John of the Cross: My House Being Now At Rest Tuesday, Dec 14 2010 

On a dark night,
Kindled in love with yearnings — oh, happy chance! —
I went forth without being observed,
My house being now at rest,

In this first stanzas the soul sings of the happy fortune and chance which it experienced in going forth from all things that are without, and from the desires and imperfections that are in the sensual part of man because of the disordered state of his reason.

For the understanding of this it must be known that, for a soul to attain to the state of perfection, it has ordinarily first to pass through two principal kinds of night, which spiritual persons call purgations or purifications of the soul.

And here we call them nights, for in both of them the soul journeys, as it were, by night, in darkness. The first night or purgation is of the sensual part of the soul…and the second is of the spiritual part.

And this first night pertains to beginners, occurring at the time when God begins to bring them into the state of contemplation….And the second night, or purification, pertains to those who are already proficient, occurring at the time when God desires to bring them to the state of union with God.

[…] Briefly, then, the soul means by this stanza that it went forth (being led by God) for love of Him alone, enkindled in love of Him, upon a dark night, which is the privation and purgation of all its sensual desires, with respect to all outward things of the world and to those which were delectable to its flesh, and likewise with respect to the desires of its will.

This all comes to pass in this purgation of sense; for which cause the soul says that it went forth while its house was still at rest; which house is its sensual part, the desires being at rest and asleep in it, as it is to them.

For there is no going forth from the pains and afflictions of the secret places of the desires until these be mortified and put to sleep.

And this, the soul says, was a happy chance for it — namely, its going forth without being observed: that is, without any desire of its flesh or any other thing being able to hinder it.

And likewise, because it went out by night — which signifies the privation of all these things wrought in it by God, which privation was night for it.

And it was a happy chance that God should lead it into this night, from which there came to it so much good; for of itself the soul would not have succeeded in entering therein, because no man of himself can succeed in voiding himself of all his desires in order to come to God.

John of the Cross (1542-1591): Ascent of Mount Carmel, 1,1.


R. Garrigou-Lagrange: To Hear The Divine Inspirations We Must Create Silence In Ourselves; To Be Docile To The Holy Ghost, We Must First Hear His Voice. Saturday, May 22 2010 

To be docile to the Holy Ghost, we must first hear His voice.

To do so, recollection, detachment from the world and from self are necessary, as are the custody of the heart, the mortification of self-will, and personal judgment.

If silence does not reign in our soul, if the voice of excessively human affections troubles it, we cannot of a certainty hear the inspirations of the interior Master.

For this reason the Lord subjects our sensible appetites to severe trials and in a way crucifies them that they may eventually become silent or fully submissive to our will animated by charity.

If we are ordinarily preoccupied with ourselves, we shall certainly hear ourselves or perhaps a more perfidious, more dangerous voice which seeks to lead us astray.

Consequently our Lord invites us to die to ourselves like the grain of wheat placed in the ground.

To hear the divine inspirations, we must, therefore, create silence in ourselves; but even then the voice of the Holy Ghost remains mysterious.

As Christ says: “The Spirit breathes where He will; and you hear His voice, but you do not know whence He comes and whither He goes. So is everyone that is born of the Spirit”.

Mysterious words, which should make us prudent and reserved in our judgments about our neighbor, attentive to the attractions placed in us by the Lord, which are the mixed seed of a future known to divine Providence.

They are attractions toward renunciation, toward interior prayer; they are more precious than we think.

Some intellectuals from an early age have an attraction to silent mental prayer, which alone perhaps will preserve them from spiritual pride, from dryness of heart, and will make their souls childlike, such as they must be to enter the kingdom of God, and especially the intimacy of the kingdom.

A vocation to a definite religious order may often be recognized by these early attractions.

The voice of the Holy Ghost begins, therefore, by an instinct, an obscure illumination, and if one perseveres in humility and conformity to the will of God, this instinct manifests its divine origin clearly to the conscience while remaining mysterious.

The first gleams will become so many lights which, like the stars, will illumine the night of our pilgrimage toward eternity.

