1987, Serial No. 00920

Audio loading...

Welcome! You can log in or create an account to save favorites, edit keywords, transcripts, and more.



AI Summary: 





And I've come to tell it to you, for you are greatly beloved. Or as the Jerusalem Bible, in the French, translates, you are a man of predilection. With a note to the fact, as some of you will remember, the Vulgate reads, and the Old Dyer translation gives us, you are, because you are a man of desires. It's the kind of small point that one can sometimes probably ponder, in connection with the angel of our own annunciations, the guided impulse that made us first come to the monastery. For although every call is a sign of God's love for us, it hardly receives the response which is its due, unless we really want it, unless we are in fact men of desires. I imagine that few of you will need to be reminded how central this dialogue, this conversation between God's seeking of us and our seeking of him, is in the thought of St. Bernard.


May we then pursue the subject we opened this morning, that of our very beginnings, our first conversion, and press on a little deeper, partly with St. Bernard's help. There are, after all, aspects of this teaching which we shall never finish with until we die. It might perhaps be permissible to say that a monastery, like the church itself, in a still more preeminent way, is, when it's truly alive, essentially a community of memory. A community not only of that remembrance of God to which the holy rule directs us, and which the practice of holy reading is designed to strengthen with appropriate food, as important in its way as that other food which we receive from the table of the memory of the Lord, and which unites us to him as alive, but still further, a community of the memory of the wonders of God in our own lives, as a result of all those ways in which God nourishes us


through the changing affairs of every day, whether physical or spiritual. It is a common place to say that when we come, we are learning and forming habits of mind and heart and movement, which are meant to help us to lead our life in truth and integrity. But there is, of course, no amount of training we can receive in a purely ascetic way, which can really ensure our fruitful fulfillment of our promise of continual conversion, or even our survival in all the hazards of life, unless something deeper is going on at the same time, which is least desirable to presuppose in the way of experience, before we face those phases of testing and crisis in every life, that are so full of both formative and liberating promise, if we only confront them as we should. Now, naturally, no one can be sure that he has within him today the resources on which


he may need to draw tomorrow, and he would even be wanting humility to aim at so far covering all the spiritual possibilities, that we never discover that there is perhaps something we could and should have learnt earlier. And this, thank God, is one of the reasons why we are all so dependent upon each other in a community, so that when something is at issue, which is lacking in someone's personal memory, they may discover it there in someone else's. And not necessarily in words, but in living. For those of us who become accustomed to living in an atmosphere of habitual silence, know how much is communicated, even when nothing is being said. It's quite extraordinary, isn't it, how much one knows. And he isn't always wrong. He would forgive me if I say that there is a certain marked similarity between the process


of natural growth and survival, and those which determine growth and spiritual survival in the life of the spirit. For although he doesn't say this precisely, St. Bernard writes exactly as though he knew by a deep instinct how important a sound desire for life is in the survival of everything, everything living. And I would insist that it's a desire for life that is in question, and not just a desire for survival. As someone who has a great love of plants and flowers, I have particularly since beginning to garden in California, been struck by the need many plants have to come into flower, even under the most unfavourable conditions of drought and difficulty. They will almost kill themselves to produce a flower, however small. Everything will be sacrificed to this much desired product, of which the maker of all


things seems to wish them to aim. It is, of course, under the image of a glimpse of a garden that Bernard, underpinned by scriptural allusions, depicts the awakening of a spiritual desire in his great sermon on conversion. Today, I've found a very beautiful garden, a really lovely place. It would be good for us to be there. It's not good for you to lie on this mattress in pain and eating your heart out in grief in your room. The Lord is near to those who seek him, near the soul that hopes in him. The will's desire shall be stirred, not only to see the place, but even to go in a little way. And she will long to make her home there. You enter this garden, not on foot, but by deeply felt affections. This is, naturally, the paradise of the cloister, a garden enclosed where the sea of fountain flows out into four streams, four-fold virtue.


Although Bernard does not name them explicitly at this point, he's evidently thinking in the tradition of Gregory the Great of the four cardinal virtues, which Gregory also names as running out of paradise, prudence, temperance, justice, and fortitude. This is an important reminder how, for all these earlier writers, the natural foundations of human life are neither forgotten nor neglected. The growing monk, like the growing child, has to develop a certain competence in the life at all. And I suppose, for most monks, these virtues are particularly developed in the way they work, whether it's physical work or other kinds of occupations. Yet, of course, Bernard, in the very dense paragraph I've just quoted, is drawing primarily into the theological perspectives of this invitation into the garden of the cloister.


Just as my patron, Hildred, when he first saw Reveaux, was, and so many would-be monks like him since. For as Bernard continues in the next paragraph, at the gate of paradise a voice is heard whispering an utterly sacred and secret plan, which is hidden from the wise and prudent and revealed to little ones. The sound of this voice reason now not only grasps, but happily transmits it to the will. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Deep, indeed, is this plan, an unfathomable mystery. This exactly places, I think, the element of underlying desire in Bernard's picture of the development of the young monk and the continuing formation of the older one.


Is there someone among you brothers who desires to be satisfied, who would like this desire to be fulfilled? Then, let him be hungry for righteousness, and he cannot fail to be satisfied. The satisfaction which will come is not yet the final one, which will satisfy the whole soul, but the satisfaction which weans us away from all kinds of things we previously longed for. So that thereafter, the will ceases delivering up the body to obey its former passions, and delivers it over to reason, urging it to serve righteousness for holiness' sake. This is then the point at which the deep purgation of the memory begins, and also the most difficult parts of that inner formation which God normally now begins to give the soul. Bernard has only hinted at this in the paragraphs I've been quoting.


He mentions, for instance, how in the garden the nostrils begin to inhale the exquisite scent of hope, of a rich field which the Lord has blessed. Without wishing to be over-insistent on my comparison between the characteristic virtues of childhood and those of the earliest phase of monastic conversion, I venture to say that there is no one who has been called upon to counsel others in times of stress and difficulty, who will not sooner or later be forced to notice how much the experience of early childhood tends to determine the capacity of the person in difficulty to face their problems with hope. After all, at the beginning of our experience of human life, we are thrust into a bewildering and unpredictable world from the security of our mother's womb. And even if we've been a wanted child, which not all children are,


and they know it before they can speak, and even if from the moment of emergence into the light of ordinary day we've been surrounded by solicitous maternal care, we have to learn, in some cases more painfully than we can ever remember, to trust the hands that handle us and the faith that looks down upon us to provide us with the next meal upon which our very survival depends. Something even more deeply searching occurs when we desire to respond to the call to commit our lives to God, however kindly it comes to us. Even if nobody tells us this explicitly in so many words, we are necessarily committing ourselves to a life of faith in one whom we cannot see, and who will not necessarily always make his presence felt, however much he may often spoil us about this at the beginning.


This is especially true of the contemplative life, which can only make sense in the climate of the theological virtues, though it is, of course, the ultimate test of the Christian life in general lived under any circumstances. My own impression is that more and more every person living the life of faith in the world as it now is is called to deepen their life with the theological virtues just as much as anybody in the monastic life is, and some of them perhaps even more so. They live in an incredibly hostile atmosphere, so many of them, very, very bravely lots of them. It's one of the impressive things to meet people who are struggling in this way very alone, with no one to give them a word of comfort or help. The Development of Faith


It's naturally evident that the development of theological virtues in our lives doesn't necessarily take place according to some textbook sequence in every life. Yet I suppose it's commonly the development of faith with that special tinge of hope which Holy Scripture means by faith. You remember how in the New Testament the word faith nearly always means a bit of what the scholastic theologians would also talk about as hope. The two are mingled together. Whereas the textbooks, sometimes even some of the catechisms, talk about faith as though it were only something in the mind. That's not what Holy Scripture generally means by the word faith. But obviously this is the thing which really determines our stability and final perseverance in the pursuit of God in the monastic life. For as the letter of the Hebrews says, faith is the substance of things hoped for,


the evidence of things not seen. The older translations are still much more satisfactory for this important phrase. I'm sure all of you who have to depend on translations will find how very bewildering it is to try to discover the meaning of an important phrase of this kind. And I'm afraid one often has to say that some of the older translations, even the archaic looking ones, are nearer to what the text itself says. And it's better to talk to somebody else about it if you can't work it out for yourself and you can't go back to the original. Because sometimes the modern translations are so risky in their desire to interpret something for us in a way which is, I think, sometimes just fashionable, that one has to be rather careful about these things. But anyway, this is the groundwork,


some way or other, for this quality of faith coloured by growing hope. Just as important in the spiritual life at its own level is that development of faith and hope in the child when it's living its first few months exposed to this new and rather terrifying world. It's then not surprising that in his splendid Lenten sermons on Psalm 90, which will doubtless make some permanent impression on all of us, Bernard should so often return not only to the phrase from the letter to the Hebrews which I've just quoted, but to the themes of faith and hope. Indeed, in this same connection, at the beginning of Sermon 10 of the series, Bernard says, the human mind, having some experience of misfortunes, is far more conscious of the things it lacks than those it's going to enjoy.


For faith and hope are such close kin that one believes that that shall be what the other already begins to hope shall be for itself. The Apostle then quite rightly defined faith as the substance of things hoped for because no one can hope for something without first believing it any more than one can paint on empty space. Faith, therefore, says God has prepared great and inconceivable things for those who believe. Hope says all these things are being kept for me. And charity, the third, affirms I'm running towards them. Both here and in the Sermon on Conversion Bernard mentions the difficulty of speaking about these things.


At this level he he is always saying how very difficult it is to say exactly what he's talking about in the right way because it is a matter of experience. Unless the Spirit himself reveals these things to someone they aren't fully compensable. But perhaps in the nature of things in these sermons on Psalm 90 the themes of faith and hope are very, very predominant again and again. Thus there's a topic which comes at the end of Sermon 2. It's important for every soul, he says to look upon God as being not only his very own helper but also the one who looks down upon him. And therefore not without good grounds can he say my God, in him will I hope. Notice he doesn't say I've hoped or I hope


but I will hope. That is to say, this is my promise and my resolution. This is the intention of my heart. That's paragraph 3 of Sermon 2. A perhaps more significant passage occurs in the middle of Sermon 9 on the phrase You, Lord, are my hope. I know this is a bit difficult to attend to. Let's try, because it's very, very rewarding to do. I've just gone back during the course of the afternoon to looking at it again in Latin. I'm afraid the Cessation of Publications translation is not very good on this. It's not totally misleading but it's not very good. It's, Bernard is saying something which is very simple very tight. It does need a bit of concentration to get the point. Let's try. Whatever must be done, says Bernard


whatever must be turned away from whatever must be endured whatever must be wished for you, Lord, are my hope. This is the only reason for all the promises made to me. This is the whole reason for my waiting, I venture to say, waiting at all. Bernard's Latin is Toto Ratio Mea Expectationis. I'm sure that's just what he just means quite simply that he's not talking about waiting for some specific thing or some specific grace. He's talking about waiting for God himself. Someone may claim may lay claim on his merit boast that he's borne the burden and heat of the day say that he fasts twice a week or find that he should be happy not to be like other men but as for me it's good for me to cleave to my God


to place my hope in the Lord my God let others hope in other things perhaps this one in his book knowledge that in his know-how of the world another trust in the kind of that other kinds of empty things because of you I've suffered the loss of everything and counting as refuse for you Lord are my hope to you is the poor man left you will be a helper to the orphan my brothers to savour this is to live by faith nor can anyone save from experience for you Lord are my hope unless anyone is persuaded of this by the spirit to cast his worry upon the Lord as the prophet tells us knowing that he will be cared for by him as the apostle Peter says cast all your care upon him for he cares for you it's a very tight


