St. Bernard, Confessions, and God’s Will

This week in the Gospel we hear the Parable of the Prodigal Son. It allows us to reflect on the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Thus, let us look at The Stages of Contemplation. This is from a sermon from Saint Bernard, abbot.

The abbot writes that availing ourselves of The Sacrament of Reconciliation is a good thing. But Saint Bernard says that it should not stop here. Confession should be the first step in an entire spiritual process. The first part of the process is to reflect on ourselves, our will, and our actions. The second part of the process is to reflect on God, his will, and his actions in our life.

St. Bernard starts with a Scripture passage: “He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along.“ (Psalm 40:1-3 … )

How is the spiritual solid ground accomplished?

The first step is to contemplate ourselves. We compare this to what God wants or, as St. Bernard writes, “What is pleasing to him, and what is acceptable in his eyes. Quickly we realize that we all offend in many things. Our strength cannot match the rectitude of God’s will, being neither one with it nor wholly in accord with it.”

This leads us to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. As the abbot says, “Let us then humble ourselves under the powerful hand of the most high God. Let us be concerned to show ourselves unworthy before his merciful gaze. Let us say, ‘Heal me, Lord, and I shall be healed. Save me and I shall be saved. And again, Lord have mercy on me; heal my soul because I have sinned against you.’”

Bernard then moves to the second stage of a spiritual process. The grace of the sacrament can help us progress further in our spiritual life. Having received forgiveness, it should also lead us to ask, “Ok, Lord, now what? What do I do next?”

“Once the eye of the soul has been purified we no longer abide within our own spirit in a sense of sorrow. Rather, we abide in the Spirit of God with great delight. We are convinced that what is according to his will is in every way more advantageous and fitting for us.

And so, concerned as we are to preserve the life of our soul, we should be equally concerned, insofar as we can, not to deviate from his will. In the words of the prophet, let us pray to see God’s will. We shall say: My soul is humbled within me, therefore I shall be mindful of you.”

The saintly abbot closes with a summary:

“The whole of the spiritual life consists of these two elements. When we think of ourselves, we are perturbed and filled with salutary sadness. And when we think of the Lord, we are revived to find consolation in the joy of the Holy Spirit. From the first, we derive fear and humility, from the second hope and love.”

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