God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” Genesis 1:5
Spiritually, “Day” is associated with reason, using information gleaned from the body’s five senses of sight, sound, touch, taste and smell.
Spiritually, “Night” is associated with spiritual knowledge that begins with faith, which is given passively by God to individual souls without the illumination of the understanding.
Holy Scripture beautifully sums up Day and Night, Reason and Faith, in Psalm 19:
Day pours out the word to day, and night to night imparts knowledge. Psalm 19:3
The soul in the spiritual “night” is ideally a movement toward greater faith, hope and charity culminating in union with God. Saint John illustrates the movement through the spiritual night with three stages: The beginning of this night is the night of sense during which the first major conversion from sin and bondage to the senses takes place. It is called night due to the privation and purgation of the soul’s senses and is represented by the time of the night just after dusk when sensible objects can no longer be seen, a perfect comparison. The second part is the night of faith. It is compared to midnight since it is farthest from the daylight of reason, leaving the understanding in darkness. In the coming days we shall see these first two parts of the night happen with the Israelites release from the Egyptians in Exodus. The third part of the night, when it is still dark but preceding dawn, is the dark night of the soul when God’s bestows his mystical prayer called contemplation. When these three parts of the night are almost over, God begins to illumine the soul with his Divine light, which is the beginning of the perfect union with him that follows – when it is nearer to dawn and the light of day, which is compared to God. 1
The light of faith, as said, has three primary functions: it gathers, guides and guards. Faith gathers together God’s people to worship, learn the Faith, and to serve others. Second, faith is a guide for the spiritual journey; leading the soul toward and ever deepening relationship with God and eternal life; for faith is the beginning of eternal life. Third, faith guards by its protection and concealment against the devil, 2 whose goal is to prevent that from happening. In this part of Genesis, we’ll look at faith as a guide; specifically with God’s example of Israel’s exodus from Egypt when we continue tomorrow.
If “gather, guide and guard” resonates familiarity, it is because they are the attributes of the Good Shepherd himself and light of the world, Jesus Christ.
The USCCB has not reviewed or approved my comments on the Biblical text.
In today’s Gospel Reading, Jesus teaches us how to pray the Our Father, bringing faith into our everyday lives. This link will take you to the USCCB website and directly to today’s Daily Readings:
God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” Genesis 1:5
We continue where we left off Tuesday, meditating upon the above verse as it applies to reason, faith and the Israelites exodus from Egypt. What is happening in Exodus helps us to understand spiritually these Genesis verses on light, darkness, day and night.
Upon the Israelite’s departure from Egypt, when Pharaoh let the people go, God bestowed upon them the light of faith. This was a release from spiritual bondage as well as physical slavery, because Pharaoh wouldn’t let them make animal sacrifices to God in the desert as God wanted. 1 Enslavement to sin and sensual comforts never fosters, like Pharaoh, worship of God. Like all who are newly aware of a spiritual part of their being, the Israelites release from Egyptian captivity would require guidance without complete reliance upon the senses. For how can one journey using the very same thing one is attempting to leave behind? This is where the light of faith takes over and operates in silence and darkness as a guide, more so with a soul who is co-operative with God’s grace. The soul who is eager to advance in the spiritual life practices mortifying their earthly desires while developing a deep prayer life, which is their relationship with God. The soul’s reliance on the false props of sensual comforts and satisfied appetites diminishes as the soul’s spiritual life matures, at the same time love of God and neighbor grows with hope and charity. One by one the chains of desires fall away, and spiritual freedom blossoms. And he is set free from the hands of his enemies – “the world, the flesh, and the devil.” 2
Scripture shows God guiding Israel by the light of faith, while revealing how faith operates:
The Lord preceded them, in the day-time by means of a column of cloud to show them the way, and at night by means of a column of fire to give them light. Thus they could travel both by day and by night. Neither the column of cloud by day nor the column of fire by night ever left its place in front of the people. Exodus 13: 21-22
It is rather contrary that a cloud could show them the way. Typically, clouds and fog disable navigation abilities. Preceding them as they marched forward, they certainly could not see ahead to use their own reasoning abilities, which is the point. But as the verse states, this was God’s means, his way, of leading Israel. The first line is the Lord himself showing them the way, which is to say spiritually, their reason (day) was darkened by the cloud, and in this darkness of their understanding, which is night, there was fire to give them guiding light. It is also amazing that “clouding the reason” could show the way; a paradox that unbelievers cannot grasp. This verse shows why faith is called “a dark night,” by illustrating no simultaneous coming of natural knowledge through reason, leaving the understanding in darkness. 3 This is God’s guidance – this is faith.
