FROM THE LETTERS OF PADRE PIO: LENT AND THE DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL
Written by: Brother William Trauba Capuchin
Dear Friends of Padre Pio,
Peace and goodwill to each of you!
During Lent, the Spirit leads us into the desert just as he did Jesus. The desert is a lonely place, in which we may feel insecure and in many instances is a place of spiritual combat in which we must face our inner demons. The Devil is usually present also and seeks to enter our lives through our weaknesses. The desert then, is a dark place in these respects although we think of a hot shining sun being also present. Since it is the Spirit who leads us there as he did Jesus, we have an indication that there is a light to be discovered in the midst of all the shadows. Just as the chick needs to break out of the shell that had been its home for weeks, we need to overcome the structures that have encompassed us and have given us security and direction in the past but are now suffocating us in the present. This “breaking through” is painful but necessary and is a fundamental goal in our Lenten practices. We must leave our points of security and stretch out to embrace a new way of facing reality and we do this with the help of Christ.
Silence prepares us to listen and solitude prepares us for an encounter. In the same way the darkness in the desert prepares us for a new dawning. Padre Pio was aware of this dynamic even as a child. The times alone and moments of sadness did not disorient him in the center of his soul, nor did they take away his inner peace. His eyes of faith were always centered on our Lord crucified and risen from the dead. Although he suffered much, these sufferings affected him at the more exterior levels of his person. Padre Pio counseled his spiritual daughters, the Ventrella sisters, on how to maintain their inner peace and orientation toward God in the middle of a dark night in his letter to them dated December 7, 1916:
The darkness that surrounds the sky of your souls is light, and you do well to say you see nothing, and that you find yourselves in the midst of a burning bush. The bush burns, the air fills with cloud, and your soul neither sees nor understands anything. But God speaks just the same and is present to the soul who hears, understands, loves, and trembles.
My daughters take heart; don’t wait for Tabor in order to see God; you are already contemplating him on Sinai. I don’t think the interior stomach is upset and ill-disposed to enjoying good things; it only has appetite for the Supreme Good in itself and not only in his gifts. This gives rise to your dissatisfaction where matters that are not of God are concerned.
The knowledge of your interior unworthiness and sinfulness is an extremely pure divine light by which your very being and your ability to commit any sin, without the help of grace, is placed before your consideration.
That light is due to the great mercy of God and was granted to the greatest saints because it positions their souls in a place sheltered from all feelings of vanity or pride, thus consolidating humility which is the foundation of true virtue and Christian perfection. Saint Teresa also had this knowledge and says it is so painful and horrible in certain moments that it would cause death if the Lord did not sustain the heart.
What saves us from despair at knowing our unworthiness and sinfulness is knowing that in spite of all this God as our loving Father still loves us; not the evil in us but rather his presence in us, in our human dignity, in our ability to know and choose what is good. This ever-shining light of love within us is the new dawn which, when seen and grasped, begins a new stage in our life: that of living in the Reign of God as his son or daughter. Nevertheless, this light of mercy does not absolve us of our responsibility to correct our faults, now known with such clarity and horror. By our free choice of what is good for us we open our soul to receive the mercy of God that he always makes available to us. Good decisions change us for the better, they draw us closer to God and they make us more free. That is how we can tell that our decisions were correct. The decision to persevere in search of the light that is God in us in the midst of darkness is called faith. This faith permits us to be united to God, the finite with the infinite.
By faith we see Christ smiling in every creature in the life and existence of that creature. Also, we see him crying and suffering in each creature through the lack of love that deprives that creature of the beauty and well-being due to it. Human beings are the delight of God and when we unite ourselves to God by faith expressed in charity, we begin to enter the divine dance of love and life in the world around us; in the happiness and in the sadness that constitutes Love loving which is the presence of Christ, the Anointed One, in every being. Thus, we experience more profoundly the penetration of God’s love in our spirit. We experience this influx of being that his love engendering life and wellbeing in us; and although pain and suffering persist, each time the gains become more abundant. We are invited to be seated at the table of the Pascal Feast to participate, each one according to his or her capacity, in the banquet presented to us by the Father and served to us by the Son.
Let us be open, then, in this Lenten time to the light of life, a new life within our habitual darkness waiting to be revealed; an introduction to the thread of hope of happiness and well-being that is the promise of the living presence of Christ in us. Our Lord is nearby! Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus!
Your servant in Christ,
Fray Guillermo Trauba, Capuchin