Msgr. Francis X. Meehan
Remember Susan Boyle? She was the woman who shocked the judges on the British show by her wonderful rendition of the Les Mis song, “I Dreamed a Dream.” It was a thrill to watch the newscast or the Internet video! She steps onto the stage; people’s faces betray a world-weary cynicism; Simon Cowell questions her age – somewhere in her 40s – imagine! And then … then how she stopped the show, brought tears to our eyes!
It was a lesson in humanity: do not judge by appearances; do not judge by worldly criteria! Oh, if only the lesson could last!
Then in the short weeks following, something happened – a modern phenomenon, a forgetfulness, a darkness: Suddenly, the good news, the gift of it all, just drops off the horizon. Though it occurred only two months ago, it becomes an all-too-distant memory. More than that: even in the week immediately after, newspaper articles question the spontaneity of it all; a doubt is cast; and most significant of all, there is a swallowing of the freshness of it all into the dark hole of a faddish media’s forgetful silence.
It is this simple recent occurrence that provokes within me a brief reflection on our spiritual lives, especially on one important facet of our spiritual life. My reflection has to do with a certain darkness, a loss of a once-available spiritual consolation. In prayer, at one point, God is so close, palpable. Later, suddenly, a slippage: no feeling, little sense, little consolation – only faith, trust, mercy! God, where are you? Where has the good time gone? Why so quickly lost?
We Catholics have been blessed by solid teachings on this “Dark Night.” St John of the Cross left us a special heritage of understanding in his classic work, “The Dark Night of the Soul.” For John, the dark night was not so much due to our cynicism. It actually was a gift, a grace of God – God calling us into a deeper faith, a more generous love, a purified heart.
In our own time, only two years ago, we were blessed by Mother Teresa’s revelations of her own Dark Night in the book, “Come Be My Light.” Older married couples have spoken of how their own love has had to go through stages – first romantic, later quieting, doubt, fear, anxiety, struggle – and yet, with patience, waiting, wisdom, generosity of spirit, there emerges a truly supernatural deepening of love.
I was once given an insight by a Jesuit spiritual writer and theologian, Thomas Clark. He spoke about how in our time there is almost a certain democratization of the Dark Night. By that he meant, that the very secular air we breathe can make God seem very distant, very absent.
I thought of this good warning when I noticed how quickly the excitement of Susan Boyle’s night of success disappeared from public consciousness. It is as though our times cannot sustain the innocence of it all.
Interesting the song she sang! “I dreamed a dream … when hope was high, and life worth living … But the tigers come at night … and they tear your hope apart …”
The song ends in a certain tragic loss. And yet our Christian faith holds on – hope-filled, trust-filled, in darkness and in light, taming even the cynicism of the “tigers.” God is present in seeming absence. God remains present to us in mercy and love, in good times and in bad!
Msgr. Meehan is a former teacher and pastor who now helps in spiritual direction for students at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.