The dark night will thus become luminous and like the aurora of the life of heaven, “and night shall be my light in my pleasures”.

To succeed in being docile to the Holy Ghost, we need, therefore, interior silence, habitual recollection, attention, and fidelity.

R. Garrigou-Lagrange OP (1877-1964): The Three Ages of the Interior Life.

Benedict XVI: Love Goes Beyond Reason Monday, Mar 22 2010 

Whereas for St. Augustine the intellectus, the seeing with reason and with the heart, is the ultimate category of knowledge, Pseudo-Dionysius takes still another step: in the ascent to God one can come to a point when reason no longer sees.

But in the night of the intellect, love still sees – it sees what remains inaccessible to reason. Love goes beyond reason, sees more, enters more profoundly into the mystery of God.

St. Bonaventure was fascinated by this vision, which met with his Franciscan spirituality. Precisely in the dark night of the cross appears all the grandeur of divine love; where reason no longer sees, love sees.

The conclusive words of his Journey of the Mind to God in a superficial reading, might seem an exaggerated expression of a devotion devoid of content; read, instead, in the light of the theology of the cross of St. Bonaventure, they are a clear and realistic expression of Franciscan spirituality:

“If now you yearn to know how that happens (that is, the ascent to God), ask grace, not doctrine; desire, not the intellect; the groan of prayer, not the study of the letter; … not light, but the fire that inflames everything and transports to God” (VII, 6).

All this is not anti-intellectual and anti-rational: it implies the way of reason but transcends it in the love of the crucified Christ.

With this transformation of the mysticism of Pseudo-Dionysius, St. Bonaventure is placed at the beginning of a great mystical current, which greatly raised and purified the human mind: it is a summit in the history of the human spirit.

Hence, for St. Bonaventure, all our life is a “journey”, a pilgrimage – an ascent to God.

But with our own strength we cannot ascend to the loftiness of God. God himself must help us, must “pull” us on high.

That is why prayer is necessary. Prayer – so says the saint – is the mother and origin of the ascent – sursum actio, action that takes us on high, Bonaventure says.

Because of this, I conclude with the prayer, with which he begins his Journey: “Let us pray, therefore and say to our Lord God: ‘Lead me, Lord, on your way and I will walk in your truth. My heart rejoices in fearing your name’” (I,1).

Benedict XVI (b. 1927): On Theology According To Thomas And Bonaventure (translation by Zenit).

Elizabeth of the Trinity: “He Imparts Eternal Life To Me” Wednesday, Nov 25 2009 

Her first retreat after her profession established her in this state of soul: the way of faith, obscure, yet luminous, because she clearly realized the love of God.

He was her light, enlightening her in the darkness of her night, so that she blessed the Lord at all times.

God appeared to wish to recompense her generous fidelity during this retreat, for she was overwhelmed with graces too sublime and substantial to be described, so that when Sister Elizabeth of the Trinity gave an account of her dispositions, she raised her lustrous eyes to her Prioress, and could only say: “He imparts eternal life to me.”

… After this retreat, her prayer seemed still more simple. “We must keep our eyes on Him,” she said, speaking of the Divine Master; “we must be silent; it is so simple!”

This was her one rule. If a novena was to be made, a feast to be prepared for, when she was asked what she was going to do, she always answered: “I am going to be silent, so that He may flow into me.”

…Sometimes, however, she felt very doubtful whether she ought to be constantly passive; ought she not to act more during prayer ?

Her peace, disturbed for the moment, was always restored to her by Him Who wished her to be thus recollected under His direct and continuous action.

One day, during the “Forty Hours,” Elizabeth, after listening to her companions urging one another to make reparation, felt rather sorry, as she began her prayer, at not being able to act in the same way; but she had hardly prostrated herself to adore our Lord, when He enveloped her with a luminous and peace-giving radiance.

It was suddenly revealed to her that the obstacle created by sin against God’s diffusing Himself into the souls of men was one of the things which most deeply wounded the Divine Heart, and that to console Him and to make reparation for such an outrage, she must let herself be taken possession of by God, giving full liberty to His grace and love to act within her.

