An Excerpt from the Sermons of Conversion6
by St Bernard of Clairvaux
ON THEIR HANDS THEY WILL BEAR YOU UP, LEST YOU DASH YOUR FOOT AGAINST A STONE… What great instruction, warning, and encouragement there is for us, brothers, in these words of Scripture. What other psalm so wonderfully encourages the weak-willed, warns the careless, and instructs the ignorant? This is why divine providence desires his faithful have the verses of this psalm constantly on their lips especially during the Lenten season. And from their very usurpation by the devil, opportunity was snatched to make that thoroughly wicked and unwilling servant serve the sons. What could be more vexing for him or happier for us than that even his evil should work for our good?
HE HAS GIVEN HIS ANGELS CHARGE OF YOU TO GUARD YOU IN ALL YOUR WAYS… How this word ought in you to produce respect to promote devotion and to provide confidence! Respect because of the presence of angels, devotion because of their friendliness, and confidence because of their guardianship. Walk cautiously; his angels are everywhere, as he has charged them, in all your ways. In every little nook or cranny, respect your angel… Your faith, if you refer to it, proves that the angels are never absent from you… What should we fear? Let us simply follow them, stay close to them, and we shall dwell in the protection of the God of heaven… Each time you feel some great temptation pushing you and strong tribulation pressing, call on your guardian, your guide, him who is your helper in tribulation and opportunity…
Is someone grievously disturbed either by some physical infirmity or by some worldly tribulation or by lukewarmness of spirit and the listlessness of mental fatigue? Already, he would be beginning to be tempted beyond what he can bear, already he would be stubbing his toe and stumbling over a stone, if someone did not come to help. But what is this stone? I understand it to be the stone of offence and rock of stumbling which bruises anyone who falls over it, but crushes anyone upon whom it falls; it is the cornerstone, chosen and precious; it is the Lord Christ. To murmur against him is to dash our foot against this stone, stumbling from weakness of spirit and the storm. There is a need for angelic work, for angelic comfort, for angelic hands, when someone is already fainting, already close to stumbling over the stone. And someone who murmurs and blasphemes does stumble against the stone, bruising himself, not the stone he furiously runs into.
I think that men are sometimes borne up by angels as if by two hands, so that almost unconsciously they pass over the temptations and dangers which terrify them most. And afterwards they are not a little astonished at how easily they got over what at first seemed so difficult. Do you want to know what I understand these two hands to be? A double indication of the brevity of tribulation here below and the eternity of reward later on, or rather, painting and imprinting it on the heart so that if feels by some intimate disposition how this ‘slight momentary affliction is preparing for us a far surpassing and eternal weight of glory’. Who could not believe that such good thoughts are produced in us by the good angels, when it is certain, or the contrary, that wicked innuendoes come from bad angels? Be familiar with the angels, brothers, visit with them often by careful meditation and devout prayer, for they are always near to comfort and protect you
6 St Bernard of Clairvaux. Sermons on Conversion. Trans. Marie-Bernard Saïd, OSB. Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1981. 214-222.