We celebrate the feast of John of the Cross in Advent. One finds in his spiritual doctrine certain themes that encourage contemplative prayer in Advent. One of these themes is that of the The Dark Night. In Ascent of Mount Carmel, Book II, he describes the journey of faith as a pilgrimage through a kind of spiritual night from sunset to sunrise - it is a pilgrimage to the coming of the Lord, an advent journey.
The sunset is our old way of life which we must leave behind. When we were limited by sin and death, we viewed the things of this world in a manner not commensurate with their true purpose - and in doing so, we prevented ourselves from realizing our true destiny, and with that lost the happiness, the beatitude God designed us to have. Now, by faith in the Lord and his great love for us we can let the sun set on the personal emptiness we felt when we limited ourselves to the visible, tangible comforts and pleasures we once let drive us.
As the evening progresses, St. John of the Cross tells us that we discover dark contemplation, complete vulnerability to the Lord in prayer. He calls this prayer spiritual nakedness and it normally comes with all kinds of trials and afflictions. Such prayer leads us to trust the Lord completely with everything in our lives. The effects of such prayer bring a deeper peace to our soul and an invincible confidence in his love so that we can stand strong in the darkest hour of our life, our personal midnight.
The final stage of the night of faith is just like the early morning before sunrise. He says there is a certain joy the permeates everything because the soul sees signs that already anticipate Christ's coming. The joyful excitement we see in children this time of year as school ends and Christmas break begins suggests something of what St. John of the Cross means. If we stay in prayer, it is a time of patience, joyful expectation and great hope.