Trust - Diary Faustina - Talk 4 - July 15, 2015
Opening Prayer (Please turn to Diary #1692)
My Lord and Creator, Your goodness encourages me to converse with You. Your mercy abolishes the chasm which separates the Creator from the creature. To converse with You, O Lord, is the delight of my heart. In You I find everything that my heart could desire. Here Your light illumines my mind, enabling it to know You more and more deeply. Here streams of graces flow down upon my heart. Here my soul draws eternal life. O my Lord and Creator, You alone, beyond all these gifts, give Your own self to me and unite Yourself intimately with Your miserable creature. Here, without searching for words, our hearts understand each other. Here, no one is able to interrupt our conversation. What I talk to You about, Jesus, is our secret, which creatures shall not know and Angels dare not ask about. These are secret acts of forgiveness, known only to Jesus and me; this is the mystery of His mercy, which embraces each soul separately. For this incomprehensible goodness of Yours, I adore You, O Lord and Creator, with all my heart and all my soul. And, although my worship is so little and poor, I am at peace because I know that You know it is sincere, however inadequate… (Diary #1692)
Today in this class, we will cover St. Faustina’s experience of what’s known as “Dark Night of the Soul.” If you are not familiar with the terminology, “Dark night of the Soul”, it refers to a maturing process of our spiritual life that is often described as going through a spiritual desert or a night journey. During the ‘Dark Night’, one experiences feeling of utter abandonment, an interior suffering that seems as if it will never end. One writer described it as a "lengthy and profound absence of light and hope." When you're in this interminable state, there's nothing you can do with the mind or body — no thought or action, no idea or motion — that can get you out of it. You feel trapped and can't find the exit. No one can help you. You want nothing more than to escape and get out of the ‘dark night.’ Many of us experience this ‘dark night’ in one degree or another at some part of our spiritual life. St. Faustina had the experience during her novitiate years (1926-1928). When you read the portion of the Diary where she is undergoing this experience, it can be very difficult to understand what’s she’s going through.
Let me use an illustration to describe this concept of the Dark Night.
Many of you enjoy walking as a form of exercise. Have you ever walked around the LSU Lakes? If you walk the main loop that is four miles and takes about an hour, you will have a beautiful view. If you add the loop near I-10, the total distance is around six miles. On a pleasant, cool morning, you may not even break a sweat. Compare this to a much more difficult four-mile walk in one of the Smoky Mountain hiking trails. I’m thinking of Alum Cave Trail which takes you to a scenic concave bluff, about 80 feet in height, and roughly 500 feet in length. That round trip would take you a good three hours. But if you really wanted a spectacular view, you would continue one more mile from the Alum Cave to the Mount LeConte (elevation change 2700 ft). It is a steep climb for a mile, but the effort is definitely worth it. Once you reach the summit, you experience the exhilaration of being atop of 6,500ft. elevation; however, you realize that you have to walk back next 3 hours. You’re hungry and thirsty, and you feel cramping in your muscles. It’s not the same experience going down as going up. Thousands of folks climb this every year a spectacular view, not daunted by the challenge of the strenuous climb. One thing you learn is that you can’t carry too much in your backpack on this 5-6 hour round trip. Things you thought you needed for the trip were nice to have items that weighed you down unnecessarily. Another thing you learn is that you will not necessarily see the spectacular view every time; fog, rain, and cloud will often obscure visibility down to just few feet. After all, it’s called Smoky Mountain.
Our spiritual life on earth can be likened to walking around a lake and climbing a mountain. Like walking around the lake, there are moments in our lives where we are given peace in our soul and beautiful spiritual experiences without expending much of our energy. But there are other moments in our lives when we are prompted to climb the mountain, for there awaits for us closer union with Jesus. Sometimes this prompting happens without a notice, as in the cases of our loved ones leaving--moving away, illness, separation, death. Sometimes we receive promptings to let go of our attachment when we don’t want to let it go. These attachments can be things that make us feel secure (money, job, privileges, family), our plans, our addictions, or even our sins.
