The Night of the soul
Anonymous asked this question on 8/3/2000:
I am a cradle Catholic in love with the Catholic Faith. Actually, if you wanted a short phrase describing my journey it would be "A Cradle Catholic's Conversion to Catholicism." I walked away for a while, although I never attended other churches, just out of selfishness and boredom and merely pre-occupations that teens have with friends and other things. Then, I got married to a Methodist, have 4 beautiful children and an anti-Catholic family on my husbands side.
My husband converted to Catholicism about 3 years ago and our journey together is wonderful. Having anti-Catholic relatives and a husband with a different beliefs in the beginning of our marriage actually helped me to fall in love with the Catholic Church. In order to explain things to my husband, or to lovingly defend the Catholic Faith, I decided to study A LOT. I thought I was setting out to help others and what it actually did was to help my own faith and understanding and deepen it and this great love I have for it. The most excellent thing is that within the Catholic Church, there needs not be a stand-still in faith because there are so many tools to help grow and I know that if I will it, that I can ever deepen my relationship with God and love for the Catholic Church. It is so exciting!
Here's my problem. One thing I have learned is that the devil's attacks grow as one grows closer to God. This has been the story of my journey. The harder I try, the harder the devil has to try and the more I have to trust and believe and let God conquer. God has been good to us and unlike most, we are able to see why this or that has happened or is happening, and when it wasn't profitable for us to know, He helped us to trust.
Now, I am going through I guess what is called the dark night of the soul where I feel no connection to God, but I know He's still there, I know He still takes care of me and loves me and hasn't and won't ever leave me. This is the hardest thing I have ever been through, but it will probably be one of the best things to ever happen to me should I remain faithful to Him. I see this is a most excellent way to prove my love for Him - I am in a situation where I am not understanding the trials that are happening in my life at all and things are going as I think they should - and at the same time I am not "feeling" that great closeness or connection to Him which is the most painful thing.
So, I am smart enough to know how very dumb I am and that I should not give up, neglect prayer, frequent reception of the sacraments, etc. just because it "feels" like He's hidden himself from me. I think maybe now is when He is manifesting Himself most to me, but I am just not understanding it. So, my feeling is - along with some person at some point of history in the Church had said - "I believe in order to understand." Almost always in the past, it has been an even exchange between God and me. For example, I am faithful and in return I have an overwhelming sense of being in His presence and FEELING so loved and so peaceful. Now, I guess he is asking me to let go of needing that "feeling" and to really love Him. I think it is in moments like this that we can love Him even better than before. So, that's what I am trying to do.
But, I am hurting. I miss that feeling and I am in a great struggle. Maybe you don’t' understand this, I don't know. The longer it goes on that I don't feel His presence the harder it gets and the more tempted I am to despair or give up altogether and I don't want to do that. I want to remain faithful through this agony. I often am meditating on the uneven exchange that He endured. He loved when we didn't. He was always faithful to us when we aren't to Him.
I've done pretty good to this point, but I am getting weak and weary, and even experiencing physical exhaustion. I guess I am realizing just how much our spirits can affect our physical health. I know He won't give me more than I can handle and won't let it go on more than is for the good of my soul. But, again, I need some help. I guess I am just asking for some suggestions, advice, etc. to help me through this time right now. I have gone to the sacraments and believe in them and I won't stop doing that either because I know the graces and strength He has in store for me through them and I am confidant they will help me persevere. But, if you have any more suggestions, I would be so appreciative to hear them.
I feel kind of bad because my prayers are much different than before - a little more simpler and a whole lot more contemplation and meditation than a strand of lengthy heart felt prayers. It's not that I am praying without heart-felt sentiments at all, it's just different. It's things like just saying "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus," or "change my heart into what you want it to be and not what I want or think is right," a bunch of "I believes," and "Thy will be done," and a lot of "All I have is a broken spirit for you Lord, but I know the wonders you can do with a wounded spirit," etc.
That's about as long as my prayers get. I know He doesn't ask me for great long formulas in prayer, but in the past, I could lift my heart for much longer durations as far as a time span. For example 20 minutes vs. 1 minute I could have an endless stream of connectivity, heartfelt praises and pleas and devotion. So, in a way, I feel I am letting Him down because I look at my own children and know they prefer 20 minutes of my attention to 1 minute any day. But, I don't want to beat myself up and let it be a distraction to me if one doesn't exist - it's the discerning if one exist though that is hardest.
Can you offer any advice or suggestion? I am not opposed to "laying it on the line" or "charitable rebuking" if that is what is necessary and I won't get upset if you need to be firm.
The flesh is weak but the Spirit is willing
Dear sister in Christ.
The peace of the Lord be in your heart.
I don't know why God blesses me with messages like yours. I think He is showing me that His love is everywhere. And like a Gardener He cleanses the branch so that there might be more fruit in Christ.
But at the same time I almost wish you could have asked someone else because nilly willy I will upset you. I have had some experience with your kind of experience. I have seen it is better in the end to confront clearly the issues.
