated with Dan Burke on the books "30 Days with Teresa of Avila" and "Living the Mystery of Merciful Love: 30 Days with Thérèse of Lisieux". And, his book "Fire from Above" was published in 2016. Among his many accomplishments and responsibilities, Dr. Lilles now teaches theology for the Avila Institute. He blogs at

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    This is beautiful. It make’s one want Love so badly.

  • Theresa George

    This is such a heart wrenching love song.  You have truly embraced the spirit of *The Spiritual Canticle* and expressed it in such a way that one can understand this love story between the soul and God.  I especially appreciated it as a Secular Carmelite, John of the Cross being my favorite Carmelite Saint. Thank you for sharing.

    • Anthony_Lilles

      Thank you for this encouraging comment – it is an honor to have readers like you who have given themselves to a life of prayer in the world.

  • Love is so strong as it is the very essence of God. A very beautiful message and calling to Gods love

  • rjk123

    This is another reflection I will print so that I can reread it frequently. Thank you. The Lord told me that Patience would be His theme for me this year– patience with myself and Him as He leads and changes me. He has so healed me of my deep sense of failure and unworthiness. I realize that in thinking of myself as worthless I make a liar out of Him who has created each of us out of love with a purpose in our time and place according to His will, whether or not we ever see it. So when I feel the familiar shaming feelings of worthlessness I can remind myself to be patient, to reflect on all He has done in my long life, and to let Him love and change and heal me in His time and His way. “To enter into His love-filled darkness, believe in Him more than you believe in your own failures. It is His love not our own failures that most define us in any event.  When it seems impossible, choose to love out of devotion to Him . . . ” and all that follows in your reflection. I thank God for all the interior struggle of my life because HE has taught me so much about How He loves me. At this time, He is lovingly revealing what you call “deeper depths of [my own] poverty” and lovingly changing me. For the first time in my life, thanks to Him, I “serenly accept [my] inadequacy” and I can see at last that His power is revealed in my weakness. Thank you. You always hit the nail on the head with me and I look forward to your meditations. I don’t know how I missed this one, but this morning I found it when I really needed the encouragement and reminder. “Purified by this tender, divine harmony, nothing can diminish the total self-donation we yearn to give and which faith makes possible.”   God is good!!! Rachel

    • rjk123, I have also struggled with unworthiness, along with many other interior struggles and the usuall sufferings that life brings. A verse that has meant a lot to me is Hebrews 11:34: “Out of weakness they were made more powerful, became strong in battle, and
      turned back foreign invaders.” I made this into a personal prayer during a time when I felt very weak and vulnerable: “Lord, I am weak, so you can make me powerful. You give me strength in battle to turn back the forieng invader.” And at different time the “foriegn invader” meant different things to many. Sometimes it was depression and anxiety, other times anger, bitterness, or other negative thoughts. This verse continues to give me comfort, as I continue to suffer (because I am human) and continue to feel vulnerable (sometimes more than other times.)

      • rjk123

        Thank you. This is so helpful. I don’t know why I am just seeing this now instead of a month ago, but it really speaks to me now. I really see how this verse applies. Thank you. Rachel

        • rjk123

          In fact, the more I think about it, the more I believe that this verse is one to memorize and keep with me right now. Thank you for sharing it. It appears I am in battle right now. And as Wretched Sinner pointed out above, the battle leads to repentance which is followed by joy. Thanks to both of you. Rachel

          • Camila

            “repentance which is followed by joy” yes! Exactly!

            A repentance that “hears” Jesus say “Rise, take up your mat, and walk!”

          • rjk123

            Amen! What joy He brings — and new life! You are very wise. Thank you! Rachel

        • God’s timing is perfect! See how much He loves you!

          • rjk123

            What a loving heart you have. Thank you! Yes, He does love me! And you! Praise God! Rachel

    • Camila

      When you say “So when I feel the familiar shaming feelings of worthlessness” Rachel, I read this yesterday and have been thinking. This verse comes to mind.

      “I rejoice now, not because you were saddened, but because you were saddened into repentance; for you were saddened in a godly way, so that you did not suffer loss in anything because of us. For godly sorrow produces a salutary repentance without regret, but worldly sorrow produces death.” (2 Corinthians 7:9-10).

      It seems to me that the sorrow, guilt or self-contempt that is produced by the Holy Spirit is one that turns confidently into repentance. That ” The kind of sorrow that doesn’t seem to get oneself out of there and move forward to repentance is the one the enemy wants you to wallow in.

      • rjk123

        Very good point. I see exactly what you mean. It gives me something to meditate upon. Thank you. Rachel

  • “To enter into this loved filled darkness, believe in Him more than you believe in your failures – it is His love and not our failures that most define us in any event. When it seems impossible, choose to love out of devotion to Him.” I am finding that looking at my own failures, my gaze in on myself, and therefore away from God. When I choose to accept His mercy, my gaze shifts back to God – and is of course met His loving Gaze that has never left me! It is not always easy to choose His mercy, to choose to love, sometimes there can be such a strong temptation to turn away completely, but once you know the Truth, once you have experienced God, it is too hard to abandon Him.

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