The Dark Night and the Cross VERONICA ARNTZ: Re-Blogged


The Dark Night and the Cross


Perhaps the most haunting words of the Sacred Scriptures are the following from Jesus as he was dying on the Cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34; Matt 27:46; Ps 22:2, RSV2CE). These words may startle and surprise us—how can Jesus who is perfectly united with the Father say something that sounds like despair? Did not Jesus know the Father was always with Him?

Indeed, in these words, we find not despair, but the expression of the soul experiencing the dark night. Christ said these words for all of us, so that we can unite ourselves with Him on the Cross when we are experiencing a dark night in our spiritual lives, when we feel entirely abandoned by God, even though we know that He is present with us.

Union of the Father and the Son

From the Sacred Scriptures, we know that the Father and the Son are perfectly united. In Psalm 2:7, we read, “You are my son, today I have begotten you.” These words are interpreted in reference to Christ, who is the only begotten Son of the Father, indicating that the Father and Son are united through filial relation. Second, in Christ’s High Priestly prayer from John 17, he expresses the idea that his mission, given to him by the Father, has been fulfilled. “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work which you gave me to do; and now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory which I had with you before the world was made” (John 17:4-5). Moreover, he prays three times for unity among the people that they might be one as he and the Father are one. “I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us” (John 17:20-21). He prays that those to whom the Apostles will preach might be one with those who believe, that all might be one with the Father and the Son.

A final example of the unity of the Father and the Son, which we will investigate, is his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, while his soul was sorrowful, even unto death (Matt 26:38). “My Father, if it be possible, let this chalice pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matt 26:39). In these words, Jesus expresses his human fear of his impending Passion and Death, but his will is so perfectly united with the Father that he does not will anything other than what the Father wills.

How, then, are we to understand the words of Jesus on the Cross—“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Indeed, given the Scriptures citations above, we cannot interpret it to mean that Jesus was despairing in the union between himself and the Father. Rather, he was expressing the deepest human loneliness: the feeling of being separated from God. Even though Christ himself was perfectly united with the Father, in his humanity, he was expressing the loneliness of man when he feels separated from God. Christ chose to enter into that suffering so that, when we experience that loneliness in the crosses we carry, we might be able to turn to him and ask for him to remain with us in our sorrow. Christ’s love for men is so profound that he experienced the depths of human loneliness and suffering for our sake, even though he knew no sin (2 Cor 5:21).

The Dark Night and the Spiritual Life

What does it mean for us, when we are in the dark night of the senses or the soul, that Christ has first entered into our sufferings? According to the great spiritual writers, particularly St. John of the Cross, the dark night of the senses occurs when we no longer experience sensible consolations, but deeply desire for a prayer that allows us simply to “dwell” with God. To undergo this purgation of the senses, we must detach ourselves from our vices, bad habits, and the sensible things that are attractive to us. This process might be long, and it could be lonely, because we no longer experience the consolations that we once did. God desires this detachment for us because, while it may seem that our spiritual life is dry, we are actually becoming more attached to Him rather than the consolations He gave to us in the beginning of our spiritual journey. We may feel like Christ on the Cross—that God has forsaken us and forgotten us in our misery. But, we should recall that, just as the Son and the Father are always one, so too is God truly with us, even when we do not feel his presence directly.

The one who has passed from the beginning stage of prayer into that of proficient, after experiencing the dark night of the senses, must undergo the dark night of the soul in order to enter into the way of the perfect. In the dark night of the soul, not only are the sensible consolations removed, but also “the supernatural lights on the mysteries of salvation, of its ardent desires, of that facility in action, in preaching and in teaching, in which it had felt a secret pride and complacency…. This is a period of extreme aridity” (Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange, The Three Conversions in the Spiritual Life; available online here).

These souls perhaps feel most keenly what Christ felt on the Cross. Because they are being purged of all their pride and attachments, even attachment to spiritual goods, they will feel most detached from God and separated from him—they will truly feel forsaken. In these moments, these souls can enter into the suffering that Christ experienced on the Cross, and take refuge in the immense love that he had for us. Moreover, like St. Teresa of Calcutta, these souls can follow in her imitation and remain faithful to daily duties and prayer despite long periods of aridity and feeling abandoned by God.


The path described above is the normative way to holiness, which means that all souls are called to be purged in their senses and their souls to attain holiness. Each of us is at a different point in the spiritual life. As we come closer to Holy Week, let us consider our particular attachments. What things are preventing us from uniting ourselves completely to Christ? Are we holding onto sins or material goods, such that we cannot be united with Christ as the Father and Son are one? Are we experiencing the loneliness that Christ did on the Cross?

Wherever we are in the spiritual life, let us recall the great sacrifice that Christ made on the Cross to die for our sins, and let us unite ourselves with him in his suffering and pain—he will grant us the grace to endure the dark nights, and he will ultimately bless us with his abundant joy (John 10:10). END QUOTES

By Veronica Arntz

Veronica Arntz graduated from Wyoming Catholic College with a Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Arts, which included courses in humanities, philosophy, theology, and Latin, among others, using the Great Books of Western thought. The title of her senior thesis was, “Communio Personarum Meets Communionis Sacramentum: The Cosmological Connection of Family and Liturgy.” She is currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Theology from the Augustine Institute.

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I am an Informed and fully practicing Roman Catholic

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