Brief Explanation of the 'Dark Nights'
In our interior life we are purified in both the “senses” and the “spirit”. By senses means the more exterior parts of a person and by spirit, the more interior parts. There are four dark nights, the active night of the senses, the active night of the spirit, the passive night of the senses and the passive night of the spirit.
These stages are all called “dark nights” but there is some difference between the darkness of the active nights and the darkness of the passive nights. The active nights are when the person denies natural desires, whether sensory or spiritual, of their own will, for love of God. The passive nights are when God has taken over the lead, you might say, and this work of God is done by Him directly and under His will, so as far as the person is concerned this is a passive work.
The last stage in the purification process is the passive dark night of the spirit. John teaches that this stage is the most difficult and painful of all the stages. He also says that in his experience only a few people will go through this process. He explains that not all people get to this point or are willing to endure this sort of testing. Many are called, but few are chosen. The path is narrow.
(From Patricia: This information is offered at the beginning of this week of quotes on the stages of the interior life, also known as the purgative, the illuminative and the unitive. For more information read the original by St. John of the Cross, or go to Monkipedia, Dark Nights)