Lent with St Edith Stein Day 37: The Bridal Symbol and the Cross

Lent with St Edith Stein Day 37: The Bridal Symbol and the Cross

“So the bridal union of the soul with God is the goal for which she was created, purchased through the cross, consummated on the cross and sealed for all eternity with the cross.

St Edith Stein, The Science of the Cross

               The Dark Night of the Soul takes the soul through darkness in order to purge it of all that is temporal, sinful, and unite it to God. This spiritual union, mystical matrimony is the goal of all our meditations and prayers, the goal of our lives.

               In this marriage, the soul has “no other office but to love.” Prior to passing through the dark night and reaching the union of love, the soul had to work at loving, but once the union has taken place, it is as natural as breathing. All of the attachments we have, the pet sins we hang on to, they stand in the way of love. Once the soul has been purged of these things, Christ, the Bridegroom, weaves for her a bridal garland of virtues and graces. The Spiritual Canticle refers to the binding of this garland as one hair from the Bridegroom, which represents the will and its love.

               The Bride seeks solitude, to be away from all creatures with the Beloved. God gives her rest and refreshment, and elevates the soul to divine things. With the Bridegroom, the Bride longs to enter the “deep caves in the cliffs,” the mysteries of God’s wisdom. St John of the Cross wrote that “However numerous are the mysteries and marvels that the holy doctors have discovered and no matter how deeply saintly souls have understood in this earthly life, they have in reality explained and discovered almost nothing.”

               There is so much of God to discover that no matter how perfect our souls become, we will never take it all in within this life. However, we can drink in the enjoyment of this wisdom, of all that God has to offer us here. St John references this enjoyment of God’s wisdom as the young pomegranate wine in the Canticle.

               We briefly touched on the metaphor of the marriage under the apple tree yesterday, but let’s look at it a little deeper. The tree references both the tree in the Garden of Eden and the tree used to make the cross of Calvary. The cross is the only means by which we can enter through the narrow gate to Heaven. We must have a share in Christ’s Passion and endure the pain of abandonment by God in the night.

               St Edith reflects on how much worse the pain of abandonment was for Jesus. We have not yet experienced complete union with God; most souls do not do so until Heaven. But Jesus did have perfect union with God, which he willingly let go of in the garden on the eve of his Passion. It wasn’t something he longed for as we do, but something he held and gave up. As dark and painful as the night of the soul may be for us when we come to it, we will never experience it as deeply as Jesus did.

               The tree represents both the Fall and the Redemption, but more than that, points to the fact that the two occur in the same place. St Edith writes that “The redemption is also the fruit of the tree of paradise in a multiple sense: because sin moved Christ to accept the passion and death, because it was sin in all the forms in which it appears that crucified Christ, and because thereby sin became the instrument of redemption. The soul united to Christ, however, in her co-suffering with the Crucified...attains to ‘knowledge of good and evil’ and experiences this as a redemptive strength. After all, it is repeatedly stressed that the soul arrives at purification through the keen pain of self-knowledge (as recognition of one’s own sinfulness).”

               The knowledge of good and evil separated us from God, but it is also the thing that brings us back to union with Him.

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