Our Lectio Divina during Great Lent was with St Bernard's Sermo 3 in his Song of Songs Commentary. The Only-begotten Word of God united to the Sacred Humanity of Jesus Christ is the Kiss to which the opening verse of Chapter 1 alludes. Immersed in the culture of the body, we must frequently re-set our spiritual compass lest we impair our focus on what Bernard is all about: union with God.
In Section 1 Bernard addresses conversion from ingrained sinfulness and proposes the Publican as a model of the right attitude, tying in neatly with our pre-lent Byzantine Liturgical calendar's Sunday of the Publican & Pharisee. Bernard provides (as if himself) a bare-boned, raw description of one needing conversion: "a soul burdened with sins , still subject to carnal passions, almost totally unacquainted as it is with the joys of the supernatural life". (Later, in the same Sermo, Bernard admits his own early mystical experience). He would be "all things to all men, a sinner with sinners"; then more easily we would walk with him to conversion. He continues:"I should like to point out to persons like this that there is an appropriate place for them on the way of salvation!". What is that blessed place?
To kiss the Sacred Feet of Jesus with tears and contrition,
Here it seems the road is forked. Bernard says: "I am black but beautiful" quoting the Biblical Song of Songs, Ch 1: 6. Repentance has rendered the Ethiopian, formerly a dense, dark soul, full of radiant light - because She wept bitterly (Luke 22:13). But Luke is describing Peter after his triple denial. She (the Ethiopian) wept bitterly as did Peter. Bernard does not include the sinful woman of Magdala (Mary Magdalene) who also wept. Bernard begins Sermo 3 with an invitation to examine our own experience, allowing Mary Magdalen's inclusion, whose sins were forgiven because she loved much. The Ethiopian, Peter and Mary Magdalene all weep. Their whole cause for tears is Jesus whom each loves. Their eyes are on him. They have really entered into conversion because their vision is fixed on him - not on themselves! How explain the importance of this next tiny step? But it's truly an EITHER-OR…
Searching for (because needing) "extenuating circumstances" to explain or lessen personal responsibility for our current sinful reality, i.e. who or why we are whatever; mulling over early nurturing; family mistakes; poverty etc proves that our eyes are on ourselves, and we want to salvage - not repent. There can be no real weeping, no real sorrow. Perhaps we are sad, but a sadness over ourselves. Here it must end. The grace that is needed is to see ONLY Jesus . His providence arranged every detail of my life, which He knows. He knew my life before I lived it. What Jesus wants to hear is my sorrow about my part in living my life - and realizing what I cost Him in His Passion. Certainly there are areas of my past that fill me with gratitude, and areas where I must forgive. To kneel and kiss His Feet in sorrow surely means there is "something" between Him and me. This is where Bernard is pointing. What Jesus wants to hear is my sorrow about my part in living my life. This is done best at His Sacred Feet conscious of Him alone- of His eyes and love. Bernard says: "Your face I seek."
What I need is other like-minded individuals - and Bernard steps forward to be that guiding friend . They will be found in all who love and enlist as the monastic family of Bernard. A faith community is crucial to on-going conversion, where I will be given the graces from the Hand of Jesus. Social correctness is totally other than conversion, but conversion should make us humble and gentle, obedient- like Jesus and Mary, and as Peter and Mary Magdalen became in the community of Jesus' followers.