very simple little passage holy scripture as you can hear and Bernard simply saying let's not have any vision of things we might hold on to things we might be seeking or waiting for except God himself because then you'll know what it is to live the life of faith and hope in its obscurity forgive me my fathers and brothers but it's so important to grasp the point Bernard is making here that I shall venture to interpret it in my own words for I know that there are always some people who get rather bemused if one confronts them with the classical text however beautiful one can make it sound this is indeed the kind of passage that reminds us that Bernard is not just the great prophet of observance or the visionary of monastic ideals he's always talking about the reality of the Christian life


in this setting and the reality of our life in the monastery as it would be anywhere else consists in part if God is merciful to us in the discovery by experience that we cannot live up to the demands of living required by the path to which we committed ourselves and cannot even all we use the recognized means for helping ourselves out of difficulty I say if God is merciful he lets us make this discovery for the macho man if there be any such when it comes to the bottom of things is much to be pitied if he's always able to do everything to his own satisfaction and even become conscious of the spirit of chapter 72 of the rule the skirt of his apparently unfortunate weaker brethren for Bernard is of course in the passage which I've just quoted clearly talking about


the dangers of pharisaism in observant monastic life the pharisee will if he insists be let off everything that humiliates him and thereby escape the mercy of knowing that God must be his only hope and refuge but alas this is the experience so vital for any true continuance in spiritual growth both at the beginning of our life in the monastery and still more as it develops and anyone knows who knows nothing of it will be likely to become like one of those dead men's graves over which as our Lord says people walk without noticing it he will have all the trappings of the spiritual life perhaps but none of its vitality that as Bernard unanswerably says is only possible for us as a result of being persuaded by the Holy Spirit that we must cast our worry, our inadequacy


our hopelessness upon the Lord what a blessing for such a very little worry a blessing which is especially if it's cherished likely to become the source of other blessings which is still more vital to receive it's all very well to make a good beginning in life but the very tough tests come as life goes on and they're almost all tests we don't expect and for the unexpected we are the less prepared the less our confidence in what we do and understand is limited to what is proper for a human being to know of himself if we invariably know what a monk should do what a monk should say what a monk should think life is almost certain to catch us out this believe me is a very real danger for those who picture themselves and the life to which they're committing themselves in too wooden and lacking


too wooden way and lacking really sense of one's limitations the limitations of every human reality I think it's not uncharitable to say that I've known in the course of my priestly life at least one real tragedy of a priest who in his old age came to realise that there was something wrong with him but could never quite make out what it was after all he kept all the rules one is supposed to keep and as far as I could learn from others who'd known him longer than I had, had always done so it was in fact impossible to tell him that that was exactly the trouble now he would have had to rethink and re-experience everything from the ground up so one had to let him go on in his lonely way knowing the answers to everyone's problems and what to do about everything except about his own true situation it won't surprise you


to learn that he had his eye rather on justice than on mercy and so he missed so much of the peace and joy he could have known in this life which the Lord has certainly now shown him in his death, I'm convinced he was a man of extremely good will he missed the opportunity of growing to what he might have been, for he was certainly a gifted man, and he missed this opportunity because no one seems to have said to him at the beginning, or he himself at some earlier stage, please remember the formation you are now receiving your being be given by those who are training you and the formation which God would like to give you, through the things that happen to you, is for your life with God and not for some human appraisal to say all this is not to invite someone to be indifferent about


various things which would be done with effort, but rather to suggest that we make our strength consist in our willingness to know our weakness and limitations did any of you I wonder, when hearing Bernard insist on the importance of having God not only as one's help but also as the one who looks down upon us the one who looks down upon us I think how much this is like the lovely image of psalm 130 where the psalmist pictures himself resting upon God like a child on the breast upon whom his mother looks down not in judgment but with affection and compassion with that, at any rate, perhaps we might close this day I don't think it's a misinterpretation of what Bernard is saying I've not gone after things too great nor marvels beyond me


