St John of the Cross counsels souls to use their liberty to imitate the Lord. He proposes that this imitation, if made with loving devotion, prepares the soul to welcome the wondrous freedom that our Savior established in His sacred humanity and that He is working to establish in ours: the freedom to be filled with God.
Because it is so mysterious, hidden and secret, the Carmelite Mystic describes Christ’s work of spiritual freedom in us as “night.” Tenderly working with great power within our freedom, the Word of the Father envelopes the soul in the liberty of love even as the soul remains completely unaware of what He is doing or how He is doing it. It seems that only in the darkness of this spiritual night is the Light Himself able to lead us out of the prisons we make of our own egos.
Divine freedom is hidden in difficult events. St John of the Cross suffered captivity, not allowed to see the light of day for months, in the effort not to betray those souls whom he had helped come to taste the liberty of prayer. It was a battle of wills between himself and his tormentors. They wanted him to renounce the spiritual freedom he was promoting and in exchange they offered him a very comfortable life of solitude, study and prayer. He was not impressed. So they starved and beat him, trying to break his obstinacy.
How did he survive? In the darkness of his cell in Toledo, a deep faith allowed him to drink from the mysterious river of Divine Love that freely ran through that brutal experience in ways that could not be seen. It was in the physical darkness of night that he made his daring escape even while his captors slept.
To enter the night of spiritual liberty, St John of the Cross counsels imitation of the Lord’s own freedom. We gain insight into this freedom and how it applies to us through a prayerful study of the Lord’s life. If we study the life of Christ on our knees and ready to be pierced to the heart, the divine splendor of the Redeemer’s human liberty continually overwhelms us with wonder. In Him, God’s freedom and man’s freedom mysteriously coincide. In his humanity, the Son of God was totally sovereign to live every moment for the honor and glory of the Father no matter His poverty or perilous circumstance, no matter the political or cultural forces of His day, no matter the corruption or injustice He confronted. The visible image of the Invisible God, He wanted to manifest the mysterious love of the Father with every heartbeat love allowed and the Word of the Father knew the freedom never to do anything other than follow this noble passion wherever it led.
To imitate the Suffering Servant, we must fight for this same freedom by renouncing everything in our lives that is not for the love of God. We cannot accomplish God’s will by our own unaided efforts, but we can make space for God’s freedom in our freedom by renouncing ourselves, picking up our cross and following our crucified Master. Striving to live with the same liberty by which the Risen Lord lives opens us, avails us, to a mysterious darkness which the world does not understand, a beautiful night in which all that is good, holy and true about our humanity breaks out of its captivity and even in the face of death comes into the fullness of life.