“The Dark Night of the Soul” is a commonly used phrase, but as we saw when exploring the first Dark Night (that of the senses), it is most often misunderstood and misused. The true Dark Night of the Soul is the bridge between the illuminative and unitive ways, in which the soul is purged not of the lower elements of the soul, but instead of the higher faculties of intellect, will and memory.
At this stage, even infused contemplation is not possible; every faculty of the soul experiences dryness. In many ways, it is like a purgatory before death. But God reveals Himself in this darkness, and it leads to total union with Him.
But why is this necessary? Like the first Dark Night, it purges the soul of defects. One might be tempted to think that a soul at this advanced stage of prayer has no real defects, but this is not the case. A few of the defects the Dark Night of the Soul purges include:
(a) Involuntary distractions in prayer. At this stage one can still encounter the inability of the intellect and will to keep focus.
(b) Dullness in prayer. As one grows accustomed to infused contemplation, he can begin to lack full sensitivity to spiritual things. It is a type of spiritual sloth.
(c) Temptation to over-zealousness instead of charity. It is very easy at this stage to desire the same joys for our brothers and sisters in Christ that we overwhelm them in trying to help them. Instead of relying on God to move them forward, we try to force them along.
During this Dark Night of the Soul, the person experiences the final purification of the will. Any egotism, either conscious or unconscious, is replaced by a complete acceptance to the will of God. And that is the point of this stage: to unite one’s will completely with God’s will, so that the soul wants nothing other than what God wants.
After passing through the Dark Night of the Soul, one moves onto the unitive way of prayer, which we will explore in the next (and final) post of this series.