The next line tells us Israel’s journey does in fact include both reason and faith:
Thus they could travel both by day and by night: day = reason, night = faith.
Interpreted naturally: Thus they could travel both in the daytime and nighttime. Interpreted spiritually: Thus they could travel both by reason and by faith.
Forms of guidance God provides the soul’s intellect include: Holy Scripture, a mentor, instruction, community. These assist the role of reason in the life of faith. Moses’ and Aaron’s instruction was directed at the Israelites’ sense of reason: Moses performed the signs in the sight of the people and Aaron spoke to the people, both under God’s instructions. 4 In the New Testament Jesus administers all three functions, as God himself teaching about the kingdom and performing miracles. But Jesus lays it down plainly that blessed are those who have not seen and have believed. 5 Belief rests on the power of God through faith, not human understanding, which is vulnerable to attacks of the devil, as we shall see.
In Moses we see the limitations of human help as he expressed to God multiple times his reluctance to lead the people; asking him, a bit prophetically, to send someone else. 6 Contrarily, we read of God’s unwavering response to his people’s walk of faith:
Neither the column of cloud by day nor the column of fire by night ever left its place in front of the people.
Today is the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, Apostle. The Popes have faithfully shepherded the People of God, guiding them for over 2000 years since St. Peter, whose profession of faith to Jesus is the rock he built his Church upon. You can read Peter’s entire response to Jesus on the USCCB website:
We will reflect more upon the faculty of the understanding and its operations of reason, its corresponding theological virtue and God’s beacon the light of faith, faith’s role as gatherer of God’s people, and why it is a dark guide and guard toward eternal life.
The USCCB has not reviewed or approved my comments on the Biblical text
The two stages of light in the Old and New Testaments:
The light God called forth from nothingness on that first day so all might see and believe testified to him until that fourth day when the governor of light took over; the sun to shed light upon the earth, to separate the light from the darkness, and to carry on the testimony.
At that proper time, God sent his faithful servant John 1 born of a barren woman, whose light 2 testified to the Light so all might believe; until the arrival of that true Governor of Light, Jesus Christ, who came into the world so that whoever sees him sees the Father. 3
Then God said: “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky, to separate day from night. Let them mark the fixed times, the days and the years, and serve as luminaries in the dome of the sky, to shed light upon the earth.” And so it happened: God made the two great lights, the greater one to govern the day, and the lesser one to govern the night; and he made the stars. God set them in the dome of the sky, to shed light upon the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate the light from the darkness.
We continue with our spiritual interpretation.
On day one, God called the light he created “day” and the darkness “night.” Spiritually, we saw “day” represents knowledge the soul is aware of through the body’s five senses with which it uses to reason with, enlightening the understanding. “Night” is associated with light of faith whose spiritual knowledge of God is imperceptible to the understanding. St. John calls faith “unformed knowledge.” 4 God essentially bypasses the five bodily senses when he communicates knowledge (and love in advanced prayer) to the soul because, as stated earlier, he resides in the substance of every soul. Substantial knowledge stripped of all images is produced by God passively in the faculties, rather than produced in the intellect by reception of forms, fantasies and apprehensions. 5
One day four of creation in the dome of the sky, God “organizes” the light he created and separated from the darkness on day one. The sun, moon, and stars do this on the natural level of creation. These same lights in their natural operations in the sky offer a sublime spiritual meditation on the faculty of the understanding and the virtue of faith. With God’s grace and St. John’s wisdom, I’ll endeavor to share God’s wonderment of the faculty of the understanding, the virtue of faith, and the dome of the sky.
