Lent with St Edith Stein Day 18:  The Cross and the Night

Lent with St Edith Stein Day 18:  The Cross and the Night

“[The night] casts the soul into loneliness, desolation and emptiness, stops the activity of all her faculties, frightens her by threatening horrors it conceals within itself.”

St Edith Stein, The Science of the Cross

               St John of the Cross wrote extensively on the cross and on the dark night of the soul. It would be useful for the remainder of our reflections to take a moment to pause and consider the difference between the two. There has been some confusion as to whether the two are interchangeable, but St Edith studied his writings extensively and disagrees.

               The cross represents suffering, death, humiliation, and brutality. This is not a symbolism that was assigned or implied through literary association. It is historic fact. The cross is a human tool designed and formed for a particular purpose. Its form relates directly to its purpose and the associated meaning. Therefore, it is an emblem, rather than a sign.

               Night, however, is used metaphorically. Night is something natural, something we experience, that we are all familiar with. But we are most familiar with the cosmic night. The sun sets and the world around us is filled with moonlight. The sun can be harsh and glaring and reveal flaws. The moonlight is soft and serene and reveals beauty. There is quiet, there is rest, there is peace.

               The mystical night which St John of the Cross speaks of is different. It is total darkness, not from without, but from within. Whatever is covered by this night continues to exist but is unseen. External dangers are hidden from us. We lose sensory perception and are left defenseless. We can’t see where we are, we can’t prepare ourselves for what’s coming at us.

               In the mystical night, perhaps you have long spent time in meditation, in deep interior prayer. But suddenly, your spiritual senses, your will, imagination, understanding, no longer work. You cannot see the way forward. This is the dark night. When your spirit reaches out for divine comfort through the usual channels but finds nothing. This is the dark night.

               This symbolism, though imperfect, is meant to help guide souls. God wants to unite us to Himself, but the way for us to get to him can be very difficult and many of us are stuck en route. To further complicate things, “souls do not understand what is happening within them.” We need guidance and someone to help us along. The Saints have already made their way and would love to help you on yours.
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