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SpiritualDirection.com / Catholic Spiritual Direction

The Dark Night of the Soul

September 7, 2017 by  
Filed under Avila Institute, Dark Night, Kristin Aebli, Perseverance, Virtue

“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” (Mark 8:34b)

spiritual doctor


St. John of the Cross is one of the most misunderstood of the spiritual Doctors of the Church, yet his wisdom has led untold numbers of thirsty pilgrims to pure wells of salvation, contemplation, and union with God. In this course, we will explore Saint John’s life as a spiritual doctor, introduce his major writings and his central teachings on prayer, meditation, contemplation, and the dark night of the soul. We will place particular emphasis on correcting any misunderstandings of his writings and revealing the profound beauty of his revelation of God’s path to mystical union. Ordained a Carmelite priest in 1567 at age 25, St. John of the Cross vowed himself to the Carmelite rule just like Teresa of Avila. He is the patron of contemplatives, mystics and Spanish poets.


“Never give up prayer, and should you find dryness and difficulty, persevere in it for this very reason. God often desires to see what love your soul has, and love is not tried by ease and satisfaction.” – St. John of the Cross, “Special Counsels: Degrees of Perfection #9”


St. John of the Cross is best known for his works, “The Spiritual Canticle,” “The Living Flame of Love,” “The Dark Night of the Soul,” and “Ascent of Mount Carmel”. Below is one of his most famous poems.

the dark night

The Dark Night of the Soul
by St John Of the Cross

1. One dark night,
fired with love's urgent longings
— ah, the sheer grace! —
I went out unseen,
my house being now all stilled.

2. In darkness, and secure,
by the secret ladder, disguised,
— ah, the sheer grace! —
in darkness and concealment,
my house being now all stilled.

3. On that glad night,
in secret, for no one saw me,
nor did I look at anything,
with no other light or guide
than the one that burned in my heart.

4. This guided me
more surely than the light of noon
to where he was awaiting me
— him I knew so well —
there in a place where no one appeared.

5. O guiding night!
O night more lovely than the dawn!
O night that has united
the Lover with his beloved,
transforming the beloved in her Lover.

6. Upon my flowering breast
which I kept wholly for him alone,
there he lay sleeping,
and I caressing him
there in a breeze from the fanning cedars.

7. When the breeze blew from the turret,
as I parted his hair,
it wounded my neck
with its gentle hand,
suspending all my senses.

8. I abandoned and forgot myself,
laying my face on my Beloved;
all things ceased; I went out from myself,
leaving my cares
forgotten among the lilies.

If you really want to live, don't run from the cross or self-denial, mortification, purification, asceticism, or self-discipline. Dr. Michael Gama will teach you through his course Introduction to St. John of the Cross. This course is in the School of Spiritual Formation at the Avila Institute. The classes will be Tuesdays 8:30 – 10:30 pm Eastern time on Nov 7, 14, 28, Dec 5, 12, 19. Also, check out more information about another class at the Avila Institute called Exploring the Source and Summit here.

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Art for this post on The Dark Night of the Soul: A Vision de saint Jean de la Croix (The Vision of Saint John of the Cross), Jacques van Oost, 1675-1700, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons. Amended “Cross, crucifix”, Michael Gaida, 2017, CC0 Creative Commons, Pixabay. Special Counsels – Degrees of Perfection #9 from “The Collected Works of Saint John of the Cross” Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriguez translators, ICS publications (Washington D.C.) 1991. “Dark Night of the Soul” from EWTN library.

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About Kristin Aebli

Kristin Aebli is the Event Coordinator and Marketing Assistant at the Avila Foundation, parent organization of SpiritualDirection.com, the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation, and Divine Intimacy Radio. Receiving the position was providential and in God’s perfect timing. Although cradle Catholic, in college she reverted and became confirmed in the Church. Kristin graduated with a degree in Communications from Samford University and she still enjoys ministering to college students through the Samford Catholic Student Association. Kristin is happy to be a part of the Firelight college ministry, is involved with Apostoli Viae and also a Young Professionals Bible study. For fun, Kristin enjoys discussing theology with friends, recording her podcast "Catholic After Dark", dancing, singing, cooking, writing and painting. She hopes to continue growing in her faith through the sacraments and involvement with faithful community.

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  • Anneli Sinkko

    I personally went through a painful period in my life when my beloved husband died. God wasn’t there and I needed him so badly. All I could do was to pray, over and over gain: ‘give me a handle in life’. It took me months and I repeated this same prayer because it was all I had … I had to hang into my Lord and then he answered and gave me LIFE. And I learned to comfort others because I knew that the suffering, loneliness and pain will go away and we learn to love more fully and understand more clearly.

    • YoikesAndAway

      I too went through one of many painful parts of my life. Feeling persecuted by family at home and family at work, friends, every aspect of my life seemed to find pleasure in tearing me down, placing their mistakes on to me, outright hatred towards me, that all I could do was repeat over and over that God loves me everyday. When I would get up in the morning getting ready for work starting a new day of possible outright condemnation again, I would repeat that over and over and found great solace. I would even go so far as to say it saved my life and sanity and allowed me to recognize that I did not have to carry their abuses.

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