To be taken with love for a soul, God does not look on its greatness, but on the greatness of its humility.
Sayings of Light and Love, 103
Have mercy on me, God, in your kindness.
In your compassion blot out my offense.
O wash me more and more from my guilt
and cleanse me from my sin.
My offenses truly I know them;
my sin is always before me
Against you, you alone, have I sinned;
what is evil in your sight I have done.
That you may be justified when you give sentence
and be without reproach when you judge,
O see, in guilt I was born,
a sinner was I conceived.
Indeed you love truth in the heart;
then in the secret of my heart teach me wisdom.
O purify me, then I shall be clean;
O wash me, I shall be whiter than snow.
Make me hear rejoicing and gladness,
that the bones you have crushed may revive.
From my sins turn away your face
and blot out all my guilt.
A pure heart create for me, O God,
put a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
nor deprive me of your holy spirit.
Give me again the joy of your help;
with a spirit of fervor sustain me,
that I may teach transgressors your ways
and sinners may return to you.
O rescue me, God, my helper,
and my tongue shall ring out your goodness.
O Lord, open my lips
and my mouth shall declare your praise.
For in sacrifice you take no delight,
burnt offering from me you would refuse,
my sacrifice, a contrite spirit,
a humbled, contrite heart you will not spurn.
In your goodness, show favor to Zion:
rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.
Then you will be pleased with lawful sacrifice,
holocausts offered on your altar.
“O sweetest love of God, so little known, whoever has found this rich mine is at rest!” (Sayings, 16) This is the song of St. John of the Cross, his canticle of love distilled down to its very essence.
God truly loves us, St. John reminds us through his letters. He tells us that God cannot fit in hearts that are occupied with distractions, that are attached to people, places, or things that mean more to us than God himself. God only fits in hearts that have been emptied to make room for him.
It seems that nada—nothingness within us—isn’t so farfetched after all. Cleansing our souls is like the necessary spiritual housekeeping that must be done prior to any Nativity moment in our spiritual lives; without that soul-cleansing, that housecleaning in our hearts, there will always be a NO VACANCY light shining outside the inn within. How can God find space to squeeze in here?
St. Edith Stein says that the moment we reach the realization that we need to clean house is the moment when we are on the threshold of making the greatest spiritual progress. Recalling the spiritual sense of dryness, darkness, and emptiness that we mentioned in the meditation for our sixth day of this novena, Edith offers this reflection on the state of the soul in her final masterpiece, The Science of the Cross (SC):
She [the soul] is put into total darkness and emptiness. Absolutely nothing that might give her a hold is left to her anymore except faith. Faith sets Christ before her eyes: the poor, humiliated, crucified one, who is abandoned on the cross even by his heavenly Father. In his poverty and abandonment, she rediscovers herself. Dryness, distaste, and affliction are the “purely spiritual cross” that is handed to her. If she accepts it she experiences that it is an easy yoke and a light burden. It becomes a staff for her that will quickly lead her up the mountain. (SC 10)
Accepting the dryness we experience in prayer, the distaste, the affliction, these are all signs that we actually are clearing out space for God within.
When she realizes that Christ, in his extreme humiliation and annihilation on the cross, achieved the greatest result, the reconciliation and union of mankind with God, there awakens in her the understanding that for her, also, annihilation, the “living death by crucifixion of all that is sensory as well as spiritual” leads to union with God. (SC 10)
And by the way, there is a little voice in Dijon, France who takes up the refrain: it is St Elizabeth of the Trinity, singing so sweetly in the pages of her Last Retreat (LR):
If my interior city (cf. Rev. 21) is to have some similarity and likeness to that “of the King of eternal ages” (I Tim 1:17) and to receive this great illumination from God, I must extinguish every other light and, as in the holy city, the Lamb must be “its only light.”
Here faith, the beautiful light of faith appears. It alone should light my way as I go to meet the Bridegroom. The psalmist sings the He “hides Himself in darkness” (Ps 17:12), then in another place he seems to contradict himself by saying that “light surrounds Him like a cloak” (Ps 103:2). What stands out for me in this apparent contradiction is that I must immerse myself in “the sacred darkness” by putting all my powers in darkness and emptiness; then I will meet my Master, and “the light that surrounds Him like a cloak” will envelop me also, for He wants His bride to be luminous with His light, His light alone, “which is the glory of God.” (LR 4)
So there it is: the challenge, the call is to accept, welcome, embrace and—so to speak—hide in the dark and empty spaces within us, not running to another distraction, another attachment, another new idol in our lives to fill up that interior void. It is at the point when we feel (and know) the emptiness within, the void that we are creating and/or that God is helping us to create so that we can spend time and focus on him—whether that is accepting a loss of some sort of attachment, or purposefully choosing to give up a distracting activity in order to spend more time going to daily Mass, making time for daily Scripture reading, or praying the Liturgy of the Hours, or the rosary, or going to Eucharistic adoration, or practicing silent mental prayer instead of (name your distraction here).
At this point when we have a hunger and a thirst for God that is so strong and powerful that we are willing to sacrifice and say, “all for you and nothing for me” (Sayings 111), we also find ourselves crying out to God, “but I can’t do this alone, by myself!” When we are ready to give up and have reached the point of abandon, we’ve reached the most crucial moment of all because…
That is the truth.
“I never sought anything but the truth,” St. Thérèse said in the hours before her death (Yellow Notebook, 30 September).
St. Teresa set the benchmark in the Interior Castle: “To be humble is to walk in truth” (IC VI, 10:7)
And how will we know when we’re meeting the benchmark for St. John of the Cross?
The humble are those who hide in their own nothingness and know how to abandon themselves to God. (Sayings 163)
O St. John of the Cross
You were endowed by our Lord with the spirit of self-denial
and a love of the cross.
Obtain for us the grace to follow your example
that we may come to the eternal vision of the glory of God.
O Saint of Christ’s redeeming cross
the road of life is dark and long.
Teach us always to be resigned to God’s holy will
in all the circumstances of our lives
and grant us the special favor
which we now ask of you:
mention your request.
Above all, obtain for us the grace of final perseverance,
a holy and happy death and everlasting life with you
and all the saints in heaven.
All Scripture references in this novena are found on the Bible Gateway website, with the exception of texts drawn from the 1968 Reader’s Edition of the Jerusalem Bible. Selections from the psalter appear in the Liturgy of the Hours.
The novena prayer was composed from approved sources by Professor Michael Ogunu, a member of the Discalced Carmelite Secular Order in Nigeria.
All of the citations from the Sayings of Light and Love are drawn from The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, Revised Edition (1991), translated from the Spanish by Kavanaugh, K and Rodriguez, O with revisions and introductions by Kavanaugh, K, ICS Publications, Washington DC.
of the Trinity, E 2014, The Complete Works of Elizabeth of the Trinity volume 1: General Introduction Major Spiritual Writings, translated from the French by Kane, A, ICS Publications, Washington DC
Stein, E 2002, The Science of the Cross, translated from the German by Koeppel, J, ICS Publications, Washington DC.
Teresa of Avila, St. 1985, The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila, translated from the Spanish by Kavanaugh, K; Rodriguez, O, ICS Publications, Washington DC.