Loving Jesus In The Night
Published: June 10, 2010
A friend told me about a little boy who was given his first crucifix. He studied it for a few moments and didn’t say a word, but later his mom found the little fellow doing his best to pry the figure of Jesus from the cross. You see, it broke the child’s heart to see Jesus suffering like that.
As we approach June 11, the feast of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, it’s a good time to reflect on the condition of our own hearts.
Adults can become so accustomed to gazing at a crucifix that we sometimes overlook the obvious, which is that Jesus loves us so much that he died for us. The danger is falling prey to heart trouble. Oh, I don’t mean the kind diagnosed by a cardiologist with a prescription for medication and a special diet. I mean the more serious kind of heart trouble, which is spiritual.
Many of us struggle with a feeling that Jesus is very far away, and we are not getting through to him. We feel like we are sleep-walking through our prayers, blind to God’s loving presence.
Oddly enough, this sense of spiritual darkness struck at the heart of none other than Mother Teresa. You may recall the book “Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light,” which came out in 2007. There, letters she wrote to her spiritual confessors revealed that one of the holiest women of our times spent many years tormented by an agonizing sense of God’s absence.
Not surprisingly, secular journalists jumped all over this book, declaring that it showed that Mother Teresa had in fact lost her faith. It was as if the reporters were sneering at us, “See, even Mother Teresa didn’t really believe in God, so why should you?”
Fortunately a more recently published book “I Loved Jesus in the Night” beautifully clarifies what Mother Teresa was really going through. Dominican priest Paul Murray describes Mother as experiencing a dark night of the soul, a spiritual condition described by St. John of the Cross in the 16th century.
This dark night can be a stage of spiritual growth, but the actual experience, which for some lasts many years, is accompanied by spiritual agony so intense that death might seem a relief. Mother Teresa, quite familiar with the writings of this saint, wrote to Jesus: “Lord, my God, who am I that you should forsake me?”
Most of us would love to retain the faith we had as children. We would love to sing “Jesus Loves Me” and really believe it. But for those who struggle with dark nights, it is important to realize that we can take a cue from Mother Teresa. She continued ministering to the poor, receiving the sacraments and praying before the Blessed Sacrament every day. Despite the agonizing stretch of darkness, she wrote, “Jesus is all to me and I love … only Jesus.” She also learned to accept “whatever He gives” and to willingly surrender “whatever He takes.”
Sometimes God gives us great spiritual comfort in our prayer life, and sometimes he takes it back. This mysterious loss of comfort can be our share in the Lord’s Passion.
We can’t remove Jesus from the cross, nor can we throw aside the crosses we ourselves carry in life. But especially on the feast of the Sacred Heart, we can get down on our knees before the figure of the crucified Christ. There we can utter the words that Mother Teresa wrote to someone who needed encouragement on his faith journey. Despite her own spiritual pain, she assured this man of the truth about Jesus that resonated in her own heart. “He is the one in love with you.”
Dear readers, may the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus fill you with every grace and blessing!
Illustration by Jef Murray after “Christ of St. John of the Cross” by Salvador Dali. The Murrays are parishioners at St. Thomas More Church in Decatur. Readers may e-mail them at firstname.lastname@example.org. Lorraine’s books are available at www.lorrainevmurray.com.