Contemplation is not a word exclusive to Benedictine, Carthusian, and Cistercian monks. Other religions practice it. My emphasis will be limited to what I know about Cistercian, and even more selectively, Lay Cistercian contemplation. I always like to offer you the same resources I use in my quest to discover what it means to be fully human as nature intended, using Lay Cistercian practices and charisms (silence, solitude, work, prayer, community, humility and obedience to what I think God wants of me this and each day.

Here is a text I blogged to you previously, but I used it again today, so I thought you might like a refresher. St. Bernard lived about 1090 AD.

Second reading

From a sermon by Saint Bernard, abbot

The stages of contemplation

Let us take our stand on secure ground, leaning with all our strength on Christ, the most solid rock, according to the words: He set my feet on a rock and guided my steps. Thus firmly established, let us begin to contemplate what he is saying to us and what reply we ought to make to his charges.

The first stage of contemplation, my dear brothers, is constantly considering what God wants, what is pleasing to him, and what is acceptable in his eyes. 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; let us then humble ourselves under the powerful hand of the most high God and be concerned to show ourselves unworthy before his merciful gaze, saying: 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.

Once the eye of the soul has been purified by such considerations we no longer abide within our own spirit in a sense of sorrow but abide rather in the Spirit of God with great delight. No longer do we consider what is the will of God for us, but rather what it is in itself. For our life is in his will. Thus 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.

Thus having made some progress in our spiritual exercise under the guidance of the Spirit who searches the deep things of God, let us reflect on how sweet is the Lord and how good he is in himself; in the words of the prophet let us pray to see God’s will; no longer shall we frequent our own hearts but his temple. At the same time, we shall say: My soul is humbled within me, therefore I shall be mindful of you.

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.

This excerpt from a sermon by St. Bernard of Clairvaux (Sermo 5 de diversis, 4-5: Opera omnia, Edit. Cisterc. 6, 1 [1970], 103-4) is used in the Roman Catholic Office of Readings for Wednesday of the 23rd week in Ordinary Time with the accompanying biblical reading taken from Habakkuk 2:5-20.


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