In our present Genesis verse both great lights, the sun and the moon, are to shed light upon the earth to separate physical light and darkness; which is to say spiritually, the two great lights, reason and faith, are both to be used by the soul during their sojourn on earth to keep the soul from intellectual and spiritual darkness.
In Genesis, we find the faculty of the understanding and the virtue of faith between the parted waters of sense and spirit: in the dome of the sky where God places the sun and moon. More precisely, the dome of the sky becomes the faculty of the understanding on day four of creation when the great lights are placed therein to govern reason and faith, according to the will of the soul. This illustrative central location is most ideal for providing the soul’s sensual part below and spiritual part above their guidance. The soul’s faculty of the understanding and the virtue of faith, the dome of the sky with the two great lights (sun & moon) in Genesis, and the dry path where the Israelites walked through the parted Red Sea in Exodus guided by the fiery cloud (of faith) and Moses who appealed to their reason, are all three symbolically one and the same.
Faith operates in the opposite way than that of reason. The soul does not glean knowledge from the night of faith the way the understanding gleans knowledge from the light of reason; rather, the soul obtains faith’s light because it’s understanding is in darkness. And the darker the soul’s understanding of God, the greater light of faith is given it. God has provided a heavenly, natural representation of faith by watching the moon in the night and daytime skies. A soul with a strong faith has its understanding of God resembling a black nighttime sky with the bright light of the moon giving light. The moon is bright because the sky is dark; therefore, the soul with strong faith receives light because it has placed it’s understanding in darkness and not using the light of reason to believe and know God. The darker the understanding of God the stronger the faith; the greater is the light from the moon in the darkened sky.
Let us read what our San Juan says about the dark night of faith, which resembles God’s illustration of the moon in the night sky:
“It is clear, then, that faith is a dark night for the soul, and it is in this way it gives light; and the more the soul is darkened, the greater is the light that comes to it.” 6
Alternatively, the moon in the daytime sky is like a soul with little or no faith. The moon is pale in the daytime sky because the soul has not placed its understanding of God in the darkness of faith. Therefore, the moon’s light is weak or absent due to the greater light (sun) of reason overwhelms it and takes precedence. This could be from the soul attempting to wrongly and habitually use the light of reason rather than the darkness of faith to know God, or it hasn’t been given the gift of faith by God. Here is another one of St. John’s sublime quotes on faith: “He that would journey towards union with God must not walk by understanding, neither lean upon experience or feeling or imagination, but he must believe in His Being, which is not perceptible to the understanding, neither to the desire nor to the imagination nor to any other sense, neither can it be known in this life at all. Yea, in this life, the highest thing that can be felt and experienced concerning God is infinitely remote from God and from the pure possession of Him.” 7
Notice our Saint is talking about concepts of God, e.g., an idea, notion, image, emotion, sensation, or experience. The highest of these, he says, is as far from God as one can get. These are likened to the weak light of the moon in the daytime sky – relying on the finite human operations of the senses, reasoning, thought and judgement to know the infinite God, which dilutes or extinguishes the light of faith. There is, of course, a right use of reason with faith. The soul uses reason to deepen their understanding of the truths of the kingdom. We will explore that when we return on Thursday, March 8.
St. John of the Cross’ extensive teaching on journeying towards union with God by the night of faith is legendary. I only briefly touched on it in these pages.
If I may suggest, today’s 1st Daily Reading tells of the army commander whose servants “reasoned” with him to make an act of faith, making our reflection today a good warm-up for today’s Word of God on the USCCB website.
