MOSAIC Fall 2016 Fall 2016 - Page 13

© United States Mint Mother Teresa received the Medal of Freedom from Pres. Ronald Reagan in 1985. “I accept it,” she said, “for the greater glory of God,” deflecting the praise. And finally, she was being given to a remarkable degree the gift of being one with Jesus in his passion, out of which comes so much redemptive power. This gift she had asked for on more than one occasion. Yes, she experienced temptations to give up, to despair, even temptations to blasphemy and unbelief, but to be tempted is not to sin. Her heroic perseverance in the face of such interior suffering is truly aweinspiring to behold. What an example to us in our need to persevere no matter what the difficulties, no matter what we experience or don’t experience. Why Is There Darkness? On the other hand, there are dangers in misunderstanding Mother Teresa’s unusually sustained experience of darkness. It was because of her very special vocation that this darkness accompanied her for so long. It is not the normal purifying “dark nights” that John of the Cross speaks of, neither for beginners or the more advanced. Nor is every experience of aridity, emptiness, or darkness a purifying or redemptive “dark night.” It is very helpful to avail ourselves of the wisdom of our spiritual tradition to understand this better. In brief, John of the Cross teaches that there are three reasons why someone may experience deep aridity, emptiness, or darkness in their prayer or relationship with God. (See Chapter 14 of The Fulfillment of All Desire for a much more complete explanation.) One reason why such aridity may be experienced is because of “lukewarmness” or infidelity in “doing our part” in sustaining our relationship with God. We may become careless about regular prayer and spiritual reading, we may not frequent the Eucharist and Sacrament of Reconciliation, we may fill our minds and hearts with worldly entertainment, we may not be diligent in rejecting temptation, we may not develop relationships with others who desire to follow the Lord. This carelessness and infidelity lessens our hunger for God and desire to be with him and produces lukewarmness and repugnance for things of the spirit. This is not a purifying darkness but rather the result of laxity, and the only solution is to repent and take up the spiritual practices that dispose us for union with God. A second reason why such aridity may be experienced is because of physical or emotional illness. The advice of the saints is to try to get better, pray for healing, go to the doctor, but keep on as best one can in living a fervent Christian life. And if one is not healed, it’s an invitation to join our suffering with the suffering of Jesus and offer it as reparation for our own sins and as intercessory prayer for others. A third reason why such darkness or aridity may be present is that we are ready to move to a deeper level of faith, hope, and love and that God purposely removes the experience of his love, presence or favor—but not their reality—in order to give us a chance to believe, hope, and love more deeply and purely. This true “dark night” may be quite intense and last for a long period of time, or it may happen intermittently, interspersed with times of sensible consolation. A true dark night is accompanied by deep, painful longing for God. This is acutely present in Mother Teresa. One sign that it is an authentic dark night is that we don’t in our aridity try to fill the emptiness with worldly or fleshly consolations but remain faithful in seeking God even in the pain of his apparent absence. The authentic dark night isn’t an end in itself, but is intended to prepare us for an even greater union with and experience of God. St. Teresa, pray for us! What Causes Spiritual Darkness? • Spiritual emptiness from a “cooling” relationship with God. • Emotional or physical illness hampers our progress. • God intentionally removes himself to create a spiritual longing. What Are the Unexpected Blessings? • Prods us into greater effort for deeper union. • Grace is generated through sacrificial suffering. • Builds-up the virtue of perseverance. Dr. Ralph Martin is director of graduate theology programs in the New Evangelization at Sacred Heart and president of Renewal Ministries ( 11