I will make some comments on your sayings. You may feel as being misunderstood or even attacked. Let the comments enter your conscience as if they were about an other person. Masticate and ruminate them. Then lay them aside and go on with your chores. The next day look at them again when anger has faded. Perhaps you will be prepared to accept if not to understand. I am very aware that my comments are pushed to the farthest point of interpretation. I try to help and sometimes you need to stand at the border to see the abysm of danger.
So let’s begin.
You think that what you are experiencing is the work of the devil. No. It’s exclusively God’s work. If you have to rebuke someone it’s Him. The devil is God’s employee. His duty is to tell you every day: "God doesn’t love you because He lets you suffer so much". That’s his role. But the culprit of your misery is God, don’t you doubt it.
By the way the "dark night" is for saints that are far far advanced in the ways of God. Your problem is that you are growing up spiritually. You say "things are (not) going as I think they should". Job thought like you and God asked him if he had been there when He created the world. Job was sorry he had spoken at all.
You rationalize because you want to excuse God from all guilt. You are trying to love Him. Have you seen a child trying to push a bulldozer? Ridiculous, isn’t it? God wants to love through, in and with you in His dimension. You are trying to do that with your tiny spiritual muscles! You want to push the Himalayas from its place? How many years did you need to find out that you couldn’t change your husband? And you want to change God!
Don’t you understand? God is hard at work with you and you don’t want to let Him. And because He does His will you have to explain it to yourself, you have to rationalize. The court of law of your intelligence. The ultimate judge is your reason!
You are talking of wanting to despair, give up, etc. Aren’t you trying a little extortion? You threaten God: "If you don’t give me back what I had I could do this or that and you wouldn’t like it". I am sorry if I am shaking the securities that sustain your faith so that you will have nothing to lean on. Not your intelligence, nor your rationalizations nor your good behavior. Try to swim against the moving waters. Making every effort you will be moving only on the same spot.
Your talk about letting Him down because you are not any more in cloud nine and the connectivity isn’t function any more. May I try an explanation? You thought you possessed prayer like a fountain. You could turn it on any time you wanted. Now the fountain is dry. God shows you that everything is a gift, His gift.
You are looking at your affliction and are hypnotized. You think that you were really praying in the past. Ma’am you were playing at it. Sorry if it sounds harsh. Children play. Spiritual toddlers play at prayers. God is teaching you right now the real thing. Let go! Let Him do what He wants. You miss Him your way. You are learning His way. The physical effects are consequences of your holding on when you should let go.
But that doesn't change your inner sorrow, does it? The Lord has taken away the sweets and is giving you food for spiritual adults.
Growing up is a pain in the neck. But you will discover a new joy that was covered up to now with the blankets of your feelings.
You will have to explain what you mean with "But, I don't want to beat myself up and let it be a distraction to me if one doesn't exist - it's the discerning if one exist though that is hardest" so I can show you the futility of this statement too.
I will present you now with an image of nature that at first impression is a show of unkindness.
Have you seen how the birds push their little ones out of the nest? These cling and beg and resist. But the parents are seemingly without compassion. The push until the young ones "fall" out of the nest. Then the young birds spread their wings and soar.
You are being pushed out of the nest of warm feelings, sensations of nearness and security in your heavenly Father's arms.
Jesus cried out: ""Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?" which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Mark 15:34).
This was no poetry, this was for real.
Saint Paul says that our destiny is to reproduce the image of God's Son. That means resurrection but it means the cross too.
So you see the first step is to escape the prison of your intelligence’s universe and the narrowness of spiritual childhood. Have patience and give God a chance.
In the meantime open your eyes. I am sure that the Lord is doing marvelous things around you right now. He IS THERE in your life and closer than before. Have you seen someone near you changing to life, accepting your word? Hold on to that and you will see much more!
God bless you
in Corde Jesu
Missionary of the Sacred Heart.
Anonymous asked this follow-up question on 8/4/2000:
I was not at all upset or offended by what you said. I told you that if you could, to give it to me quite direct in order to help and you did and I really thank you. I will keep reading what you said over and over so it can penetrate more. Thank you!
I didn't mean to infer at all that I was saintly. Using the term "dark night of the soul" was the best thing I could think of to relate. I know that St. Therese of Liseux and several other precious Saints experienced these and I am no where experiencing their agony nor as spiritually advanced. You are all too correct, I am just an infant spiritually.
What I was asking about the discerning in order not to have distractions was precisely this - are these shortened prayers instead of how I used to pray pleasing or offending to God? I was having trouble knowing if this was pleasing or not and the distraction was worry of offending. I think you have already answered this.
Where we live there is now just becoming the shortage of priests that a lot of the world has been experiencing. I am very thankful there was a precious and loving soul like you to help me. I have seen many things you have written to others on this site and you have helped so many. Here's one of those perfect places for my eyes to open and see God at work in my life and in many others. Thank you for doing this on the internet for us.
I once heard that St. Thomas Aquinas had said when he was preparing to die and was caught up in ecstasy - and after coming out of it - he said to his secretary that all the things he had written were just mere straw in regards to what God really is and his majesty. That really hit me pretty hard because for so long I thought there were few souls that had known so much about God. Then come to realize that this great Saint and writer of the Summa Theologica himself said that what he knew was really nothing. That was a profound realization to me and probably one that I need to keep in mind more often.
