The Letters of St. Paul of the Cross: ‘Despoiled of Everything’

Courage, my daughter, let us go on preparing ourselves also with a total detachment from all that is created. I see that God desires that you be despoiled of everything and have no happiness beyond the happiness of doing the Holy Will of the Highest Good, reposing with deep humility on his loving bosom. (St. Paul of the Cross, Letter 101)

Now I say again what I said at other times, that is, these external manifestations, such as perfumes, lights, visions, etc., are always to be suspected. For this reason they are to be rejected constantly with the spirit of humility and confidence in God. If they are from God, they will have their effect. If not, by banishing them you do not give the devil a chance to deceive you. Therefore, I repeat that you be vigilant and not take stock in these things, but rather in virtues. Study to walk in faith. (Letter 102)

I prefer that we walk in faith. This is surely the safe way. “Obscure faith, sure guide of holy love. Oh, what sweetness its certitude enriches my heart.” So sang a devout soul. Divine apparitions, when they are truly from God, at first cause a holy fear, a holy fright arising from the knowledge the soul has of God‘s greatness. Then they cause a great peace and union with God, along with a heavenly understanding and with much knowledge of one’s nothingness, along with strong affections. They produce other marvelous effects in the soul. Sometimes they do not bring on this holy fear, but the soul remains clothed with so much light in living faith which generates an ardent love for the object loved, along with other effects noted above…

The time will come when your mind will clear, that is, will become obscure, and you will walk more in faith. These sensible things will cease, which, while they may be good, they are things for babes on milk. The just one lives by faith. “Oh dark night, night more lovely than day. Night which can unite the lover and the beloved, the lover transformed into the beloved.” So sang a great saint. He sang of the night of holy prayer in faith but he sang of a night brighter than day. (Letter 103)

God is all about the transformation of each soul on the inside. He desires that each one be a “little Christ.” He has given us His Spirit so that by His Spirit the heights of the “fullness of Christ”[i] is attained by His Bride, that she may be an equally-yoked partner for Him. The measuring rod of maturity is the virtues of Christ being manifest in the soul. The Sermon on the Mount is the DNA of God’s kingdom and cannot be attained apart from a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit indwelling. The Beatitudes are not a list to be checked off as if performance is the pathway to holiness and obedience. Rather, the pathway is denial of self, emptying of self in order to make space for Him to fill the soul with His All.

Because Christ woos the soul, even as a Bridegroom woos a Bride, He sometimes bestows beautiful gifts and ecstasies in the sense realm in order to manifest His eternal and indescribable Glory and Presence to the soul. These manifestations can look innumerable ways and they leave their imprint on the soul in such a manner that the soul cannot forget the encounter, but is forever pierced by Love and instantly addicted to the Beloved that is like no other Lover in all the world. Indeed, the soul can be so overcome by Him that the soul is despoiled of anything and everything else and would gladly die and lay down everything to have Him. Like the treasure buried in the field or the pearl of great price, no sacrifice is too great.

Therefore, why does St Paul of the Cross say to reject these manifestations in the sense realm that the Beloved is giving to the soul? The reason is this: If the supernatural encounter is truly from the Lord, and not a counterfeit from the enemy, then even if this gift is rejected and rebuked by the soul and told to leave, the effect of the encounter has already been imprinted on the soul and the soul risks nothing by rejecting the manifestation. Also, rejecting the manifestation is a safeguard of not being duped by the enemy’s counterfeit manifestations in the sense realm.

St Paul of the Cross also knows that the higher and more sublime encounter with God happens NOT in the sense realm at all but in the place of the Spirit that transcends the earthly soulish realm. God transcends the realm of earth and mankind. He is outside of it for He created it. When He put His Spirit in the soul, He gave the soul an invitation into His realm that transcends the earthly realm. His Spirit lives in the soul and the soul lives in the Spirit of God. Ephesians 1 speaks of this as being seated in heavenly places in Christ.

One way to understand this transcendent encounter with the Spirit of God is that His Spirit and the spirit of the man indwelt by Him are one Spirit. The continual encounter happens Spirit to spirit. Because the soul is only familiar with taking in information in the sense realm through the five senses and through the intellect of the mind, this transcendent place of Spirit to spirit has no “feeling” associated with the encounter. In other words, the person could be brain dead and paralyzed and still be in full encounter with the Lord in the Spirit. This supernatural communication has been verified even by people who have been brain-dead and in a coma and have returned to tell about their full-on God encounter in that realm.

St John of the Cross speaks of this encounter as a Dark Night of the Soul. The soul experiences a darkness in this place because the soulish realm of the senses is completely deprived of all consolation in this place of the Spirit. Like one looking straight into the sun, all goes black and blindness ensues. This full-on encounter is the parallel of looking directly into the sun. His Light overwhelms the soul and the soul cannot even recognize or comprehend it at all. In fact, the soul complains to Lord about this place of darkness and assumes that God is offended with soul and has forsaken the soul. Nothing could be further from the truth.

God is bringing the soul into such union and closeness with Himself, but this encounter transcends the sense realm. Once the soul gets accustomed to this way of communication, it becomes the continual encounter of the most sublime wordless prayer and deep Love that can be experienced in this life, though its non-experiential as far as the senses are concerned. Language falls short in being able to speak of this sublime state of Love.

This place of the Spirit far exceeds anything in the soulish realm and thus St Paul of the Cross can say with confidence to reject the manifestations in the sense realm and run after dark faith, and become empty of all created things in order to prepare your soul to be a recipient of a greater encounter of pure faith and love that transcends this earthly realm.

[i] Eph 3:16-19

This post was originally published on Upper Garden and is reprinted here with permission.

Image courtesy of Unsplash.

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