With rich biblical imagery, St. John of the Cross describes the soul as a jubilant bride who sings mysterious verses and wants nothing other than to live in intimacy with her bridegroom. She ventures out with courage while the beauty of night cloaks her from anyone and anything that might prevent her from finding the One for whom her heart longs. This living icon of the Church, tenderly touched and delicately embraced by her Crucified Savior, burns with love in the darkness of this present life.
The pilgrim Bride knows that the hidden trials of life are necessary for love because she is convinced that one can only love at one’s own expense. She is not confident in her own ability but rather she trusts in Christ’s strength in her. She knows she is awaited by Love and can only find Him by entering into the secret of love. She is not only not afraid to enter into such hiddenness, she desires nothing else but to enter into this darkness so that she might find the One for whom she longs. She wants to know Him alone. Her heart sings for Him in the night. Nothing else will satisfy her but the song of love He sings to her. This is why she goes out into the darkness of faith.
Beautiful and holy desires drench the prayer of those who allow themselves to be vulnerable to Christ in the secret darkness of faith. They are the desires that only the Holy Spirit can produce. We give Him the freedom to sew these in our hearts when we allow Him to work in ways we do not understand, ways with which we are not familiar, ways that test us and are difficult to bear. When such spiritual darkness renders us vulnerable to God in love, God can accomplish anything through us, and with this spiritual liberty, He gives us a joy that nothing in this world can take away. A fullness of life is ours when we are finally liberated from our own selfish whims, when we are no longer trapped by anxiety over our weakness, when we are finally able to love completely, without measure, the way true love ought to be given.
This kind of love was never meant only for the spiritual elite. The whole world needs this love. Civilizations, societies, and communities need this love. Families need this love. Husbands and wives need this love. It is the love that saves marriages. It is the love that reconciles parents and children. This is the kind of love Christ offers us when He comes to us in the night.
If you want a secret encounter of the heart with Jesus, serenely accept your displeasure with your “self” and rejoice that the feelings of inadequacy that you suffer are the clever disguise under which God has decided to work in your heart. To enter into this loved filled darkness, believe in Him more than you believe in your failures — it is His love and not our failures that most define us in any event. When it seems impossible, choose to love out of devotion to Him. You will not only discover even deeper depths of your own poverty, you will also find the inexhaustible riches of Christ! Those who trust, who serenely accept their inadequacy, who believe that God’s power is revealed in their weakness – these are the souls that have set out in the night.
To such as these, it belongs to learn the great song of the Bride. This song is sung only by those who know the heart-piercing love of Christ, the secrets of which He only imparts in that blessed night in which He awaits us with great expectation. Even the faintest sound of His mysterious canticle can cause us to raise our eyes from our own failures and really see those whom God has given us to love. Even the first notes in that sacred melody Christ teaches make us free enough of self as to begin to understand what most ought to be rendered in love. Purified by this tender divine harmony, nothing can diminish the total self-donation which we yearn to give and which faith makes possible. By whispering this song to us in secret, Love Himself frees us from ourselves so that we might give a total gift of our very lives to those whom He has entrusted to us with so much confidence. In this way, they too begin to learn this beautiful song which resounds in the frailty of our humanity.
Art for this post on Love Songs in the Night: St Jerome in Prayer, Titian, between 1570 and 1575, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons.