Presence of God – O Lord, purify me as gold in the crucible; purify me and do not spare me, that I may attain to union with You.
If Our Lord finds you strong and faithful, humble and patient in accepting exterior trials, He will go on little by little to others that are more inward and spiritual “to purge and cleanse you more inwardly … to give you more interior blessings” (John of the Cross, Living Flame of Love 2, 28). The passive night of the spirit culminates precisely in these interior sufferings of the soul, by which God “destroys and consumes its spiritual substance and absorbs it in deep and profound darkness” (John of the Cross, Dark Night of the Soul II, 6, 1) in order that it may be completely reborn to divine Life. We are, in fact, so steeped in miseries and faults, which adhere so closely to our nature, that if God Himself did not take our purification in hand, renewing us from head to foot, we should never be delivered from them. Jesus, too, spoke of this total renovation, of this profound spiritual rebirth: “Unless a man be born again of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3,5); the kingdom of God here below is the state of perfect union with Him, to which no one attains if he be not first totally purified.
St. John of the Cross explains at length how this work of purification is accomplished by the Holy Spirit, who, invading the soul with the living flame of His Love, destroys and consumes all its imperfections. So long as this divine flame purifies and disposes the soul, says the Saint, it “is very oppressive … the flame is not bright to it, but dark, and if it gives any light at all, it is only that the soul may see and feel its own faults and miseries” (John of the Cross, Living Flame of Love 1,19). Although the soul finds itself under the direct action of the Holy Spirit, this action is not agreeable but painful, because its first fruit is precisely to show it all its weaknesses and miseries that it may conceive a horror for them, detest them, humble itself for them and be sorry for them. The penetrating light of the “living flame of Love” lifts the thick veil which hides from the soul the roots of its evil habits. The soul suffers at such a sight, not only because it feels humbled, but also because it fears being rejected by God; indeed, seeing itself so miserable, it feels itself dreadfully unworthy of divine love, and, at certain times, it even seems as if God in anger had cast it off from Himself. This is the greatest torment the soul can suffer, but a precious one, because it purifies the soul of all residue of self-love and pride, and deepens within it the profound abyss of humility which calls to and draws down the abyss of divine mercy.
“O my soul, if you are wounded by sin, behold your physician, ready to cure you. His mercy is infinitely greater than all your iniquities. This I say, not that you may remain in your misery, but that by doing your utmost to overcome it, you may not despair of His clemency and pardon.
“Your God is sweetness itself, mildness itself; whom will you love, whom will you desire except Him?
“Let not your imperfections discourage you; your God does not despise you because you are imperfect and infirm; on the contrary, He loves you because you desire to cure your ills. He will come to your assistance and make you more perfect than you would have dared to hope, and adorned by His own hand, your beauty will be unequalled, like His own goodness.
“O my Jesus, tender Shepherd, gentle Master, help me, lift up Your dejected sheep, extend Your hand to sustain me, heal my wounds, strengthen my weakness, save me; otherwise I shall perish. I am unworthy of life, I confess, unworthy of Your light and help; for my ingratitude has been so great; Your mercy, however, is greater still. Have pity upon me, then, O God, You who love men so much! Oh, my only hope! Have pity upon me according to the greatness of your mercy” (Blessed Louis de Blois).
“One abyss calleth upon another. It is there, my God, at the bottom that I shall meet You: the abyss of my poverty, of my nothingness, will be confronted with the abyss of Your mercy, the immensity of Your All. There I shall find strength to die to myself and, losing every trace of self, I shall be changed into love” (Blessed Elisabeth of the Trinity, First Retreat [Heaven on Earth] 1).
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Art: Never Morning Wore To Evening But Some Heart Did Break, Walter Langley, 1894, PD; Statue of Louis de Blois, Liessies Church, Nord, France, Havang(nl), 5 July 2011 own work, CCO-Universal Public Domain; Both Wikimedia Commons.Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, mirror from open source material.