Let us now look at faith’s third purpose as a shield and protection from the enemy, the devil, who’s objective is to destroy the soul by eternal death. We again turn to Exodus and Israel’s faith beginnings in Exodus chapter 14:
Bondage and slavery to the senses won’t let its captives go easily for when the Egyptians caught up to Israel at the Red Sea, Israel called out in fright to the Lord. They complained to Moses for taking them out of Egypt. Moses told them all they had to do was stand their ground, the Lord would fight for them; they would see the victory the Lord would win for them this day. 1
The angel of God, who had been leading Israel’s camp, now moved and went around behind them. The column of cloud also, leaving the front, took up its place behind them, so that it came between the camp of the Egyptians and that of Israel. But the cloud now became dark, and thus the night passed without the rival camps coming any closer together all night long. Exodus 14: 19-20
The column of cloud, previously in front of Israel as a lighted guide, now moves behind them as a darkened barrier between the Egyptians and themselves. The devil (the Egyptians) is blinded and halted by the soul’s light of faith, as shown by the darkened cloud. St. John tells us one who journeys by faith is “concealed and hidden from the deceits of the devil, to whom the light of faith is more than darkness.” 2 It is dark to the enemy since its light is meant for Israel. What is a spiritual guide to Israel is a shield against evil. Those who journey by faith are secure from the devil’s wiles and errors of their own reason; a wondrous and ingenious safeguard put into place by God, for the five senses are not reliable sources of spiritual information. The Apostolic teachings handed down by Jesus to his Church are both reliable and a journey of faith as are the sanctioned revelations of apparitions such as Lourdes and Fatima that were thoroughly discerned by the Church. Someone following the instructions in a private revelation given by an entity that appears to be an angel is not walking by faith. They are relying on their senses and reasoning regarding spiritual things they have never seen or understood; therefore, the person is subject to their own deception or deception by the devil.
As for the Israelites objective to escape from Pharaoh’s captivity which represents a state of slavery to sin and sensual pleasures, let us read further what happens to evil when it seeks to subdue the soul as the Egyptians attempt to catch Israel, who marched into the midst of the Red Sea through the parted waters of sense and spirit of the soul in the night of faith:
Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the LORD swept the sea with a strong east wind throughout the night and so turned it into dry land. When the water was thus divided, the Israelites marched into the midst of the sea on dry land, with the water like a wall to their right and to their left.
The Egyptians followed in pursuit; all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots and charioteers went after them right into the midst of the sea. In the night watch just before the dawn the Lord cast through the column of the fiery cloud upon the Egyptian force a glance that threw it into a panic; and he so clogged their chariot wheels that they could hardly drive. With that the Egyptians sounded the retreat before Israel, because the LORD was fighting for them against the Egyptians. Exodus 14: 21-25
The devil sends his best and strongest forces right into the deep of the soul’s spirit and sense when he sees it making a break for freedom, in an attempt to cripple one or both to drag it back into slavery. He attempts to overthrow its spirit by silently whispering debilitating lies or tempt its senses with memories of intoxication, or any number of cunning maneuvers depending on the circumstance. The definition of a “night watch” is “a guard kept at night.” For Israel, this is the night of faith acting as an imperceptible guard and protection. “Glance,” as used here, is defined as a flash of light. The fiery cloud (of faith) disorients and paralyzes the Egyptian force with a flash of light. Egypt attempts to retreat against their more powerful adversary, the Lord. The Lord is the active force during this “dark night.” At dawn Moses, Israel’s guide of reason, takes over.
Then the LORD told Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea, that the water may flow back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots and their charioteers.” So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at dawn the sea flowed back to its normal depth. The Egyptians were fleeing head on toward the sea, when the LORD hurled them into its midst. As the water flowed back, it covered the chariots and the charioteers of Pharaoh’s whole army which had followed the Israelites into the sea. Not a single one of them escaped. Exodus 14: 26-28
All Israel did was do as Moses directed: stand their ground. 3 This is the essence of faith and the hallmark of all the saints in adversity – from the victorious martyrs in the Roman arenas nearly two millennia ago whose blood became the seed of the Church, 4 to the contemporary football coach going down on bended knee to pray publicly on the field just before the game despite hostility, and in personal daily struggles with sin and bondage to the senses. The LORD himself will fight for you; you have only to keep still.5 Stand your ground.