Question: Have you ever tried to take away from children/grandchildren the video game they’re playing hours at a time? Ask a mother of a teenager how hard it is to pry away the smartphone during meal time. Even when this is done for the benefit of the child, the child doesn’t feel that way. What does a child feel? The child feels that she has been slighted, pushed away, unloved, or even abandoned.
Sr. Faustina’s Experience of the Dark Night
Although her fellow sisters encountered Sr. Faustina as bright and cheerful, interiorly she went through a painful period of spiritual aridity. She wrote in her diary,
(Diary, 101) Jesus, You alone know how the soul, engulfed in darkness, moans in the midst of these torments and, despite all this, thirsts for God as burning lips thirst for water. It dies and withers; it dies a death without death; that is to say, it cannot die. All its efforts come to nothing; it is under a powerful hand. Now the soul comes under the power of the Just One. All exterior temptations cease; all that surrounds it becomes silent, like a dying person who loses contact with everything around it: the person's entire soul is in the hand of the Just God, the Thrice-Holy God,-rejected for all eternity! This is the culminating moment, and God alone can test a soul in this way, because He alone knows what the soul can endure.
When the soul has been saturated through and through by this infernal fire, it is, as it were, cast headlong into great despair. My soul experienced this moment when I was all alone in my cell. When my soul began to sink into this despair, I felt that the end was near. But I seized my little crucifix and clutched it tightly in my hand. And now I felt my body separate itself from my soul; and though I wanted to go to my Superiors, I no longer had the physical strength. I uttered my last words: "I trust in Your Mercy!"-and it seemed to me that I provoked God to an even greater anger.
During this period of Darkness, for Sr. Faustina, prayer ceased to bring her consolation and became burdensome. All her meditations on God came with great difficulty. Unfounded fear began to overcome her. The awareness of her own misery and weakness grew. She tried to seek wisdom from spiritual books, but instead of becoming enlightened, she became more confused. It seemed to her that her prayers were not pleasing to God, that her receiving sacraments offended Him. She wanted to abstain from Communion, but her confessor firmly forbade this. The simplest truths of the Faith became incomprehensible to her. At a certain moment a terrible thought transfixed her; that she had been abandoned by God. This caused inner torment. Darkness engulfed her soul. She felt as if she were about to die. She did not want to exist, yet did. The temptation of indifference came. She began to ask herself whether a virtuous life made any sense, since it seemed to be disagreeable to God. Doubt arose, and despair immediately after; damnation seemed to await her. A deadly fear almost completely paralyzed her. She then suffered hellish torments, similar to those that damned souls suffer for eternity.
This experience is not unique to Sr. Faustina. Mother Teresa revealed in her letter to her spiritual director that she was experiencing Dark Night for 50 years!
In the darkness . . . Lord, my God, who am I that you should forsake me? The child of your love — and now become as the most hated one. The one — you have thrown away as unwanted — unloved. I call, I cling, I want, and there is no one to answer . . . Where I try to raise my thoughts to heaven, there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives and hurt my very soul. Love — the word — it brings nothing. I am told God lives in me — and yet the reality of darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul. (Mother Teresa’s letter to her spiritual director in 1957)
Mother Teresa only once more heard the voice of God, and she believed the doors of heaven had been closed and bolted against her. The more she longed for some sign of his presence, the more empty and desolate she became. Meanwhile, others did not notice that she was undergoing such profound suffering. Her sisters always saw her smiling. When she was around children, she beamed with delight. In private, she had a quick, self-deprecating sense of humor, and sometimes doubled over from laughing so hard. So many people who spent time with her came away saying that she was the most joyful person they had ever met. Only her spiritual directors knew of her true anguish.
Purpose of the Dark Night Experience
Is there a purpose to why God allows us to go through the experience of Dark Night? Suffering comes about as God unrelentingly identifies the most potentially damaging hindrance to our relationship with Him, and then lovingly begins to strip that thing away from us. He crushes us, He breaks us, He shakes us and removes anything that is in the way of His accomplishing His will in and through our lives.
Let’s go back to the example of taking away the smartphone from a teenager during dinner time. For a brief period of time, the teenager is angry and rebellious, as if her world is collapsing on her. After the wave of indignation passes over, she is calm. She now begins to converse with her family at the dinner table, realizing that she is connected to the family again. The reason why God allows Dark Night experiences is so that we might be united closer to Him.
