‘St Bernard was not only a remarkable preacher of grace, he was also a preacher of truth. “The fulness of grace”, he declared, in an astonishing phrase in Song of Songs, Sermon 74, “does not consist of grace alone”. The Word, it is true, delights to come to us as our redeemer and friend, and even sometimes, in prayer, as our bridegroom. But, when he comes, Bernard says, he comes to us as truth as well as grace, as judge as well as friend. “[B]y the movement of my heart... did I perceive his presence”. There is, first of all, then, an awakening to grace and a profound sense of consolation. But there is also, Bernard notes at once, an experience of purification and a new awareness of truth. Things within us, which are opposed to the new life, are “plucked out”, we’re told, and even “destroyed”. And the heart that was as “hard as stone and diseased” finds itself pierced through. “I knew”, Bernard says, “the power of his might because my faults were put to flight and my human yearnings brought into subjection. I have marvelled at the depth of his wisdom when my secret faults have been revealed and made visible”. Effectively, what St Bernard is saying here is that if, in prayer, we experience only and always a sustained series of spiritual consolations and delights, but never what he calls “the truth of our condition in God’s sight”, then what we are experiencing is certainly not God. For this reason, in Sermon 74, Bernard implores the Word to come to him “full of grace and truth”.
“I need both of these: I need truth that I may not be able to hide from him, and grace that I may not wish to hide. Indeed, without both of these his visitation would not be complete, for the stark reality of truth would be intolerable without grace, and the gladness of grace might appear lax and uncontrolled without truth”.
Clearly, all that applies to prayer in this context, applies also to preaching. Bernard is well aware that, in the hands of the preacher, truth without grace, is a harsh, fundamentalist weapon. But he is also equally aware that grace without truth, is a mere sentimentality. “How many people”, he writes, “have received grace without profit because they have not also accepted a tempering measure of truth? In consequence they have luxuriated in it too much, without reverence or regard for truth.... To them it could be said... ‘Go, then, and learn what it means to serve the Lord in fear, and rejoice in him with awe’”.’
Fr Paul Murray OP
O God, by whose grace the blessed Abbot Bernard, kindled with the fire of thy love, became a burning and a shining light in thy Church: grant, at his intercession; that we may be inflamed with the same spirit of love, and ever walk before thee as children of light; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal.
Fr Lee Kenyon