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Keeping Faith Alive During Life’s Dark Nights (Part II of IV)

Keeping Faith Alive During Life’s Dark Nights (Part II of IV)

Editor’s Note: In Part I, we looked at how faith is a response to revelation, how it penetrates the veil of the ordinary, and how it is essential to our relationship with God. Today, we will examine general patterns of growth which we experience.

Because each soul is unique, the workings of the Holy Spirit are unique in each one of us. However, there are general patterns of growth that we all experience.

From Selfishness to Generosity
Growth is always a move from a self-centered life (selfishness) to an authentically other-centered life (generosity). God inspires us to do the good and to avoid the evil. As we grow in our faith, He leads us to use all of our senses only for that which will bring us into deeper union with Him. At first, we take an active part in this growth. For example, we might choose not to watch movies that could be disruptive to the soul, or we could decide to clear off of the computer anything that has become addictive. We are actively moving toward God.

CatherineOfSienaGiovanniBattistaTiepolo096Our efforts at purification, however, are not sufficient by themselves. God, in His love, steps in and aids our efforts. Saint Catherine of Siena calls this the “Second Conversion.” St. John of the Cross calls it the Dark Night.

The Active Dark Night is when we, aided by God’s grace, try to purify ourselves.

The Passive Dark Night
is when God steps in and helps us.

St. John of the Cross calls it a Dark Night because we can’t see with our limited human intellect what it is that God is doing, there is a sense of deprivation, and it is always moving us towards inner peace and stillness.


Principles of this Dark Night of Purification
Aquinas, Thomas Aquinas, Aquino, St Thomas AquinasThe Dark Night is meant to be a part of every person’s faith journey. It consists of a prolonged series of profound aridities. In reality, our prayer is not dry; however, it feels dry because the senses, being inferior to the spirit, cannot grasp what the spirit is experiencing, and therefore feel deprived of their former consolation. Since love is in the will and not in the senses, God is leading the soul away from the senses. St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that in the spiritual life there is no standing still. If you are standing still you are necessarily going backwards.

Why the Dark Night of the Soul is so Necessary
Humans, by nature, can’t comprehend the grandeur, the spectacular beauty and depth of the relationship with God to which all of us are called. We are short-sighted and tend to become myopic, seeing only immediate goods. We undersell ourselves. We settle for less. We settle for the immediate. Consequently, we must be purified from any spiritual gluttony. This means that we could become in time inordinately attached to sense consolations and forget that consolation is not the end but only the means.

The soul must be cleansed also of spiritual sloth. This refers to a laziness or mediocrity concerning holy things. This is particularly a temptation to those who live and work closest to holy things. With sloth, comes impatience, sluggishness, even disgust for the works of sanctification. The slothful response is “It’s too hard.”

The soul needs to be strengthened in its battle against spiritual pride. During this phase, the person is tempted to pride because of their moderate progress in the spiritual life. This often leads them to critical judgment of others.

Other defects purified through this Dark Night are: curiosity, gossip, jealously, envy, sufficiency: an inappropriate independence, a subtle attitude of “I don’t need others as much as others need others.”

This is an unfailing principle –The bigger the ego, the bigger the Dark Night.

Trials During the Dark Night of the Senses
Some of the trials during the Night of the Senses include the temptation to return to former modes of prayer in search of consolation; the temptation to discouragement can lead some people to simply quit seeking the Lord at all. Often during the Dark Night, one experiences added temptations against patience and against chastity. These temptations are permitted by God to provoke a strong reaction of the corresponding virtues which should strengthen us.

Dark Night of the Spirit and Why it is Necessary
The defects of the proficients in prayer must be purified as well during the Dark Night. Some examples of these defects are involuntary distractions in prayer, and moments of impatience, to name a few. Some people may fall into a “bitter zeal” in which their desire to bring others to God is so strong that they lose the sense of mercy. At this stage, the very depths of the will are purified. Through the Dark Night of the Spirit, the soul learns to want what God wants. This Dark Night offsets an unconscious egoism. It is difficult for us to deal with the blind areas in our life – so God deals with them during this passive purgation.

