+ LOVING AS A WAY OF LIFE Chapter Talk for May 29, 2022
With the Juniors I have been going through a book recommended to me by Bishop Erik Varden called The Cistercian World , edited and translated by Pauline Matarasso. It has a few Sermons by St Bernard on the Song of Songs. Finding the content of these Sermons captivating, I thought to share some of it with you this morning.
In his Sermon 50 St Bernard tells of how:
- “love can be a matter of doing or of feeling. Regarding the first, I believe that humankind has been given a law, an explicit commandment. But as to feeling, nobody can love to order, let alone in the measure required. To love in deed is therefore a command to be carried out; a loving heart is received as a gift, in recompense. That in our present life love may, by divine grace, be born in our hearts and grow, I do not deny, but I firmly believe that its coming to full maturity is reserved to future bliss.”
We are all familiar with Christ’s call to love our neighbor as ourselves, even to love as He has loved us. But we are also aware that such love is far beyond our capacity to express by our own efforts. We are made all too aware as was St Bernard that “a loving heart is received as a gift, a recompense.”
One could easily write a book on Bernard’s understanding of love and Fr Mark Scott has a long article on it in the most recent issue of Cistercian Studies in the Scriptorium. Responding and giving expression to divine love lies right at the heart of our monastic lives. We are familiar with St John of the Cross’s saying that at the evening of life we will be judged in the light of the depth of our love.
Our search for this love is nicely summarized in our Community Report for the coming General Chapter when it concludes that “the community of Gethsemani realizes its utter dependence on God. We strive to live with the community we have, with its imperfections, its inevitable inter-personal conflicts, and its frailty. Imperfections are opportunities for grace.” All that takes place in our daily lives is designed to open our hearts to this movement of grace, the gift of divine love.
St Bernard asks the question in his 50th Sermon on the Song of Songs: “How is it that something impossible of achieving came to be commanded?” While there are many answers that may be given, all of them lead us to a fresh awareness of how God continually seeks to make us sharers in God’s very own divine life. Bernard assures us that the God who laid this precept of love upon us “was not unaware that its weight exceeded our strength.”
“[God] did not, by commanding the impossible, make men into transgressors: he made them humble, so that every mouth might be silenced and the whole world brought under the judgement of God, for by keeping the Law no human being will stand justified before him. Taking this commandment into our hearts and feeling our own inadequacy, we shall call to heaven and God will have mercy on us, and we shall know in that day that he saved us not because of any upright actions of our own, but in virtue of his mercy.”
In these few words we have a summary of the whole Christian and monastic way of life. We are all in a very fragile position as we stand before God but strangely enough, this is the very moment for receiving a new and everlasting gift of life. Jesus reminding us in John’s gospel that without him we can do nothing is just one of the many scriptural texts that would have us live in a continual awareness of our need for his tender presence. To do so is to be humbled but also to become ever more grateful for the closeness of God in our daily lives. Isn’t this what St Paul had in mind when speaking of God to the Athenians that “in him we live and move and have our being!”