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Perspective: Depths of darkness point way to light of love

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By Ricardo Márquez

When things don’t work out like we imagined – when a loved one dies unexpectedly, when we lose our job, when infidelity destroys our marriage, when war threatens our borders, when a natural disaster rips through our home, or when famine forces us to migrate – we enter into the emotional territory of rage, anxiety and depression.

It’s like a total emotional and spiritual eclipse, an absence of light that generates fear. The mystics call these times “the dark night of the soul.” It’s what Jesus experienced on the cross, when He cried out, “My God, My God, why have you abandoned Me?”

It’s not a coincidence that the number of people who present symptoms of anxiety and depression has increased since the pandemic. The mental health issues of our population can’t be hidden away any longer; they affect all of us, in one way or another. We feel it in our families, our parishes, our doctors’ offices, inside of us.

It’s not easy to accompany people who seek psychological and spiritual help, particularly when we ourselves are a part of that hurting, toxic society. We are part of that immense group of wounded healers.

I have learned — and I’m still learning — that in this moment of existential darkness, of a darkness in the soul, a phenomenon occurs that is manifested by a total loss of hope, when everything crumbles, when the horizon and a sense of purpose disappear, and our bodies seem paralyzed, as if withdrawing into a dark cave. What sustained us no longer sustains us, what we believed important is no longer so, and the only thing remaining is a vast hopelessness. The “dark night” at its peak.

Yet from this empty chaos, paradoxically, emerges a profound search for what is essential, what really matters to us in our life, what moves us, what never disappoints nor dies. From this dark hole, we can connect with absolute love, and are able to return to the place that we should never have left.

We discover the hidden treasure in the darkness, we discover the God that Jesus revealed to us, a God who is the unconditional love in which we exist.

We have a treasure in our liturgical celebrations, when our faith community comes together to recall the memories and experiences of Jesus’ disciples:

“… What we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we looked upon and touched with our hands concerns the Word of life … What we have seen and heard we proclaim now to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; for our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:1-3).

These are not fairy tales. They are concrete, palpable experiences that were etched in the rational and emotional memory of His disciples. That is why they recall in moments of doubt and confusion what Jesus told them, words they gifted to us: “Do not be afraid”; “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you”; “Love one another as I have loved you”; “Be One like the Father and I are One”; “Where I go, you also will go.” These are markers of faith that guide our lives during the dark nights of our soul until we reach a point where we can give thanks for the darkness, which led us to a more intimate, loving union with the eternal light of our God.

As St. John of the Cross tells us, “To love is to be transformed into what we love. To love God is therefore to be transformed into God.”

Ricardo Márquez can be reached at marquez_muskus@yahoo.com.

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