St. Bernard of Clairvaux – On Conversion
I. That No One Can Be Converted To the Lord
Unless the Lord Wills It First,
and Calls Him With an Inner Voice
I. You have come, I believe, to hear the Word of God (Acts 3:44, 19:10). I can see no other reason why you should rush here like this! I approve of this desire with all my heart, and l rejoice with you in your praiseworthy zeal. For blessed are those who hear the Word of God—if, that is, they keep it (Lk II:28). Blessed are those who are mindful of his laws, provided that they obey them (Ps l02:l8). Such a one has the words of eternal life indeed (In 6:69), and the hour comes—would it were here now!—when the dead shall hear his voice and they who hear it shall live (In 5:25). For, “To do his will is to live” (Ps 29:6).
And if you would like to know what his will is: It is that we should be converted. Hear what he himself says, “It is not my will that the wicked should perish" (Ez 18:23), says the Lord, “but rather that they should turn from their wickedness and live” (Mt. 11:14).
From these words we see clearly that our true life is to be found only through conversion, and there is no other way to enter upon it (1 Tm 6:l9). As the same Lord says, “Unless you are converted and become like little children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 18:3). Truly, only little children will enter, for it is a little child who leads them (Is 9:6), he who was born and given to us for this very end. I seek then the voice the dead will hear and when they hear it, live (Jn 5:25). Perhaps it is even necessary to preach the Gospel to the dead (1 Pt 4:6).
And meanwhile a word comes to mind, brief, but full of meaning, which the mouth of the Lord has spoken, as the prophet bears witness. “You have said," he cries undoubtedly speaking to the Lord his God, “be converted, sons of men" (ls 1:20, 40:5; Ps 89:3).
It seems wholly fitting that it is conversion that is required of the sons of men; it is absolutely necessary for sinners. The heavenly spirits are told to give praise, as the same prophet says in the Psalm, “Praise your God, O Sion" (Ps l47:l2); that is more appropriate for the righteous (Ps 32:1).
2. As to the remainder of what he says: “You have said” (Ps 89:3), I do not think that is to be passed over carelessly or heard unreflectively. For who dare compare the sayings of men with what God is said to have said? The Word of God is living and effective (Heb 4:12). His voice is a voice of magnificence and power (Ps 28:4). “He spoke and they were made” (Ps l48:5). He said, “Let there be light, and there was light" (Gn 1:3). He said, “Be convened" (Ps 89:3), and the sons of men have been converted. So the conversion of souls is clearly the work of the divine voice, not of any human voice. Even Simon son of John (Jn 21:15), called and appointed by the Lord to be a fisher of men, will toil in vain all night and catch nothing until he casts his net at the Lord’s word. Then he can catch a vast multitude (In 21:15ff; Mt 4:19).
Would that we, too, might cast our net at this word today and experience what is written, “Behold he will give his voice the sound of power” (Ps 67:34). If I lie (]n 8:44), that is my own fault. It will perhaps be judged to be my own voice and not the voice of the Lord if I seek what is my own and not what is Jesus Christ's (Phil 2:21). For the rest, even if I speak of the righteousness of God (Ps 57:2) and seek God’s
glory (In 8:50, 5:44), I can hope that what I say will be effective only if he makes it so. I must ask him to make this voice of mine a voice of power.
I admonish you. therefore, to lift up the ears of your heart to hear this inner voice, so that you may strive to hear inwardly what is said to the outward man. For this is the voice of magnificence and power (Ps 28:4), rolling through the desert (Ps 28:8), revealing secrets, shaking souls free of sluggishness.
Saint Bernard proposes a connection between the Word of God, our true life and conversion. In less than five hundred words, describe your understanding of this connection with reference to:
(a) how you have experienced this connection in your own life, and
(b) why this connection is important when we study spiritual theology
© 2013 Avila Institute.