Sr. Faustina wrote in her diary,
(Diary, 109) After such sufferings the soul finds itself in a state of great purity of spirit and very close to God. But I should add that during these spiritual torments it is close to God, but it is blind. The soul's vision is plunged into darkness, and though God is nearer than ever to the soul which is suffering, the whole secret consists in the fact that it knows nothing of this. The soul in fact declares that, not only has God abandoned it, but it is the object of His hatred. With how great a malady are they eyes of the soul afflicted! When struck by divine light, the soul affirms that this light does not exist, although it is precisely because this divine light is so bright that it is blinded. Yet despite all, I learned later that God is closer to a soul at such moments than at others, because it would not be able to endure these trials with the help of ordinary grace alone. God's omnipotence and an extraordinary grace must be active here, for otherwise the soul would succumb at the first blow.
(Diary ,110) O Divine Master, what happens in my soul is Your work alone! You, O Lord, are not afraid to place the soul on the edge of a terrible precipice where it stands, alarmed and filled with fright, and then You call it back again to Yourself. These are Your imponderable mysteries.
The soul in the midst of the dark night is not in a relationship with God any longer but experiencing an immersion in Him. One's ego begins to dissolve, willingly or not. All previous ways of defining the self vanish, leaving you feeling like no one, nowhere, with nothing. The phenomenon then takes on urgency. You are No One, No Where, with No Thing. You question your sanity and may think you are losing your mind. And yet, the loving and merciful God has you just where He wants you.
A soul undergoing Dark Night is like a child being weaned by her mother. The soul, after she has been definitely converted to the service of God, is spiritually nurtured and caressed by God, even as is the tender child by its loving mother, who warms it with the heat of her bosom and nurtures it with sweet milk and soft and pleasant food, and carries it and caresses it in her arms. But, as the child grows bigger, the mother gradually ceases caressing it, and, hiding her tender love, puts bitter aloes upon her sweet breast, sets down the child from her arms and makes it walk upon her feet, so that she may lose the habits of a child and betake herself to more important and substantial occupations. (St John of the Cross)
Saving Souls through Our Suffering
There is one more important reason why God desire us to go through the Dark Night. The goal of Christian life is not just to reach union with God (reaching the top of the mountain). After reaching the Union with God, we still have a lot to do, like the Son of God himself when He took flesh. With Incarnation, Jesus initiated a mystical union with each of us; the final step in this mystical union was our Redemption realized during His Passion and Crucifixion. Through this, he brought us from “darkness” to “Light.” We know how much this cost Him.
This is then for us a “turning point”. Our spiritual journey doesn't aim only on ascent to sweetness, peace, and consolation as we unite ourselves with God. Our journey also follows Christ’s journey on descent down from the mountain, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends through true charity, sacrifice, and suffering. That is how Christ will live in us and through us.
There is no greater love than to lay our soul, our life, for our brothers and sisters, says the Lord. Christ’s new Commandment is to do as He did: to love as He did. We can’t do it by ourselves; we can do it only if we are transformed in Him and Him in us.
St. Paul said it succinctly, “I complete in my flesh what lacks in Jesus' Passion “for his Body””. All the Apostles went through martyrdom (even John who didn't die from it, went through it). Jesus told St. Faustina the following,
Today the Lord said to me, "I have need of your sufferings to rescue souls". O my Jesus, do with me as You please. I did not have the courage to ask the Lord Jesus for greater sufferings, because I had suffered so much the night before that I would not have been able to bear a drop more than what Jesus Himself gave me. (Diary 1612)
When we emerge from our Dark Night, we are more keenly aware of God’s burning love for souls. He desires to save precious souls! Can we say ‘yes’ to His invitation?
Today Jesus said to me, "I desire that you know more profoundly the love that burns in My Heart for souls, and you will understand this when you meditate upon My Passion. Call upon My mercy on behalf of sinners; I desire their salvation. When you say this prayer, with a contrite heart and with faith on behalf of some sinner, I will give him the grace of conversion. This is the prayer: “O Blood and Water, which gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus as a fount of Mercy for us, I trust in You.” (Diary 186/187)