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After the Darkness Lifts

00:00 / 05:43

14 Dec 2023

St John of the Cross

Matthew 11:11-15

Well t,oday is the day when we think about Saint John of the Cross and I'll say something about him in a minute.

Gospel reading today, Christ says these words, from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence and the violent take it by force.

These are in some ways obscure words but I think from what I've read and what I understand here what Christ is saying is that the kingdom of heaven when it is manifested upon the earth frequently suffers persecution from violent men.

I think that's the most straightforward way of taking it.

For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John.

John was the last in the line of, if you like, Old Testament prophets, the majority of whom suffered persecution and many of them suffered death, of course, and this was to be John's end also.

So he inhabits that line of faithful prophets who have suffered violence and who have been taken by force for their faithful witness to Christ.

And something of John the Baptist's greatness consists in this.

Now as I was saying it's the feast day of John of the Cross.

One of the John of the Cross's most famous writings was called The Dark Night of the Soul.

And in that writing, John of the Cross makes an observation which in many ways, many different ways has been made all throughout the centuries of Christian history by Christian writers, thinkers, spiritual writers, mystics and so on and so forth.

And roughly speaking, I would say that it is this.

It is that the Lord allows us to go through the dark night of the soul so that we might be drawn closer in our hearts to him.

And so there's a paradox there.

God withdraws his presence, as it were, in order that we might draw closer to him.

These are some words from Saint John of the Cross, from his spiritual canticle,

Would that men might at last understand that it is impossible to attain to the thicket of manifold riches of the wisdom of God without entering into the thicket of manifold suffering making that its consolation and desire and how the soul which really longs for divine wisdom first longs for suffering that it may enter more deeply into the thicket of the cross

For the gate whereby one may enter into these riches of his wisdom is the narrow gate of the cross.

Many long for the delights to which that gate leads, but few they are indeed who are prepared to pass through it.

So you see the point that Saint John of the Cross is making here is that there is a narrow way, a narrow way of suffering.

frequently as we've been reading about in the gospel, that narrow way of suffering is the way of persecution, the way of ostracization, the way of rejection by men, and in the way described by Saint John of the Cross, it is sometimes by the Lord withdrawing his presence so that our wills might be strengthened, so that our hearts might be strengthened in their pursuit of God.

Now

The good news about this, the good news about all of this, is that at the end of the dark night of the soul, at the end of the experience of persecution and suffering and death, is the kingdom of heaven, the joy of God's presence.

And that friends is the point.

It's not just about suffering, death, darkness, cold, night, without end, but that at some point the darkness will lift and the presence of God will be manifest, now in this life, at various points, but in the future, in eternity, forever.

And so we're encouraged by Saint John of the Cross to embrace the dark night of the soul wherever we find it and to use it that we might draw closer to God, that our wills might be strengthened in their pursuit of God.

however that darkness is manifested.

And it's a good time of year to think about this when we are literally plunged into darkness for so many hours of the day.

Darkness, cold.

For many people the Advent and Christmas period is a difficult period.

It's emotionally, it's psychologically hard.

Well then there's an opportunity there to embrace this darkness.

to embrace this literally dark period of the year that we might seek with greater levels of will and determination the light of Christ.

Amen.

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