Transverberation of the Heart of St. Teresa of Jesus
The soul enamoured of its God repeats with St. Francis: “So great is the Good which awaits me that all pain is delightful to me.”One of the greatest graces God can give a soul is that of introducing it into the painful desolation of the Night of the spirit, for it is in this way that He prepares and disposes it for union. Although to the soul who experiences its distressing pains, this Nightseems to be chastisement from God, it is, on the contrary, a gift of His “merciful love,” by means of which, He wills to disentangle the soul from the last snares of its imperfections.* St. John of the Cross declares expressly that this night is the work of “the loving wisdom of God,” which purifying the soul “prepares it for the union of love” (Dark Night, II.5,1). But if this is the work of divine love, why is it so painful?
* Not a question anymore of mortal and venial sins.
The difficult and bitter purification called the Night of the spirit necessitates the extirpation of the roots of imperfect habits. In theNight of the sense, the beginning of the purification of the soul, the soul is put into obscurity and deprivation of all sensible consolation, freed from attachment to creatures (spiritual and earthly – material or not), a matter of renouncing “every pleasure that presents itself to the senses, if it be not purely for the honor and glory of God” (St. John of the Cross, Ascent of Mt. Carmel, I.13,4) ; but this Night is complete only by the Night of the spirit which, annihilating the soul in its spiritual faculties (the mind and the will), succeeds in destroying in it every imperfect habit. St. John of the Cross remarks very appositely that after having passed through the Night of the sense, “there still remain in the spirit the stains of the old man, although the spirit thinks not that this is so, neither can it perceive them” (ibid., 2.1); these stains are so deep and hidden that the soul has difficulty in recognizing them.
Consider, for example, one who is detached from creatures and earthly goods, advanced in the ways of prayer and virtue, a soul, therefore, who has already gone through the stages of the purgative and illuminative ways; nevertheless, when put to the test, it is easy to discover in it a certain attachment to its good works – work of the apostolate, exercises of penance or devotion – so that if obedience or the service of its neighbor oblige it to leave these works or substitute others for them, the soul is troubled, offers a certain resistance, and only with much reluctance does it succeed in submitting (cf., the Christian spirit in “Our Lady at Fatima: ‘MANY souls go to hell…‘”). This happens precisely because there are still within it the roots of imperfect habits and, above all, those of pride and egoism, whence spring all the other faults and imperfections. Of what use is it to suppress faulty actions if their roots remain in the spirit? Cut off only superficially, these roots, sooner or later, send forth shoots in a new direction.
The soul has become like a piece of green wood placed in the fire; material fire, acting upon wood, first of all begins to dry it by driving out its moisture (that is, those created goods – material or not – that serve as the source of security, joy, and comfort of the old man), and “to make it black, dark, and unsightly, and even to make it give forth a bad odour; and, as it dries it little by little, it brings out and drives away all the dark and unsightly accidents which are contrary to the nature of fire. Finally, it begins to kindle it externally, to give it heat, and at last transforms it into itself, making it as beautiful as fire” (St. John of the Cross, ibid., II.5,1). Likewise, divine Love, “before It unites and transforms the soul into itself, first purges it of all contrary accidents (that is, all those that mark the old man). The loving Wisdom of God invading the yet imperfect soul must necessarily begin in it a work of destruction, of purification, and only after having freed it from everything contrary to divine Love, will He unite it to Himself and transform it to Himself. Then, the work of Love will no longer be grievous to the soul, but very sweet and delightful; however, as long as it is not completely purified, this work of purgation cannot fail to be afflictive. O blessed affliction which disposes the soul for so great a Good!
No one can be freed from the roots of his faults without passing through the painful Night of the spirit. Comparing this night to theNight of the sense, St. John of the Cross says that the difference between one and the other “is the difference between the root and the branch, or between the removing of the stain which is fresh and of one which is old and of long standing” (ibid.). Although the operation is very arduous and painful to undergo, it is nevertheless indispensable, because the stain of the old man are removed only “with the soap and strong lye” of the purgation of the spirit, without which the soul “will be unable to come to the purity of divine union” (ibid.). Such desolation and such privation of everything should not discourage us; they are not ordered to death (of course ordered to the death of our false superficial life – the life of egoism), but to life and even to the fullness of life – which is union with God by a perfect measure of charity: to love as Christ loves.
Jesus Christ Himself, at the Last Supper, expressed the supreme desire of His love for us by asking for this perfect union: As Thou, Father in Me, and I in Thee; that they also may be one in Us (Jn. 17.21). But because we are radically incapable of this union, vitiated by sin and full of every misery, He took our sins upon Himself and washed them away in His Blood. The Passion of the Saviour tells us how much our purification has cost the sinless Son of God. And if it has cost Him, Innocence Itself, so much, is it not just that we should suffer a little, too, we who are culpable, having so often offended God, and having so many times, by our willfulness, put obstacles to the outpouring of His Love in our souls? And now that this divine Love, instead of abandoning us as we deserve, comes to us in order to purify us, shall we flee from its action? No, this cannot be! Just as purifying sufferings are the work of God’s love for us, so we want our acceptance of them to be the work, the proof, of our love for Him. “To love is to labor to detach and strip ourselves for God’s sake of all that is not God” (St. John of the Cross, Assent of Mt. Carmel, II.5,7). Solo Dios basta! (“God alone suffices,” St. Teresa of Jesus in her Nada)