With the daylight, Moses visually takes over and the Israelites saw with their eyes the promise Moses made earlier. As the dawn broke, Israel witnessed the defeat of their captors as the parted waters representing Israel’s sense and spirit, of reason and faith, co-operate to annihilate the enemy. This passage also interprets as the new believer coming to the cleansing waters of Baptism. The CCC tells us in 1226: Always, Baptism is seen as connected with faith.
Let us reflect upon how a matured faith in God can enable a soul to stand their ground in the most horrific of circumstances the natural light can behold.
One gains a mature faith by adherence to God’s laws and a deeply prayerful life. The three disciples the gospels reveal had deeply prayerful lives were all found at the foot of the Cross of Jesus; 6 standing their ground in the face of the Roman soldiers, the jeering crowd, the unspeakable sight. Theirs was a profound faith that, despite the apparent colossal failure of Jesus’ ministry, kept them united and not scattered like the rest of his followers whose focus was on what was happening in the natural light- whereby the devil silently whispered to Peter to deny Jesus. The cock that crowed thrice at the pre-dawn light announced Peter’s understanding was not placed in the midnight sky of faith.
The three disciples’ belief was centered on God and fueled by love that refused to believe what their eyes told them, that is the natural light; instead remaining unshakable in the safe and sure darkness of faith while attentive to what reason told them the years they spent with Jesus. These three spiritually advanced disciples of Jesus, following behind the Master carrying his Cross after he met his mother at the 4th Station, 7 walked the same walk of faith as did the People of God at the beginning of the Old Covenant through the midst of the Red Sea, with the water like a wall to their right and to their left. 8 Instead of beneath the cover of a cloud, this time God led the way under the veil of a cross, bloody scourges, a crown of thorns, shame, physical weakness, abandonment, a cursing crowd. The Way of the Cross wound through the narrow streets of Jerusalem. The noisy crowd who turned out to see the famous condemned Jesus were like a wall to their right and to their left of those disciples who, representing the People of God of the New Covenant, were following their God.
These known contemplative disciples are: John, the disciple Jesus loved who leaned against Jesus’ heart at the Last Supper asking which would betray him, and who arrived at the tomb before Peter; Mary Magdalene, the extravagant, first adorer of the Eucharist, at the feet of Jesus wiping them with her tears and hair, later anointing his feet again with costly perfume, and here she is again at the feet of Jesus nailed to the Cross; and the Blessed Virgin Mary who reflected on her Son’s doings in her heart and had perpetual union with God himself. 9
We see faith gather, guide and guard in both the Way of the Cross and the Parting of the Red Sea. Though Peter told Jesus his faith would never be shaken, 10 we see how the devil was able to scatter the disciples and devour Peter through fear of what their senses beheld in the natural light. The devil, who is as patient as he is watchful, was waiting for this very opportunity ever since Peter’s walk on water 11 when he took his eyes of Jesus and began to sink. St. Peter, from his three times denial of Jesus, 12 would later say this about faith and the devil: Stay sober and alert. Your opponent the devil is prowling like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, solid in your faith. 13 Contrarily, we see the mature, unflinching faith at work in the three disciples; keeping them united to Jesus spiritually, and at the foot of his Cross.
In today’s Daily Gospel Reading, Jesus teaches his listeners to love God with all of their spiritual possessions: heart, soul, mind and strength. All of this is governed by the soul’s will. On Monday, March 12th, we will begin to reflect upon the soul’s faculty of the will and its corresponding theological virtue of love as the spiritual narrative in Genesis continues with the faculties. We will finish up with faith and the understanding with very short reflections March 10 & 11.