Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Lenten Reflections

As I was reading my book for Lent, Devotional Classics edited by Richard Foster, I was again impressed and encouraged by the passage by St. John of the Cross. He lived from 1542 - 1551 and was on the cutting edge of reform within the Catholic Church. His most famous work, The Dark Night of the Soul is one I wish to read in its entirety.

In this excerpt, St. John of the Cross claims that as God draws certain persons from a "beginning stage to a more advanced stage" of spiritual depth, "such souls will likely experience what is called 'the dark night of the soul.' The 'dark night' is when those persons lose all the pleasure that they once experienced in their devotional life. This happens because God wants to purify them and move them on to greater heights."

Why would God do this, I ask? St. John gives several reasons: secret pride in their diligence in their devotions; spiritual greed in being attached to the feelings they get from their devotional life rather than being attached to God; spiritual luxury which is caused by physical pleasure, the devil, or fear of impure thoughts (I don't really understand this one fully); spiritual wrath in not being transformed immediately by the devotional life (not becoming "saints in a day,"); spiritual gluttony in which people become addicted to devotions and strive to obtain more and more of it; spiritual envy in others being praised for their "holiness" more than themselves; and finally, spiritual sloth in which once the "dark night" begins and the person, receiving no pleasure from the devotional life, loses interest in both their devotions and in God Himself.

Basically, St. John states that "... the feelings we receive from our devotional life are the least of its benefits. The invisible and unfelt grace of God is much greater, and is beyond our comprehension.... For true spirituality consists in perseverance, patience, and humility." For those of us (and I include myself) who do our devotions for our sake (pleasure) than for His sake (true worship), "[t]he Lord heals such souls through the aridity of the dark night."

God is urging us to "grow up" spiritually. St. John concludes this section by saying, "Through the dark night pride becomes humility, greed becomes simplicity, wrath becomes contentment, luxury becomes peace, gluttony becomes moderation, envy becomes joy, and sloth becomes strength. No soul will ever grow deep in the spiritual life unless God works passively in that soul by means of the dark night" (emphasis mine).

As I read this, I perhaps see now why my life sems to allow so little time for devotions. I AM indeed pursuing my own pleasure, my own consolation, my own peace, rather than worshiping the Lord as He so richly deserves. I'm doing it for ME, rather than for Him. And while I pine for more time for devotions, perhaps I'm desiring the devotions for the wrong motivations. I can't say I'm going through a "dark night" (I have in the past), but I must say that if "a dark night of the soul" will mature me spiritually, then "Thy will be done."

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