The Dark Night: Being Assured We’re On the Right Road

Father Chet, February 1979

Probably the most difficult part of the Dark Night of our spiritual journey is our inability to see where we are going and whether we are on the right road.

We are asked to believe and trust in God’s infinite mercy and goodness. We also rely on his promises and the proof of his love in the passion and death of Jesus.

St. Paul offers us several tests to affirm if we are on the right road. Paul calls them the fruits of the Holy Spirit: “charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, moderation, self-control” (Gal 5:22-2). It is not necessary that we are aware of all ten of these fruits. If just one is present in our soul: patience or gentleness, for example, we can be sure that we have not wandered from the path that leads to God.

Good intentions are actually the first step in remaining faithful to God. It is not true that the path to Hell is “paved with good intentions.” Rather, sincere, good intentions is where the path to heaven begins.

Very little in our life is truly free of outside influences, either conscious or unconscious. We are often slaves to our past bad habits.

But at least there is one area where we remain true as long as we are alive: that is in the area of our intentions. If we sincerely desire and intend to put God first, to do his will, and to please him more than we please ourselves or others, we are making a positive, first step toward sanctity and spiritual maturity.

As long as our will remains centered in God, we can be quite sure that we are on the right road, no matter how dark the road may seem to be.

Remembering God’s many kindnesses is another way of assuring ourselves that God has not abandoned us. Psalm 138 reminds us that “the Lord will complete what the Lord has begun for me; your kindness, O Lord, endures forever” (verse 8).

God does not abandon his beloved, regardless of how often the beloved may abandon God.

Even if we prove to be unfaithful many times, we need only to return to God With sincere “good intentions,” and God will restore us to the right road.

God is realistic and takes us as he finds us and makes the best of whatever the situation may be.

We need to remember this. The number of times that God has forgiven us in the past and shown mercy to us, despite our many failures, should encourage us through the Dark Night.

Sacred scriptures, especially many of the Psalms, gives us the needed assurance and courage to persevere during the long journey of the Dark Night.

  • “Then I call out to the Lord, he answers me from His holy mountain” (Ps 3:5).
  • “The desire of the afflicted you hear, 0 Lord; strengthening their hearts, you pay heed” (Ps 10:17)
  • “I bless the Lord who counsels me; even in the night my heart exhorts me. I set the Lord ever before me; with him at my right hand I shall not be disturbed. Therefore, my heart is glad and my soul rejoices. My body, too, abides in confidence because you will not abandon my soul to the nether world, nor will you suffer your faithful one to undergo corruption. You will show me the path of life” (Ps 16: 7-11)

These are just a few of the almost countless reassurances of hope to be found in the Psalms. Therefore, the Book of Psalms should be the vade mecum, the prayer book ever at our side, during the long journey through the tunnel of the Dark Night.

The cross of Christ is the key to all human history as well as to the history of each individual.

road through the cross
Photo by Cdoncel on Unsplash

In order to be fully Christian, we must fully participate in the life of Jesus. Most difficult in this endeavor is taking part in Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.

If we are able to unite ourselves to the sufferings of Christ, we will also experience a beautiful sharing in his resurrection.

Through the cross, we will rise to ever higher levels of life until we are in the transcendent dimension. Just as God delivered the Chosen People from their slavery in Egypt, the cross of Christ delivers us from slavery to sin and evil.

The Sacred Scriptures are filled with references to the Dark Night, using various analogies to describe it.

Jesus calls it “drinking the cup.” When James and John asked to have the first place in the Kingdom of God, Jesus asked them, “Can you drink the cup that I shall drink?” (Mark 10:38)  

In this same text Jesus also calls the Dark Night a “‘baptism or bath of pain.”

Even Jesus found the cup of suffering and the baptism of pain almost too much for his human nature to bear. St. Mark’s Gospel says that Jesus begged his heavenly Father in the Garden of Agony: “Abba, Father, you have the power to do all things. Take this cup away from me; but, let it be as you would have it, not as I” (Mk 14:36). Mark says that Jesus was filled with fear and distress.

Jesus himself says, “My heart is filled with sorrow to the point of death” (Mk 14:34). Jesus groveled in the dirt, begging his Father to remove the cup. His sweat became as huge drops of blood that trickled down to the ground.

The cross is the symbol of the self-denial required to rise above our nature so that we may participate in the higher nature of God. The word “cross” is an analogy to describe the Dark Night.

Our Christian faith assures us that we are called to share God’s life both here on earth and after death. But to participate in God’s life, we must die to our present life. That is the only way that we might rise to a new and glorified life. Dying to earthly life is a life-long process of dying to self.

Through the denial of our ego, we release the powers of our inner being and make room for the entrance of God into our life.

By sacrificing many of the externals of life, we allow the more important inner powers of divine life to take root and grow.

We see in the natural world how new life arises from the death of the old. The present is sacrificed in order that a new and better life may be developed. The life and energy of the past are required to bring forth fruit in a new generation.

In order to reach the highest goal in life and do the most good, we must always search for new and better forms. Over and over again we must disengage ourselves from what is near and dear to us and go beyond, to something higher.

This requires detachment, poverty of spirit, and willingness to sacrifice. Each time our egotism suffers a defeat, we feel intense pain, but this death can be like a loving fire that completes our union with that higher dimension of life called God.

Somehow, we overcome our fear of pain and find the courage to crucify our egotism and assimilate its energy into the higher power of unselfish love.

The Paschal Mystery of death and resurrection is the normal cycle of the mystery of life.

The prime example of this hidden truth is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. “I solemnly assure you, unless the grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, itself remains alone. But if it dies, it produces much fruit. The man who loves his life (in this world) loses it (in eternity), while the man who hates his life in this world preserves it for life eternal” (John 12:24-25).  

St. Paul insists that every Christian must experience this same Paschal Mystery – that we must die to ourselves in order to rise with Christ. That we must die to this world in order to rise to God’s world.

“Through baptism into his death we were buried with him, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live a new life. If we have been united with him through likeness to his death, so shall we be through a like resurrection” (Romans 6:4-5).

Editor’s Note: This is the second of three installments of Fathers Chet’s writings on the Dark Night. The first reflection was published in February and the final will be in June.

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