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    a gloomy street at night

    Purified by the Dark Night of the Soul

    If God were to liberate beginner Christians from all annoyances, they would be in danger of pride and presumption.

    By Saint John of the Cross

    February 13, 2022
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    • Sambuka

      This has Humbled me. Thank you

    Beginners usually yearn for God to take away their faults not for God’s sake but for their own peace of mind. What they don’t realize is that if God were to liberate them from all these annoyances they would be in even graver danger of pride and presumption. They hate it when others are praised and love it when they are praised themselves. They are like those foolish virgins who sought oil from others when their own lamps went dead (Matt. 25:8).

    Tainted by these early imperfections, some souls go on to intensify them, which is very harmful. Some beginners have more wickedness, some less. Some show small flickers of imperfection which, thankfully, go nowhere. But there is not a beginner, in the fervor of her beginning, who does not fall into some degree of the trouble.

    Yet those on the true path to perfection walk in a special way through all this. They are assisted by their very humility, placing little importance on their own efforts and drawing little satisfaction from their accomplishments. They see everyone else as far better than themselves and may suffer some holy envy, longing to serve God as others do.

    As their passion for God intensifies, they work harder for him, loving the service they are engaged in. But as their humility deepens, so does their awareness of how much God deserves from them and how inadequate everything they do really is. The more they do, the less satisfied they feel. So vast is their generosity and love toward God that nothing they could possibly offer him seems worthy.

    Gentle souls, far from pretending to be anyone’s teacher, are open to the journey and will set out on a completely different road from the one they have been walking if that is recommended.

    Absorbed, drenched, swept up by this loving anxiety, they do not take any notice of what others are doing or not doing, except insofar as they perceive that others are better than they are. They think little of themselves and only wish that others would dismiss them altogether. Even if others do value them and praise them, they cannot believe a thing they say; such compliments strike them as ridiculous.

    With deep tranquility and humility, they yearn to learn from anyone who might have anything to teach them. This is exactly the opposite of those others who always consider themselves to be the teachers, the ones who pluck the words out of the mouth of someone offering some instruction as if they already knew everything.

    But these gentle souls, far from pretending to be anyone’s teacher, are open to the journey and will set out on a completely different road from the one they have been walking if that is recommended. The never presume to be right about anything.

    narrow, foggy alley lit by street lamps

    Photograph by Morica Pham

    They do not feel like talking about themselves, even to their spiritual guides, because they consider their religious deeds to be so insignificant that they’re not worth mentioning. They are much more interested in discussing their faults and transgressions than their virtues, eager to share whatever is wrong with them. They are inclined to seek direction from people who do not think much of them or of their spiritual accomplishments.

    These are qualities of a spirit that is pure and simple and true. And this is what is pleasing to God. The wise spirit of God dwells within them, inspiring them to keep their treasures concealed and reveal only their imperfections. As he denies this grace from the proud, it is bestowed, along with all the other virtues, upon these humble souls.

    Such beginners would offer the very blood of their hearts to anyone who loves God. They draw upon everything in themselves to serve those who serve him. Whenever they realize they are falling into imperfection, they bear this with humility, with softness of spirit, with a balance of loving awe of God and deep trust in him.

    Very few beginners tread the path so skillfully. Just as few fall into grave error. The dark night will purify them and move them along the road to perfection.


    From Dark Night of of the Soul by St. John of the Cross, translated by Mirabai Starr, translation copyright © 2002 by Mirabai Starr. Used by permission of Riverhead, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.

    Contributed By

    Saint John of the Cross (1542-1591) was a Christian mystic and poet. A supporter of fellow mystic Saint Teresa of Ávila, he cofounded the contemplative order of Discalced Carmelites.

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