truly I've set my soul in silence and peace a weaned child on his mother's breast even so is my soul O Israel Israel then, Israel now hope in the Lord both now and forever Amen In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit Come Holy Spirit fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love send forth your spirit in which we were created let us pray may the outpouring of your Holy Spirit, O Lord cleanse our hearts and make them fruitful by the inward sprinkling of his dew through Christ our Lord Towards the end


of his great book on the Trinity St Hilary of Poitiers said that he believed that it was Christ our Lord, the eternal wisdom who was walking in the garden of paradise on the evening of the day on which Adam fell and that it was his voice that Adam heard and was in two minds as to how to respond to it doubtless other fathers might gladly have said something like this there can I think be even less doubt that it is Christ our Lord who walks in the paradise of the cloister in the quiet of every day and if it seemed necessary to dwell at some length yesterday on our early years in the monastery as the characteristic time when our habits of mind and behaviour are being formed and the community as a community of memory is steadily renewed and recreated this was naturally because of the importance of one simple thing for the whole of our lives in the monastery


namely that we should keep our attention to the voice of the Lord ever alive and our spirits flexible enough to co-operate with those changes and developments which are a necessary feature of everything that is alive in this world neither at the beginning of our lives nor as we approach the end should we ever simply be aiming at being finished men the complete product any more than we can ever be quite sure that we've not left something behind us that God requires to go back and fetch and bring with us I suddenly remember Francis says somewhere that sometimes God requires us to take all our clothes off and then put them all on again this is why it seemed wise before naming the aspect of the development of our life in the Court of Clyster which Bernard tends to identify with the growth of self knowledge to speak explicitly of the incipient


virtues most likely to keep us able to co-operate with change however deep and disturbing I brought in faith and hope supported by a desire for the fullness of life as the strengthening forces which are likely to see us through any coming difficulties although I didn't say this explicitly my intention was to speak of these features as living as they're found in what one might call a semi-conscious condition as they are in small children mainly unreflective but constantly strengthened by every experience of waiting or difficulty these things are difficult to speak about directly and this is doubtless why Bernard is not ashamed to keep on using slightly different images and summary schemes for what he's getting at certainly I feel quite sure of his approval for trying to do something similar


even when I'm not directly quoting him some of you will perhaps remember how the first of his parables which has been conserved to us in this one Bernard equips the soul as the king's son with fear and hope born upon the back of the horse of desire and with the four cardinal virtues to accompany it on its journey more of those are known for the moment let us turn to that little masterpiece of insight which we find in Bernard's steps of humility forgive me for venturing to speak of something which must be all too familiar to all of you it remains true that after more than thirty years since I first read it I found nothing quite like it for its direct relevance to the experience of the struggle of the spiritual life particularly those early paragraphs of the introduction to the steps which bear re-reading again and again provided one is willing to read them


with a certain imaginative boldness I shall suggest presently there are other passages of Bernard which will throw light from the very simple scheme of human development which he presents us with there a scheme so simple that it is easy to let its significance escape one if one is not careful there are, you'll remember three degrees of the truth of which humility is the virtue the truth in ourselves the truth in our neighbours and the truth in itself as we read on we find Bernard saying that this first degree in the perception of the truth which is truth in ourselves can best be assimilated or linked up with the work of the Son of God in ourselves if we reflect on it we see that this is why Bernard has taken all the trouble he has to speak of the reality


of the incarnation of the Son in the intervening paragraphs following the line of argument we find in the letters of the Hebrews which explains the significance of the work of the Son in this world he, the Son enters genuinely into the human situation should we not conclude that Bernard doesn't explicitly ram this point home in relation to us that just as the Eternal Son comes closer to human beings by experience, so should we if we are maturing as we should naturally this doesn't mean that we have to plunge ourselves into everything through which human beings may conceivably put themselves any more than it meant this for the Son of God I take it to mean rather that our way of life should attempt to pursue a habit of living which is not some form of escape