The Principal Fruit of the Purification
HolySpiritDetailChairOfSaintPeterThe Holy Spirit illumines the soul with an infused light. Knowledge of God and knowledge of self lead to the perfection of the virtue of faith. The soul passes from meditation to contemplation. Contemplation is not be confused with visions and ecstasies; it is not extraordinary. Rather, whereas in meditation we learned to know God from afar through the intellect, we now experience Him through love directly, in the privacy of our hearts. We have a “sense of God.” The soul begins to move from the level of sensibility of its exterior life to a greater freedom of spirit. God comes to meet us in these events, circumstances, and relationships that are a daily part of our lives and invites us through them to a greater union with Him. We need to look beyond – or through – the event, circumstance and person to Christ beckoning us to walk through it to the light which envelops Him.


Editor’s Note:  In Part III, we will examine how to keep faith alive during the dark nights.

Copyright © 2013 | Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles, used with permission.

Art: St. Catherine of Siena, 1746, Giovanni Batista Tiepolo, PD-US; St. John of the Cross, Francisco de Zurbarán, 1656, PD-US; Thomas von Aquin (Thomas Aquinas), Sandro Botticelli, PD-US; Never Morning Wore To Evening But Some Heart Did Break, Walter Langley, 1894, PD; Holy Spirit Detail of Chair of Saint Peter in St. Peter’s Basilica, Sergey Smirnov, own work 03.05.2008, CC-SA; all Wikimedia Commons.

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PROMOTING A DEEPER SPIRITUAL LIFE THROUGH HEALTHCARE, EDUCATION AND RETREATS. The way of life of the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles is rooted in the Gospel, the Church, and the spirituality of Carmel as lived out through the charism of our foundress, Venerable Mother Maria Luisa Josefa of the Most Blessed Sacrament. In His merciful goodness, God has graced our Institute with the Carmelite charism which has its foundation in a long history and living tradition. Our vocation is a grace by which contemplation and action are blended to become an apostolic service of the Church as we promote a deeper spiritual life among God's people through education, healthcare, and spiritual retreats. We are called by God to be a presence inflamed within our world, witnessing to God's love through prayer, joyful witness and loving service. Our mission flows from each sister's profound life of prayer as Mother Luisita, our foundress, wrote, "the soul of each Carmelite raises herself to Christ, Who is her heaven, while her shadow falls in charity upon earth doing good to all people."

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  • Liz

    Thank you for these articles!

    • LizEst

      You’re quite welcome. To God be the glory!

  • 7cathy17

    Excellent! When my world crashed many years ago ,I remember being in darkness,I knew the darkness but I would go out to work ,supermarket etc and was well aware that I was engaging in life but had no light.At the end of the year
    I heard a sound ,it was a match and it lite a Bunsen burner device,there was a steady blue flame and I was back in the church.i would love to say the rest is history, but God continues to do his marvelous work,in the Blackest of the night

  • Vickie Laudicina

    Thank you Sisters! This is the clearest description of these workings of the Holy Spirit that I have ever read, which brings with it much peace. May our Lord bless you and keep you.

  • Mary Petnel

    Excellent. Thank you for this.

  • Charles Saliba

    We are living in a period of mercy, humans, poor in spirit, although they take it for granted that they are not living away from God, in fact they are particularly even more away from God, then what they actually think they are, and aridity justify this,and those who are in the truth, regarding the relation which they are aiming to build with God, once they are aware of the scope of aridity they would definitely be aware that the spirit is working, they should, generally speaking be more attentive in their every day life, and in order to please God,they should shift themselves from material life drastically onto the spiritual life, eliminating as much as they are even hurt, simply for the love of Jesus Christ.Through experience one would realize that aridity is a kind and a particular communication with God,which also ends up in a spiritual consolation related to the actual spiritual work in which a person is daily contributing for God’s kingdom, and which should make him love God more and more,and also with the holy fear that he could even lose God and his unique loving discipline!

