Even the holiest of saints can feel a lack of spiritual consolation from God. Often temporary, it may endure for a long time: even almost one’s whole life. Called noche oscura del alma, by Spanish mystic Saint John of the Cross, “the dark night of the soul” is one’s spiritual state after the withdrawal of God’s illuminating grace.

A form of purification for those called to a high degree of sanctity, the soul is put in the “obscure night” or the “great desolation.” It’s “dark” nature emphasizes the normal condition of spiritual sight, dimly lit by the light of Faith, whereas a person in this purification is deprived of much of this light.

The Catechism explains it as a form of spiritual dryness:

“Dryness belongs to contemplative prayer when the heart is separated from God, with no taste for thoughts, memories, and feelings, even spiritual ones. This is the moment of sheer faith clinging faithfully to Jesus in his agony and in his tomb. “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if dies, it bears much fruit.” If dryness is due to the lack of roots, because the word has fallen on rocky soil, the battle requires conversion” – Catechism of the Catholic Church 2731

The fruits of resisting the “infidelity and despair” when one’s soul is in the dark night is “the purification of love, until the soul is so inflamed with love of God that it feels as if wounded and languishes with the desire to love Him still more intensely.”

Many famous saints have gone through these spiritual crises, even enduring for most of their life. Saint Paul of the Cross endured for nearly 45 years before recovering.

Doctor of the Church Saint Thérèse of Lisieux was in the dark night over doubting the existence of eternity, famously saying to other nuns at her convent “if you only knew what darkness I am plunged into.”

The dark night of Mother Teresa “may be the most extensive such case on record.” She endured from 1948 almost until her death in 1997.

“In my soul I feel just that terrible pain of loss, of God not wanting me — of God not being God — of God not existing. I find no words to express the depths of the darkness.”

Saint John of the Cross coined the term when he wrote a poem narrating the journey the of the soul to mystical union with God. Read below Noche oscura:

1. One dark night,
fired with love’s urgent longings
— ah, the sheer grace! —
I went out unseen,
my house being now all stilled.

2. In darkness, and secure,
by the secret ladder, disguised,
— ah, the sheer grace! —
in darkness and concealment,
my house being now all stilled.

3. On that glad night,
in secret, for no one saw me,
nor did I look at anything,
with no other light or guide
than the one that burned in my heart.

4. This guided me
more surely than the light of noon
to where he was awaiting me
— him I knew so well —
there in a place where no one appeared.

5. O guiding night!
O night more lovely than the dawn!
O night that has united
the Lover with his beloved,
transforming the beloved in her Lover.

6. Upon my flowering breast
which I kept wholly for him alone,
there he lay sleeping,
and I caressing him
there in a breeze from the fanning cedars.

7. When the breeze blew from the turret,
as I parted his hair,
it wounded my neck
with its gentle hand,
suspending all my senses.

8. I abandoned and forgot myself,
laying my face on my Beloved;
all things ceased; I went out from myself,
leaving my cares
forgotten among the lilies.

Photo credit: UMB-O / Shutterstock.com
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  1. Wow. I needed to hear this. I have felt this darkness battling cancer. I have suffered so long and I sometimes question His existence and my faith.

  2. I am sure that you know this, but the Dark Night also can lead to the total removal of God in temporal affairs so that we are left (temporarily) without aid. Check out Tanqueray.


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