O guiding night! O night more lovely than the dawn!Saint John of the Cross
The Dark Night, Stanza 5
As we put up flashy Christmas lights and decorations, we are also preparing to celebrate the feast day of Saint John of the Cross (1542–1592), the priest, poet, mystic, and saint of the “dark night of the soul.” It might seem perplexing and counter-intuitive that, according to John and other spiritual masters such as Saint Gregory of Nyssa (c. 335–395) and Saint Mother Teresa of our time, the closer we move toward God, the darker everything becomes. As John famously wrote, O guiding night! O night more lovely than the dawn! (The Dark Night, Stanza 5). But how can this be that the night guides our footsteps better than light and is brighter than the dawn?
The “dark night,” as John called it, is the purgative process that strips away our inordinate attachments and passions—the artificial lights in our lives—and prepares us for union with God at the top of the mountain of our spiritual journey. To put it another way, turning off all the lights in the big cities would allow us to see the bright stars better against the dark sky, just as we would in the countryside. Similarly, shutting off the artificial lights in our lives allows us to see the true Light. The paradox of the “guiding night” is, after all, the paradox of Christian faith: it is the paradox of the Cross of Jesus Christ. Saint Paul writes: For we live by faith, not by sight (2 Cor 5:7). This does not mean “blind faith.” Rather, it is a faith purified from any comfort and consolation except God.
We often forget that St. John of the Cross’ beautiful poetry and insights came from a dark period in his life when fellow Christians and religious men of the ancient observance of the Carmelite Order kidnapped, imprisoned, and tortured him. John knew what it meant to find comfort neither in temporal things nor in spiritual consolation, but in God alone. The dark night of the soul is about persevering and striving toward God, and leaving behind anything that impedes this movement for no other reason and reward but to be with God.
Jesuit Father Alfred Delp, who was executed for resisting Nazism, wrote from prison in Berlin:
“Light the candles wherever you can, you who have them. They are a real symbol of what must happen in Advent, what Advent must be if we want to live” (Delp & St. Walburg 2006).1
As we pray with St. John of the Cross in this season of Advent, we pray for illumination to better distinguish between the lights that are blinding and the Light that gives sight and increases faith, hope, and love even in the darkest moments in our lives.
Father Quang D. Tran, S.J.
Carmelite Quotes welcomes Father Quang D. Tran, S.J., who prayerfully composed our 2022 St. John of the Cross Novena; he also wrote our novena to St. Elizabeth of the Trinity. Father Tran is a Jesuit priest of the Central Southern Province. He is originally from New Orleans, Louisiana, and is currently a doctoral candidate in counseling psychology at Boston College. His love for St. John of the Cross and thorough theological training enable him to lead our Novena reflections in the light of scripture and the writings of the Mystical Doctor. You can follow Father Tran on Instagram at @lemetellusumtin.
PRAY EACH DAY WITH
SAINT JOHN OF THE CROSS
- Day 1 — Belief
- Day 2 — Stillness
- Day 3 — Transformation
- Day 4 — Love
- Day 5 — Faith
- Day 6 — Hope
- Day 7 — Charity
- Day 8 — Rest
- Day 9 — Abandonment
O Saint more blessed than tongue can say
Who walked the ways our Savior trod
And bore his cross along the way
That leads to peace and rest in God;
O Saint of Christ’s redeeming Cross,
The road of life is dark and long;
When sorrow comes, and pain and loss,
Teach us to be resigned and strong.
Oh, win for us the joy of grace,
The light of life, the peace of prayer,
That we may reach God’s dwelling-place
And live with you forever there.
(Mention your request)
You endowed our Father St. John of the Cross
With a spirit of self-denial and love of the cross.
By following his example
May we come to the eternal vision of your glory.
Saint John of the Cross, pray for us!
1 Delp, A & St. Walburg, A 2006, Advent of the heart : seasonal sermons and prison writings, 1941-1944, Ignatius Press, San Francisco.
All scripture references in this novena are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, copyright © 1989, 1993 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America as accessed from the Bible Gateway website.
John of the Cross, St. 1991, The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, Revised Edition, translated from the Spanish by Kavanaugh, K and Rodriguez, O with revisions and introductions by Kavanaugh, K, ICS Publications, Washington DC.
Don’t become discouraged and give up prayer, says St. John of the Cross. We offer varying novenas to Our Lady of Mount Carmel, as well as novenas to St. Joseph, St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Sts. Louis and Zélie Martin, St. Elizabeth of the Trinity, and St. Edith Stein.Let us unite in prayer