Q: Archbishop J, the Paschal mystery: how does it relate to family life? (Pt 6)
There is a moment in spousal relationship where the vision grows dim, and hope dwindles. Either the drudgery of life, or the pain, or shame colours the interaction between the spouses.
That first spark of joy and life is gone and each day you turn up out of duty—out of habit because it is what you know. It is as if someone sucked the oxygen out of the room and you can hardly breathe. You lie on a bed with the person you love with little to speak about. This is the dark night of marriage that many couples have experienced.
At this stage, many people try different things to just feel like they are still living: a new car, house, or a job. And those are the safer options. Others have affairs or turn to alcohol, drugs, or pornography during this dark time.
I want to propose this as a spiritual malady. It cannot be fixed by the external change in job, house, etc. It is the soul that needs attention and, if it is given attention correctly, it will move the person to a new stage of life that is infinitely better than could have been imagined.
The night of desolation
Mary Magdalene followed Jesus to the foot of the cross. She had all her hopes dashed on that fateful Friday evening when they crucified Him. She would have wept bitter tears that night because of the disappointment and horror she experienced. She was plunged into complete desolation—the dark night of the soul.
I would ask you to meditate on her experience at the foot of the cross and the days after. This is complete desolation. She lost what was most precious to her. The grief was palpable and must have consumed her whole body. Unlike the disciples she stayed, she waited and prayed.
In the dark night, whatever its configuration, there is a way to proceed. You stay, you wait, and you pray. Do not look to the left or right; it will be a distraction or a temptation. God is doing something in the midst of this night. You need to be patient.
There is a stage in the spiritual life that St John of the Cross called purgation. It is a stage of darkness that leads to inner freedom and incredible life. It is painful, but the pain turns to joy if you can stay, wait, and pray.
We all begin our adult life with bad habits, attachments and desires that take the place that God and God alone should have. These attachments, desires and habits give us a false sense of life, but they cannot sustain us, or keep us happy over the long haul. They will fail because they are not God and cannot supply what God alone can supply.
In the first stage of marriage, these habits, attractions, and desires eventually fall flat. As St Augustine says: “My soul is restless, Oh Lord, ‘till it rests in thee.” The inner restlessness, the darkness and the sense of drudgery is the soul’s way of saying the time has come to grow up.
We must no longer rely on external motivation and enticement. We now learn to love in the sense of agape—laying down our life for another, expecting little or nothing in return. This is the invitation to detachment of the soul from all the habits, attractions, and desires.
In the time of deep desolation, St Mary Magdalene is a good model for us. She stayed at the foot of the cross till the end. She did not run or hide from the suffering, she stayed, watched, and prayed.
Keep turning up and doing all the things that you committed to do. Do it with as much love and feeling as you can muster. This is not the moment to shrink and lessen your commitment to your family. It is actually the time to strengthen it through rites, rituals and reaching out as a family to other families.
After her fidelity to the cross, St Mary Magdalene was faithful to the Sabbath. This is what needs to become high priority in your life at this time. You need to be faithful to your duties during this stage of the journey. But, first of all, be faithful to God.
This is the time when you should seek spiritual accompaniment, join a group for Lectio Divina, or Christian Meditation, or a prayer meeting—something that will strengthen you spiritually. You may not feel like it but investing in the inner life during this stage will pay great dividends.
Coming out of the Sabbath, we see Mary Magdalene spring into action. The scriptures say, “Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance” (Jn 20:1).
It is interesting that St John has Mary alone going to the tomb. In the face of disillusionment, with all hope dashed, with her heart broken into a million pieces, she still goes to the tomb as soon as she can. There is duty in her. There is devotion in her still; there is hope. But she cannot let go of her attachments to the human Jesus.
Because of this attachment she does not understand. She looks into the tomb and sees the two angels, but she is still weeping (Jn 20:12). Her heart is broken, and the situation is compounded by the thought that the body of Jesus was stolen. Then Jesus calls her by name, “Mary” and immediately she sees Him and says, “Rabboni!”.
Called by name is one part of the structure of the Resurrection that opens the eyes of the disciple to see what was always there. Jesus was with her, but she did not have eyes to see.
Being called by name, is a spiritual awakening. Many have experienced it through a Life in the Spirit seminar, or a retreat or spiritual conference. Through the spiritual awakening, nothing changes in your family or relations. But, at the same time, everything changes because the whole world is now filled with the glory of God.
The Resurrection is not only an event: it is also part of our spiritual journey. We too should expect to meet the risen Lord.
If you are in a spiritual dark night, turn to rites, rituals and the reaching out to keep you focused on your journey.