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John of the Cross (3)

John of the Cross (3)

Bible Selection: Psalm 42


1 As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for u, O God.

2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God?


3 My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me continually, “Where is your God?”

4 These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I went with the throng, and led them in procession   to the house of God, with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving, a multitude keeping festival.

5 Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help

6 and my God. My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar.

7 Deep calls to deep at the thunder of your cataracts; All your waves and your billows have gone over me.

8 By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.


9 I say to God, my rock, “Why have you forgotten me?Why must I walk about mournfully because the enemy oppresses me?”

10 As with a deadly wound in my body, my adversaries taunt me, while they say to me continually, “Where is your God?”

11 Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.



Reflection Questions


The following questions can be used for discussion within a small group, or used for journal reflections by individuals.


1. According to John of the Cross, why does God impose a “dark night of the soul” upon a person? 

2. Of the “seven capital sins,” which one do you struggle with the most?

3. Have you ever experienced what might be called a “dark night” in your spiritual journey, a time when the joys and delights seemed to vanish? Describe.

4. The psalmist cries out to God, “Why have you forgotten me?” (Ps. 42:9). What advice or encouragement would John of the Cross give to the psalmist.

5. Of the virtues mentioned by John (humility, simplicity, contentment, peace, moderation, joy, and strength), which do you feel most in need of?



Suggested Exercises


The following exercises can be done by individuals, shared between spiritual friends, or used in the contest of a small group. Choose one or more of the following.


1. Go through each of the seven capital sins, noting the characteristics of those who are struggling with it (i.e., pride: a desire to teach and not be taught, a contentment with their growth, etc. Note which of the seven categories best describes your situation at present.

2. Ask a close friend to identify your spiritual strengths. Using the counsel of John of the Cross, examine these virtues and resolve to keep them in check, lest they become vices. By giving thanks for these strengths as gifts and not as your personal accomplishments you will enable God to use them even more in the future.

3. Abandon your spiritual disciplines for one week. While this may seem like a radical exercise, it may serve to free you from several hidden demons, such as the performance trap, pride in your spiritual works, religious addiction, and the judging of those who do less than you. Use the time to relax and enjoy God.

4. Be patient with God this week. John of the Cross consistently counsels us not to fuss and fret and take our spiritual lives into our own hands, but simply to receive what God would have us receive, no more, no less. Learn the discipline of gratitude for the small things.




What John of the Cross calls “the dark night of the soul” is a universal experience for the great writers of devotion. To desire spiritual maturity without the dark night is like an athlete hoping to become a champion without training or an author expecting to produce a great book without thinking.

 The results of this work on the soul are altogether good. In the passage you read, John of the Cross shows how the dark night helps us to be free from the “seven capital sins.” He could just as well have shown how it operates in developing within us the “seven great virtues,” i.e., fortitude, prudence, justice, temperance, faith, hope, and love. The point is that this is one of the key means that God uses to transform the human personality. For us, the crucial issue is our responsiveness to this passive moving of the Holy Spirit.

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