Those readers who have been following this blog know that St. Bernard is, after Our Lord and Our Lady, my favorite saint. Many, many posts are on his thoughts, sermons, prayers on this blog. His feast day is tomorrow.
In honor of him, I share this selection from this great Doctor of the Church. In his first sermon on the Song of Songs, St. Bernard shows that he understands first-hand the steps towards perfection.
But there is that other song, which, by its unique dignity and sweetness, excels all those I have mentioned and any others there might be; hence by every right do I acclaim it as the Song of Songs. It stands at a point where all the others culminate. Only the touch of the Spirit can inspire a song like this, and only personal experience can unfold its meaning. Let those who are versed in the mystery revel in it; let all others burn with desire rather to attain to this experience than merely to learn about it. For it is a melody that resound abroad by the very music of the heart, not a trilling on the lips but an inward pulsing of delight, a harmony not of voices but of wills. it is a tune you will not hear in the streets, these notes do not sound where crowds assemble; only the singer hears it and the one to whom he sings-the lover and the beloved. It is preeminently a marriage song telling of chaste souls in loving embrace, of their wills in sweet accord, of the mutual exchange of the heart's affection.
In this passage, from Sermon Four, Bernard refers to the illumined senses, which have been purified, and are now operating in grace.
The things we speak of are divine, totally unknown except to those who have experienced them. While still in this mortal body, while still living by faith, while the content of the clear interior light is still not made clear, we can, in part, still contemplate the pure truth. Any one of us who has been given this gift from above may make his own the words of St. Paul: "Now I know in part;" and: 'We know in part and in part we prophesy." But when the spirit is ravished out of itself and granted a vision of God that suddenly shines into the mind with the swiftness of a lightning flash, immediately, but whence I know not, images of earthly thin fill the imagination, either as an aid to understanding or to temper the intensity of the divine light. So well-adapted are they to the divinely illuminated senses, that in their shadow the utterly pure and brilliant radiance of the truth is rendered more bearable to the mind and more capable of being communicated to others. My opinion is that they are formed in our imaginations by the inspirations of the holy angels, just as on the other hand there is no doubt that evil suggestions of an opposite nature are forced upon us by the bad angels.
People ask me how one can enter into these states while being busy at work, in the home.
One hour a day of prayer can be set aside by all people. That would be a daily practice necessary for all who have been baptized.
Bernard states this about the love perceived in Illumination. The senses, the affections have been changed in order to accept the love of God.
This bond is stronger even than nature's firm bond between parents and children. 'For this', it says in the Gospel, 'a man will leave his father and his mother and cleave to his bride.' You see how strong this feeling is between bride and bridegroom-it is stronger not only than other affections, but even than itself. Sermon 83
to be continued...