Lent with St Edith Stein Day 19: Taking Up One’s Cross

Lent with St Edith Stein Day 19: Taking Up One’s Cross

“…Something entirely new is begun when the Dark Night starts. The entirely comfortable being-at-home in the world, the satiety of pleasures that it offers, the demand for these pleasures and the matter-of-course consent to these demands—all of this that human nature considers bright daily life—all of this is darkness in God’s eyes and incompatible with the divine light. It has to be totally uprooted if room for God is to be made in the soul. Meeting this demand means engaging in battle with one’s own nature all along the line, taking up one’s cross and delivering oneself up to be crucified.”

St Edith Stein, The Science of the Cross

               The first segment of the Dark Night is the Dark Night of the Senses. This is the process by which joy in and desire for worldly things is purged. We have to have a fundamental shift in our attitude toward the world. We must learn not to take comfort in earthly things, but in heavenly things. To do so, we must fight against our own nature, take up our cross, and enter the night willingly.

               St John of the Cross gave a few directions for entering the Dark Night actively:

  • “Sustain always the desire to imitate Christ in all things and to bring your life into conformity with His. You must therefore study His life in order to imitate it and behave always as He would.
  • In order to do this well, you must deny yourself every pleasure that presents itself to your senses, keep it far from you if it is not solely directed to the honor and glory of God.”

               The Dark Night of the Senses is an opportunity to order our four natural passions: joy, hope, fear, and sorrow. It is a means of finding freedom from all the world has to offer. In order to pass through, one must die to sin.

               Apart from entering the Night actively, we may be brought to it passively through God’s grace. It can be considered a natural progression of faith. Those who are new to the faith do not feel the character of the Dark Night. God holds us close and feeds us sweet milk like children. However, sin abounds in us at this point. We need to move from milk to solid nourishment.

               A lack of satisfaction in the spiritual life can be the sign of sin taking hold in us or it may be a sign of purgative dryness, which is a feature of the Dark Night. We can tell purgative dryness by 3 signs. 1) The soul finds no delight in creatures. 2) The soul continually turns to God but feels that there must be a lack in service. If the soul was lukewarm, it would not be concerned and would not continually turn to God. This dryness is a sign that the sensory part of the soul is growing weaker but the spirit is growing stronger and more concerned with pleasing God. 3) The soul has difficulty in meditations and God no longer communicates through the senses. This is the sign of a shift in communication from God, not a cutoff.

               God is now seeking to communicate to the soul through simple contemplation, which St John of the Cross describes as “something secret and hidden and even for the one who possesses it, mysterious.” It is a means of perseverance in prayer without activity; a loving and peaceful attentiveness to God without a great swelling in the soul. It is a “secret and peaceful and loving inflow of God.”

               Through the Dark Night of the Senses, the soul is granted self-knowledge and self-insight. We are able to see ourselves more clearly, sin and all, and approach God more reverently.  Through this, we become humble and obedient, doing spiritual practices for God’s sake, not our own. Unfortunately, it is a transition that many do not pass through. However, death of the sensory person is the rise of the spiritual person.

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