Now that her form of prayer was divinely approved, it became more and more her habitual state of soul

Elizabeth of the Trinity (1880-1906); as recounted in The Praise of Glory: Reminiscences of Elizabeth of the Trinity by A Carmelite Nun of Dijon, pp. 110-111.

John of the Cross: From Darkness to Light Tuesday, Oct 20 2009 

The reason for which it is necessary for the soul, in order to attain to divine union with God, to pass through this dark night of mortification of the desires and denial of pleasures in all things, is because all the affections which it has for creatures are pure darkness in the eyes of God.

And, when the soul is clothed in these affections, it has no capacity for being enlightened and possessed by the pure and simple light of God, if it first cast them not from it; for light cannot agree with darkness; since, as Saint John says, ‘The darkness could not receive the light’.

The reason is that two contraries (even as philosophy teaches us) cannot coexist in one person; and that darkness, which is affection set upon the creatures, and light, which is God, are contrary to each other, and have no likeness or accord between one another.

Thus Saint Paul taught the Corinthians, saying: ‘What communion can there be between light and darkness? Hence it is that the light of divine union cannot dwell in the soul if these affections first flee not away from it.

…For all things of earth and heaven, compared with God, are nothing, as Jeremias says in these words: ‘I beheld the earth,’ he says, ‘and it was void, and it was nothing; and the heavens, and saw that they had no light.’

In saying that he beheld the earth void, he means that all its creatures were nothing, and that the earth was nothing likewise.

And, in saying that he beheld the heavens and saw no light in them, he says that all the luminaries of heaven, compared with God, are pure darkness.

So that in this way all the creatures are nothing; and their affections, we may say, are less than nothing, since they are an impediment to transformation in God and the privation thereof, even as darkness is not only nothing, but less than nothing, since it is privation of light.

And even as he that is in darkness comprehends not the light, so the soul that sets its affection upon creatures will be unable to comprehend God.

And, until it be purged, it will neither be able to possess Him here below, through pure transformation of love, nor yonder in clear vision.

John of the Cross (1542-1591): Ascent of Mount Carmel, 1,4

John of the Cross: On a Dark Night Saturday, Oct 17 2009 

We may say that there are three reasons for which this journey made by the soul to union with God is called night.

The first has to do with the point from which the soul goes forth, for it has gradually to deprive itself of desire for all the worldly things which it possessed, by denying them to itself; the which denial and deprivation are, as it were, night to all the senses of man.

The second reason has to do with the mean, or the road along which the soul must travel to this union — that is, faith, which is likewise as dark as night to the understanding.

The third has to do with the point to which it travels — namely, God, Who, equally, is dark night to the soul in this life. These three nights must pass through the soul — or, rather, the soul must pass through them — in order that it may come to Divine union with God.

In the book of the holy Tobias these three kinds of night were shadowed forth by the three nights which, as the angel commanded, were to pass ere the youth Tobias should be united with his bride.

In the first he commanded him to burn the heart of the fish in the fire, which signifies the heart that is affectioned to, and set upon, the things of the world; which, in order that one may begin to journey toward God, must be burned and purified from all that is creature, in the fire of the love of God. And in this purgation the devil flees away, for he has power over the soul only when it is attached to things corporeal and temporal.

On the second night the angel told him that he would be admitted into the company of the holy patriarchs, who are the fathers of the faith. For, passing through the first night, which is self-privation of all objects of sense, the soul at once enters into the second night, and abides alone in faith to the exclusion, not of charity, but of other knowledge acquired by the understanding, as we shall say hereafter, which is a thing that pertains not to sense.

On the third night the angel told him that he would obtain a blessing, which is God; Who, by means of the second night, which is faith, continually communicates Himself to the soul in such a secret and intimate manner that He becomes another night to the soul, inasmuch as this said communication is far darker than those others, as we shall say presently.

And, when this third night is past, which is the complete accomplishment of the communication of God in the spirit, which is ordinarily wrought in great darkness of the soul, there then follows its union with the Bride, which is the Wisdom of God.

John of the Cross (1542-1591): Ascent of Mount Carmel, 1,2