Thanks again for your courage to correct me and help me and so many others.
Through Mary's Heart into Jesus' Grip,
I have a confession to make. Generally when approached by Christians with spiritual tribulations I respond with a kind of ruthlessness. Why? I await the reaction so I can see what kind of urgency stands behind the question, what spirit’s child they are. Many times they look for comfort and consolation. In these cases they don’t post any more. In a face-to-face situation you see the effect of your words at once and you can take if from there. But in this medium you have to look only at the words. And it is easy to hide behind them. So I have to push some more in order to be able to help. The problem is that I may be terribly wrong in individual cases, that the Lord wants me to give comfort. God help me and them!
Why do I write this to you? It’s to help you to disregard feelings of incomprehension or sympathy. Especially my sentiments and what I think about you is of no significance. Your only endeavor should consist in asking if this or that comes from God or not. That is the discernment.
Do you know the game where two men with some kind of shovel throw the ball against the wall and the other has to catch it? I think it’s a game of Northern Spain. Here they call it "frontón". That is the service I can offer. I throw balls and you see if you catch them; I mean you decide if it is right for you and if it’s God’s will.
May I ask you a favor? Please abstain from laudatory expressions regarding this sinner. I may easily believe you and later pass some 200 additional years in Purgatory for conceit and giving myself airs. Pray for me so I may not offend God so much. That is all I need. God does things in spite of me.
The preliminaries done with I can begin throwing some balls.
Regarding the "dark night of soul": I think these categories are useful to describe general spiritual conditions and to avoid jeopardy. But the real danger consists in observing anxiously if my state of spiritual affairs corresponds to the conditions of those categories and accordingly I try to adequate myself to them. That in turn twists the original experience and presses it into forms that do not correspond. Every single one of the spiritual histories between God and his children is unique. It doesn’t help much to compare. It could be more a distraction. God talks specifically. We have to learn to understand Him in our history of life. That’s where He talks to us every day. By the way before the "dark night of soul" you have to pass first through the "dark night of senses" as taught by St. Teresa from Avila and St. John of the Cross.
I heard from a wise man the daily question: "What new things has God done today in your life?" I think this is a wonderful question because we live with our eyes closed to His presence. God doesn’t repeat Himself. He tells us that He loves us but never in the same way. In midst of our routine He is creating something new everyday. How could you otherwise identify with the experience of reading the next day the same passage of Scripture of the day before and understand something different? The spiritual masters recommend every night an examination of our conscience to discover the sins perpetrated during the day in order to beg God so that He may forgive us. But there should equally be an examination of the day in order to discover how God has shown anew His love during that day. If I can’t remember anything I’m blind. Saint Ignatius from Loyola suggest to do this in the morning so that you may be on the alert. Condition red during the whole day!
Many times we don’t know what pleases God more. Perhaps the saying of Job: "God gave it and He took it away. Blessed be the Name of the Lord" can help you when you anguish over the briefness of your prayers. Perhaps the Lord is showing you that one-minute His way is more important to Him than 100 minutes your way.
I wanted to ask you something regarding your remark that you will go on receiving the sacraments. Do I perceive that the parish priest is not according to your expectations?
Do you permit me a little irony? What is your Summa Theologica? What kind of vision did you have? What great things did you do that is straw in the presence of God?
Some more questions (without irony)?
How are the normal expressions of faith in your daily life? Morning and evening prayer, blessing and thanking the Lord at meal times, 5 minutes a day with the Scripture? Do you permit that the sun sets over your anger without seeking reconciliation? Do you sing hymns and Psalms during the chores? You don’t feel like it? Well then, sing penitential hymns and Psalms. Don’t excuse yourself because your voice is not the voice of the soprano of the day. God rejoices in the screeching of Donald Duck. Depression and sorrow have lurking in the background some offense against God. I’m sure you pray with your children at bedtime and tell them stories from the Bible.
I don’t want to know the answers except when you have some question about it. You talk it over with the Holy Ghost. He is the specialist for these things.
You want to learn how to pray? I have just the suggestion for a busy wife and mother. There is a precious little book called "The Russian Pilgrim". I don’t know if this is the correct title in English. It is the story of a man who went in quest of the answer regarding what in heaven’s name you do in order to put into practice the suggestion of Saint Paul in verse 17 (1 Tes 5:) "16 Be joyful always; 17 PRAY CONTINUALLY; 18 give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. " Well he meets one of the staretz (the wise men in Russia who instruct how to be a Christian) that teaches him to do just that, to pray continually. And the pilgrim tells about his experience. You can learn it too.
Let’s let this entire stew simmer for a week, shall we? No law. If you have something urgent it’s all right to post. But you should let things grow the same way you don’t hurry your children’s growth. In spiritual life it’s trial and error too.
God bless you.
PS. Oh, I forgot one more question: Who is more important, your children or your husband? I sure would like to know the answer to this question (in a week’s time).