The language of 16th-century scholasticism is not easily understood by 21st-century readers living in a completely different culture and context. Perhaps even more challenging is that fact that our modern lives, filled with the non-stop clutter of social media and technology, as well as comfort and ease, do not prepare most of us well to honestly look into our own depths to see who we are and who we are intended to become as fully alive human beings.
Fortunately we now have this helpful book to guide us to that full life which St. John invites us to in The Dark Night. Father Marc Foley here combines his own theological and psychological background, as well as his experience as a spiritual guide, to help modern readers understand the experiences, challenges, and graced events of the purifying nights of sense and spirit.
In addition to exploring certain key terms that John uses in Spanish and their meaning in the saint’s time and today, Father Marc includes pertinent selections from a wide range of writers, ancient to modern, that illustrate the themes he covers. Each chapter concludes with insightful questions for personal reflection or group discussion. The book has a comprehensive and fully linked index.
WHAT THEY'RE SAYING...
The Dark Night: Psychological Experience and Spiritual Reality by Father Marc Foley, OCD, isn’t just an excellent commentary on The Dark Night by St. John of the Cross, it’s a practical spiritual guide for anyone—even if you never intend to read the work upon which it expounds.
The book offers some of the best descriptions I’ve read about stages of prayer and progress in the spiritual life, offering straightforward examples that allow the reader to view his or her life in a clearer way. In fact, Foley’s explanations of the imperfections of beginners are so vivid, I felt like the Samaritan woman who said, “Come see a man who told me everything I have done.”
Foley made me realize, for example, how much time I’ve spent working on “spiritual projects” when God was calling me to spend more time in prayer or serving my family.
I particularly appreciate the book’s use of stories from literature and the author’s personal life. Whether it’s examples from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn or others, Foley’s use of stories makes the book a quick and enjoyable read.
I wish this book had been around when I was younger, as it would have helped me avoid many misconceptions about my own spiritual life. Not that I would have understood all aspects of the book, but Foley provides an excellent framework to guide our progress toward union with our Creator. Some of the concepts are immediately useful while others, I suspect, will unfold in my life over time. I especially recommend The Dark Night: Psychological Experience and Spiritual Reality to beginners and those discerning a call to Carmel.
While the book is engaging, it is also challenging. Foley writes, “Just as self-knowledge is painful, so too is change. And the change native to the dark night is excruciatingly painful because it involves modifying or eradicating deeply ingrained habits that have taken root within us over a lifetime.”
The Dark Night: Psychological Experience and Spiritual Reality is a great aid for the journey, and a book I will read more than once.
One last thought: The Dark Night: Psychological Experience and Spiritual Reality is a good companion to Foley’s earlier book, The Ascent of Mount Carmel: Reflections, which explains St. John of the Cross’ work of the same name, using similar techniques and examples. Reading the books back to back would help reinforce some of the concepts, and at just more than 200 pages each, is easily accomplished.
—Tim Bete, OCDS, is a member of the Our Mother of Good Counsel Community in Dayton, Ohio, and a published author of three books.
Marc Foley, OCD, is a Discalced Carmelite priest and member of the Washington Province (U.S.A.) of Discalced Carmelite friars. He is a longtime member and former chair of the Institute of Carmelite Studies. Currently he serves as publisher of ICS Publications and as director of formation at the Carmelite House of Studies located in Washington, D.C. A spiritual director and popular retreat master, Father Marc is the author of ten books, six of them with ICS Publications, on St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila and St. Thérèse of Lisieux.
St. Thérèse did not grow in holiness apart from the human condition. Like all of us, she was emotionally scarred by the fragileness of life. She was deeply wounded by the death of her mother at the age of four, bedridden as the result of a neurotic episode when she was ten, struggled with debilitating scruples most of her life, and suffered an agonizing dark night of faith.
St. Thérèse was no plaster statue saint. Her life was a real life. As it unfolds before us on the pages of Story of a Soul, we see a pilgrim soul who made her way home to God through many raging storms and dark nights. The specific nature of Thérèse's trials may differ from our own, but psychological and emotional suffering are our common lot. For example, we may not have know the pain of our mother dying when we were four, but most of us have know the pain of the loss of a loved one. The sufferings that we share with Thérèse are universal - physical pain, anxiety, anger, sadness, depression, loneliness, doubts of faith, to name a few. These sufferings make doing the will of God difficult, but they are the context of our choices. They are the context of holiness.