from the inescapable truth of the human situation in fact I think a good deal of experience shows that God seldom allows this if we genuinely desire to conform to his will we cannot expect to be exempted from conflict, misunderstanding and even injustice as the whole rule itself reminds us and the very crafting of humility within us which these experiences produce now I do not of course forget that our acceptance of the human situation is not in all respects quite the same in its significance as it is for the incarnate Son of God we have the special impediments connected with sin in its interior effects whether it be personal sin or original sin our Lord as we know was only affected by the sin situation in a


wholly external way even his submission to physical death being a matter of free choice as by his grace it can also be ours though in fact our physical death is one of the effects of original sin which are not taken away by our baptism there are of course generally believed to be others effects like a certain weakness in the will and blindness in the mind this woundedness however it's defined and however it may manifest itself in us personally is something from which we suffer by being born into the human situation in a fallen world personal sin on the other hand is the result of what we do by personal choice it's a very useful distinction to keep in one's mind I think that the situation of sin


which concerns our origin is one from which we suffer in relation to which we are passive and personal sin the sin which we do by choice the spiritual reality of this overall situation which covers the effects of both original and personal sin is well expressed in a familiar dictum of St Bernard which says that human nature succeeds by grace but fails simply of itself to recognize that this is the case and live by that awareness is perhaps to be as truly established on the earth of our humanity as we can be and to be so established would be a gift of grace as would be any of the results which appear to flow from such an awareness Bernard, like all great spiritual writers, is not reluctant to emphasize the seriousness of this situation


but at the same time particularly in his little treatise on loving God though in other places too Bernard warns us against a view of humanity which is both falsely depressing and even can be directly spiritually dangerous I'm thinking of course of paragraph 4 of the treatise on loving God where Bernard says there are two things you need to know that you are and that you do not exist of yourself in case you should have nothing to glory in or should glory in a way which is entirely stupid when a man made in honour does not understand his dignity he is, on account of this ignorance rightly compared to the animals as to those with whom he shares the condition of corruption and mortality this ignorance is then much to be avoided


by which we perhaps think of ourselves as less than we are yet no less but even more that by which we attribute to ourselves more than we are spiritual arrogance perhaps is not so difficult to discern false humility is often a harder nut to crack especially for the one who has once got caught in it I think I was absolutely plagued by it in my twenties and perhaps I still am for Bernard the great defense against illusions is either in either direction is as he says a proper regard for the fact that human beings are distinguished by the gift of reason I'd almost said sweet reason but I do not think Bernard is here speaking of what is often called the intellectual life in some grand sense


of those words he's rather thinking of the gift of insight into what we're doing and why for the alternative is to make ourselves one with the animals by conforming ourselves to the life of the senses as he says and not as to understand that we have received anything special above the rest just as D'Ambrose and other fathers see that it's possible for human beings to keep a silence which is really only like the silence of animals so I think we should not dismiss the possibility of a certain kind of sensuality in the affectations of arrogance or humility doubtless the genuine article is marked by the absence of all strain and constraint the monk described in Benedict's twelfth step of humility is the man who is just what he seems to be with no disguises put on at all then he does what he does


as Benedict says as it were naturally and by habit there can be no doubt there's nothing that looks so much like nature as performing grace does for it reveals us as God intends us to be it is I believe important at this point to pause before trying to place these reflections with Bernard's help in a larger perspective for this business of self-knowledge has become in some ways a rather more complex matter than it often was in the days of the great monastic writers of the twelfth century by this I do not mean simply that we have since the development of modern psychology learned to analyse and talk about the processes of human development in more elaborate ways I'm referring rather to a physical fact of existence people live longer


nowadays than they did in earlier centuries and even the brightest tend I think to mature a bit slower we should not forget that Bernard was still only in his thirties when he was writing the two books to which I'm referring to and dying as he did at the age of sixty-three had finished his energetic career long before many of those who were listening to me had finished yours and Bernard's is not an exceptional case in fact he's slightly older than most of the great men of that period when he died it continues to be very normal with men of distinction right on into the seventeenth century and later it's only with the gradual development of the science of medicine that sixty-five came in western countries to be regarded


