Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira
Preserving Confidence Amid the Dark Night
A lecture given on December 30, 1988 (*)
Life is a continuous struggle that ranges from moments of sadness to times of joy. Divine Providence has provided men with a sensible sign of this.
Think of the sunrise. The sun is born at dawn and becomes increasingly splendorous throughout the day. If a man did not know otherwise, he could witness this great battle, in which the sun utterly defeats the darkness, and suppose that daytime would last forever. He could even think that the light would never end.
However, shortly after noon, he would notice that at the zenith of the sun’s victory, its light is slightly dimmed. Struck with doubt, he might even ask himself: “Can this be? Could a light as bright as the sun really be darkening? It must be an illusion, for such a marvelous sun could never set.”
In a little while, he perceives that the sun’s brightness has decreased yet more. Nevertheless, he reassures himself: “Well, this is not important. For such a bright sun, losing a few degrees of brightness is inconsequential.”
Later, he again notices the sun’s light diminishing. He optimistically says: “This is not important. Ultimately, the sun is even better since it has dimmed a bit. My eyes are tired and perhaps its softening will help me rest. Surely, this is God’s Wisdom. He will decrease the sun’s brightness to help me sleep. In fact, I am already beginning to feel a bit tired.”
As the night approaches, he walks in some nearby woods and begins to feel nervous. He sees something there that he had not noticed in the field. Since, the sun’s light penetrates less into the forest, night already makes its presence felt.
He looks around and asks himself: “Is this natural? Even though the forest is dark at noontime, I do not think it is normal for the sun to be obscured completely. This cannot be right. I saw the sun in all its glory and beauty and I refuse to believe it is setting.” He continues to be optimistic.
The Night Arrives: “Quomodo Obscuratum est Aurum?”
Feeling tired, he sits at the foot of a tree and falls asleep. When he awakes, everything has changed. Night has come. The animals that were awake, are now asleep; other animals absent during the day are active. They howl and hoot. They fly around in strange ways. Everything seems sinister and he is convinced that the sun has been utterly defeated. He supposes that from now on there will only be darkness.
Back in the field, he looks at the sky. Seeing beautiful stars, he thinks: “These stars are merely pieces of the sun which has been utterly defeated, shattered and spread throughout the sky. Soon, they too will be extinguished and my situation will be hopeless. I do not know how I will survive in this confused place full of unknown beasts. Even the birds, which used to enchant me, now fill me with fear.”
Then he looks up at an owl, which hoots: “hoo…hooo…hooooo!” He says: “What is this? What has happened? How did all that splendor disappear? ‘Quomodo obscuratum est aurum?’ (How was the gold become dim?) The gold that lit the highest skies is now obscured and it is night.”
The Sunrise is Born amid the Darkness
Later he, who misinterpreted the first signs of night, looks to the sky and perceives a faint hint of light. He rubs his eyes and looks again. He thinks: “No, it cannot be. I am depressed and give up. I do not have the courage even to hope. I am going to put my head in my hands and cry. I will try to sleep for as long as this darkness exists. If death comes to me amid this darkness, blessed be death! I will sink into death’s darkness saying: ‘At least now, I no longer have to see this darkness that has consumed everything.’”
He lies down, but cannot sleep. About an hour later, he gets up and looks at the sky. Seeing more light, he says: “Now it is undeniable, there is some light here.” Nevertheless, he repeats the false reasoning that he made when the sun was setting: “What can this little bit of light do against such a lasting darkness? Oh light, you are trying to give me false hope. You lie. I refuse to celebrate your appearance, because you are a mere illusion.”
Later, as the light continues to increase, he thinks: “Could that which happened before now happen once more? Could the light reconquer the darkness, just as the darkness conquered it? Might I see the sun at full zenith once again?” Feeling somewhat depressed over the whole matter, he concludes: “If so, I cannot stand this situation. I cannot bear a life of fight in which the struggles between light and darkness are so intense. This would make life tense, heavy and difficult. I cannot bear it. I do not even want to know about this.”
He falls asleep again. Soon, amid his dreams, he hears the song of a familiar bird. He opens his eyes and everything is illuminated. He gets up joyfully and thinks: “Now, the time has come for the sun’s revenge. It will not allow itself to be swallowed up ever again. The days of perpetual light have returned.”
When the next night comes, he says: “This cannot be happening. The night is really in charge here, the day is powerless, night is perpetual...”
False reasoning like this, often can bring one to the point of madness.
God Made Night and Day for Man
What is this man’s error? First, he does not understand that God does everything according to His Providence. Even those things which appear most absurd and senseless, fit into a general Divine plan. God wills that there be sun and also darkness, and that darkness and light follow each other for the good of man.
God made night to help man rest and day to make him happy and allow him to work. Night evokes thoughts of death and reminds man that his own death will come. It shows the instability of days in the sun and demonstrates that only one thing remains constant: He, Who hovers above day and night, God in His Eternity.
Night and day should teach man that he should only confide in God, and properly understood, in His Holy Mother, the Mediatrix of all graces.
The Fight Gives Meaning to Life
The man of our story does not understand that, with day and night, God created the conditions for him to live on earth. A world with either perpetual light or constant darkness would be unlivable, as would a life of constant joy – sought by so many in our days – or constant sadness – often preferred to hoping, praying and fighting. Both extremes run contrary to man’s nature.
With this rotation of day and night, God demonstrates that everything is ephemeral. Since everything can either pass or lead to unexpectedly good results, man must fight.
This fight provides meaning to life. First, man must fight against himself. He must conquer his defects that constantly try to rise up and drag him to ruin. He must also fight external enemies. He must resist the action of the devil and his agents who want to drag man into sin. Man must fight against sickness and poverty. He must fight to acquire his needs. Everything in life is a fight, in every sense of the word.
God Gives the Grace to Conquer in the Fight. Without the fight, life becomes unbearable. It is the normal state of things.
God gives us the means to change things around amid these seemingly invariable conditions. He only asks that we agree to fight.
Ultimately, our victory in the fight depends upon God’s grace, which gives us the agility to identify and crush evil when it first appears in its embryonic form. If we correspond to this grace, we will have brilliant victories and good will reign in us and society.
Our Lady of Good Counsel
He Who Confides in Our Lady Will See the Sunrise of Her Victory
This story should also teach us that when evil appears most powerful and its victory most certain, he who confides much and prays to Our Lady, will witness the sunrise of her victory.
(*) This text is an excerpt from a lecture given by Professor Plinio and it has been translated and edited without the author’s revision. –Ed. American TFP