Dark Night of the Soul, Lenten Observance, Day 24, 2013

Bk. II, Ch. X: Explains the purgation fully by a comparison.

St. John makes the analogy of fire to the “loving knowledge or Divine light” – when a log is put on a fire, the fire first dries out the log, and then makes it somewhat unsightly, all black and hard, and then it eventually burns it all up – making the word become fire. In such a way, the love of God turns us from our base selves into something transformed. The image of a log being consumed by fire is a striking one, but I can’t help thinking that the log had rather remain a tree.
The soul, according to St. John, was not aware of the “evil humours” within, because they were so deep rooted, but those become manifest as the divine Love burns them away, making them even more unsightly at first. He notes that the soul now sees those imperfections it had not seen before, and “it is clear to it that not only is it unfit to be seen by God, but deserves His abhorrence, and that He does abhor it.” In reading this, I found myself thinking “Sez who?” Is it not a bit presumptuous for even a saint to make declarations about what God abhors? And, if God is all-loving, can he abhor anyone’s soul?
This gives us an idea of what Purgatory is like, for there the fire attaches on what it feeds, namely imperfections. If the soul were pure, there would be no fuel for the fire itself. This is an interesting take on the fire of Purgatory. As a kid, I assumed it was real fire, and St. John does not say otherwise, but notes that there are things within our souls keeping us from union, and such souls, after death, would have to spend some time in Purgatory to get them ready for Heaven. So these would have to be consumed, gotten rid of.
And there is another fire, that of the “enkindling of Love,” which the soul does not notice (focused on the pain of its purging). Nice use of the metaphor of the fires of love here, which is a more positive blaze.
During the purging, even though there are moments of relief, the soul largely can focus only on its misery and not see beyond it. For the fire is so intense, but the soul comes to realize that there are still imperfections within that need to be addressed.
Again, I get the sense here of a “No Pain, No Gain,” outlook. Of course, we all have our down side, whether that be pride, or envy, or anger, or sloth. But I sometimes think that such feelings have the potential for good, that they are not all blocks to any sort of revelation. Dr. King felt anger, but he learned to direct that in a positive way. Surely something like that should be considered doing the divine work. And I think of Mother Teresa, who was said to have had near crippling bouts of this sort of depression for most of her life. Though she did some good work with the poor in India, that work, as I understand it (and I may misunderstand it) was not marked by a full and open generosity – she did not accept the truth of the non-Christian path of many of those poor she helped materially. I get the sense that she always held to a belief in the superiority of her own path. And that may be a necessary part of Christianity (if it’s not superior, why do it?), but it strikes me wrong. It does not seem to me truly humble.

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