as normal age for retirement the very news of the notion of entering upon a new phase of living with ageing has I suppose also led to what I used to think a typically American idea of midlife crisis this is not of course the occasion to discuss whether this is a sensible conception or not or even whether everyone goes through it rather like you're going through teething it does us I think the service of drawing our attention to a fact which has long been unknown and has with the increasing length of human life expectation become a matter of importance to consider by the light of simple sweet reason it requires no elaborate demonstration to show that by contrast with all other embodied creatures human beings are relatively slow in their development


towards maturity of body and mind and that their capacity to use a relatively long life usefully depends upon their developing their capacity to adapt themselves to changes in their own bodies and to the still more rapid changes in their environment particularly in relation to the latter point almost any of us and there are several of us in this room who are over sixty have seen more fundamental technological and other changes in the last thirty years of our lives than men who live to be a hundred could have seen in any previous century and these changes are by no means without their inevitable effect upon life in monasteries even if a monastery decides to try to live without electricity and the use of the telephone which one I've lived in has it is in practice quite impossible for it


to cut itself off from decisions in the outside world which may affect its life or even its very existence and at some point or another practical contact has to be made and maintained even if it is done at some place outside the monastery with which some people have to remain competent to cope now none of these factors are in themselves of necessity the enemies of monastic life but they do require a good deal of self knowledge and still more straightforward human humility to deal with them as virtue and the love of God and our neighbour requires whether we consider our relation to technology or our increased life expectation there's no doubt that self knowledge and humility are for us to a somewhat increased extent fairly intimately tied to the development of our capacity


to face and accept in reasonable ways external as well as personal change the willingness to accept and live faithfully through personal change has of course always been one of the conditions of true holiness we none of us know how long our physical health will last or when the moment of our death will come come what will a long life or a short one in all its phases and not just the ones we prefer is the path along which we are called to find our way to God and this requires of us that true detachment from everything which passes which is the most obvious companion and result of authentic self knowledge and genuine humility through all this the saying


of our Lord naturally remains eternally true that where our treasure is there our heart will also be in this connection I am unable to forget two things told me by members of different monasteries which were certainly not passed on to me in a spirit of malice there was one who said you know for some people a monastic life is so attractive that it costs them almost nothing to choose it and stick to it if this is so which I am sure it could be no wonder Benedict requires the monk in charge of the novices to see whether they truly seek God perhaps even plain God as the abbess Laurencia of Stanbrook is reported


once to have said it's a rather lovely thing I think I perhaps ought to tell you that perhaps a tiny little incident in a rather beautiful portrait of her in that book which I'm glad to see you've got in your library here called In a Great Tradition one of her sisters was telling abbess Laurencia one day about a rather distinguished old canon who'd come to visit her in the parlour and after considerable conversation about spiritual matters he said to her I see you have a devotion to God the father and so the abbess said devotion devotion didn't you just tell him you wanted plain God I think this is a very telling kind of story it's very very typical of the spirit of this particular community which I had the joy of giving a retreat to many years ago just before I came here last and they had this kind of validity this kind of strength about their way of approaching these things which is very important I think for monks


and nuns following the rule to have the story that sticks in my mind is being still more alarming are the words of one who reported witnessing a religious in a well known monastery dying and beating on the wall and saying I love this place so much I cannot think how I shall leave it in reporting this it's not of course my intention to suggest that we should be in the worst sense of the word indifferent to the house where we live but rather we should bear in mind St Bernard's saying in the sermons on Psalm 90 how careful we should be not to turn our tents into permanent dwellings perhaps we may allow these cautionary remarks to lead us back to a treatment of the phases of truth and life which Bernard sketches in one of his sermons on different subjects which were brought to my attention when I was trying to think how I should attempt to say what I've suggested


for your thought in this particular conference I must admit I'm sorry you can see I'm a tiny bit dotty today but it's largely because I fell in love with the while I was preparing this stuff for you and they are very wonderful thank goodness you haven't got a bad translation to look them up in I'm going to give you my own I'm not saying mine is very good but I'm waiting for a terrible one to appear fairly soon they nearly always do the one I'm thinking about is the sermon 103 Bernard begins by saying that the pathway of the of the chosen ones is marked by four stages everyone begins by becoming a friend of his own soul then he makes himself