    • Cathy

      Interesting perspective,I don’t know that in aridity one is aware ,that the spirit is working.i find that in aridity difficulty in prayer,and what I do pray is drier than the desert,but I haven’t experienced knowingly that the spirit is @work.As you say
      ….Through experience….I have come to understand that in these times that prayer
      Is conversation ,not always formalized as one knows,just simple conversation,
      Still dry but it helps,and then comes….Grace….

      • Charles Saliba

        ,I don’t know that in aridity one is aware ,that the spirit is working.

        St Teresa of Avila said that when God takes, which is a reference to aridity, He gives something else in return!

        I’ve been experiencing aridity for quite a while although it is not on a daily basis,but I realized that after I experienced aridity, even a very bad one indeed, during that same day I experienced a consolation related both to the actual spiritual work I regularly perform in various ways, related to reading the gospel, the bible, biographies of the saints, and their revelations, also while writing spiritual meditations, and as well related to my general life,since as I said one should be more attentive to live as much as possible a spiritual life,which in fact it would keep a person in a kind of recollection.

    • 7cathy17

      I thought of you after I responded to today’s post on the dark I see that aridity is of the dark night, a continual process, a souls journey. In this process it God who is drawing the soul and the soul that is stretching itself to reach out to God.

  • Tiffany

    I wonder if someone could explain/define “curiosity” as the sisters have used it in this article? I’m a new convert, just over a year. Curiosity has always had a good meaning to me…closer to “wonder” and “exploration” – reflection and then the desire to know more. Please help me understand this negative meaning of curiosity and how to identify that? Thanks

    • LizEst

      Congratulations Tiffany!

      Curiosity, while a good in helping us to dig deeper into our Catholic faith, can get out of control. It can lead us into things we really should not go into. The Bible describes righteous people as, among other things, “stopping [their] ears lest [they] hear of bloodshed, closing [their] eyes lest [they] look on evil” (Isaiah 33:15).

      A good example of this would be clicking on a sexy ad on the internet. It could take someone to a porn site, thereby being an occasion of sin, deposit viruses on one’s computer, etc. It’s just best all the way around not to go in that direction.

      It’s the same way with faith issues. We can get so curious, we wind up, out of curiosity, pursuing things that are against our faith. It’s happened to many people–and famous ones at that. Our “Can I Trust?” series: is replete with folks who have gone off the track that way. No doubt, it started innocently enough, but eventually they went down a path that led them into error.

      So, it’s important to practice custody of the senses. There is a good definition here: It’s also important to stick with the wisdom of the Saints, Church Fathers, the Bible, the Popes and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. There are so many good, approved authors, leaders and writers that one could spend a lifetime reading and reflecting on what they have to say…and not exhaust the resources. A good, Magisterium-faithful spiritual director can help you with this as well.

      Thank you for your question. Hope this helps…and congratulations again!

      • Tiffany

        Yes, this really does help. Thank you and God bless!

        • itaguyodangbuhay

          Curiosity, in fact, is often negative. What is the purpose of being curious? Only to find out what a thing is all about. In this point, when one enters into an experience of the Divine out of curiosity, the person just wants to find out what happens when he/she tries to enter into the spiritual realm. But not because one truly wishes to come into a real encounter with God, with the Divine. In the process though, when one enters into this experience out of curiosity, God purifies the intention, so that the experience of the Divine becomes an authentic religious experience, an authentic spiritual experience, an authentic experience of the Divine.
          May this help you understand this sense of curiosity.

  • Diana Marie Winkler

    Liked the paragraph of The Principle Fruit of the Purification. It reminds me of the saying, “If He takes you to it, He will take you through it.”

  • Rhonda


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