the friend of justice thirdly the friend of wisdom and finally he reveals himself as wise in the first of these developments a man avoids all that could injure his own soul and loves everything that can do it good in this way he is able to fulfill the command of God which he received at the time of his first conversion you shall love your neighbour as yourself for as long as he walks according to the flesh he is quite incapable of this but from the moment he lets himself be led by the spirit he easily gets there in point of fact what could anyone gain if his neighbour burns in hell and what can he lose if his neighbour is in his company in paradise the inheritance


of paradise is not one of those possessions which diminishes on account of numbers lovely observation not one of those possessions which diminishes on account of numbers and so this man loves his neighbour whom he wishes like himself to possess heaven how on earth says Bernard would you ever get here how would you ever reach this point simply by your own spirit but you can do so in the spirit of him to whom we say these words if I go up to heaven you are there yes the spirit of wisdom present everywhere knows what goes on as well in heaven as in hell and once he feels the spirit of men he arises the fear of the planes of hell and the at the same time communicates the love of heavenly reality


so one begins by loving oneself and then the neighbour as Bernard says you can't really get there without the spirit of God because how vital it is isn't it to know this that until we begin to get something like a real picture of ourselves in God's eyes we can't really begin to love other people in this way either we've got no picture what it is to be inhuman this is where the real humanity of the early writers is rooted something people keep on writing essays about this is where it needs demonstrating this is the point it comes there because if you really understand the Christian faith if you really get the vision of yourself which our lord gives you


through his incarnation through his work among us through his redemption for us then you get a picture of what it is to be human until you know what it is to be human yourself how can you love any other human being it can't be this then he says is the way one begins to love one's soul by the holy spirit which one has received in faith but the gift which he has received is not enough to satisfy a man he must advance to greater gifts and progress along the way which is always better the apostle says if we live by the spirit let us walk by the spirit and elsewhere the same writer says we all with unveiled face beholding the glory of the lord are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another it goes without saying that anyone loved who loves his soul in the right way also loved justice and says Bernard


even if we fall away from the perfection of justice we can still love justice by bearing with the consequences of our failure because god can use these to heal us too pressing on in this way we do what we do solely for the love of our creator and this makes us a friend of wisdom which addresses us maternally maternum effecto saying my son give me your heart there's the mother with the child growing up the mother we had last night before we went to bed is here now it's not my idea, it's Bernard's there is the mother saying now it's time to grow up really my son give me your heart when we've come so far there's nothing left but to go on


to the fourth degree where one is counted as wise this comes about when a man does what he does no longer to please god as he did in the third degree but because god pleases him or because what he does pleases god well I do find, I hope I've made you want to go and look at this, those of you who can I'll put it back as quickly as I can in the library I find this an extremely attractive passage because it presents us with such a very dynamic view of progressive detachment and growth in love of one and the same time the two go together, you can see how in fact there you've got a scheme for the aesthetic life, for the practice of a thesis which is intimately bound up with growing a detachment which comes through the need to grow and it suggests a kind of limpid simplicity


I think this is of course Bernard's great gift there's so many aspects of him I must confess I'm not the only one who thinks this I believe he's not a terribly attractive person all the time but he has a very very good clear mind he has a great regard for reason very very sound and straight and this comes across in the best of his writing I do not in any case believe that Bernard thinks of any of these phases as separate in a chronological way, of course one goes a bit forward and a bit back and so on they are so evidently interlinked in a progressive detachment truth and love and in that movement of course I don't believe that our relation to our neighbour is by any means simply incidental but since we can't stay here all morning we'd better try to think about that a little more this evening I think we give you thanks almighty God


for all your benefits especially all the things you give us through your saints and holy ones to lead us to yourself lead us on in the Holy Spirit through Christ our Lord, Amen