Stages of Sin from St. Bernard of Clairvaux – Fasten Your Seatbelt!

102413There are just times when a saint speaks and one is stunned by the insight, the piercing analysis, like a surgeon’s scalpel dividing diseased from healthy tissue. Such is the case with a quote I read recently from St. Bernard that Ralph Martin references in his Book “The Fulfillment of all desires.”

In this quote Bernard analyzes the descent into the increasing darkness of sin experienced by those who do not turn back, who refuse to hear the call to repent. And not individuals only, but, I would argue, cultures too.

St. Bernard’s quote is long enough that I can only make brief comments. But consider it first in toto, and then in stages. Here is the full quote:

If this cold once penetrates the soul when (as so often happens) the soul is neglectful and the spirit asleep and if no one (God forbid) is there to curb it, then it reaches into the soul’s interior, descends to the depths of the heart and the recesses of the mind, paralyzes the affections, obstructs the paths of counsel, unsteadies the light of judgment, fetters the liberty of the spirit, and soon – as appears to bodies sick with fever – a rigor of the mind takes over: vigor slackens, energies grow languid, repugnance for austerity increases, fear of poverty disquiets, the soul shrivels, grace is withdrawn, time means boredom, reason is lulled to sleep, the spirit is quenched, the fresh fervor wanes away, a fastidious lukewarmness weighs down, brotherly love grows cold, pleasure attracts, security is a trap, old habits return. Can I say more? The law is cheated, justice is rejected, what is right is outlawed, the fear of the Lord is abandoned. Shamelessness finally gets free rein. There comes that rash leap, so dishonorable, so disgraceful, so full of ignominy and confusion; a leap from the heights into the abyss, from the court-yard to the dung-heap, from the throne to the sewer, from heaven to the mud, from the cloister to the world, from paradise to hell. (sermon 63.6b on the Song of Songs, The Fox in the Vineyard).

And now consider the stages, with brief comments by me to  them along the way. Fasten your Seat belts, turbulence ahead.

1. If this cold once penetrates the soul when (as so often happens) the soul is neglectful and the spirit asleep For it too easily happens that we are morally or spiritually asleep. And this provides doorways for the evil one, for the world, the flesh, and the devil. Jesus warns, Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak (Matt 26:41). And yet we love to sleep. We also love to anesthetize ourselves with alcohol, drugs, and other diversions. Jesus says in one of the parables that he sowed good seed in his field, But while everyone was sleeping, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away (Matt 13:25). We love to sleep. Bad stuff happens when we are spiritually and morally asleep.

2. and if no one (God forbid) is there to curb it, then it reaches into the soul’s interior, descends to the depths of the heart and the recesses of the mind If we are smart, we walk in spiritual company with the Church, and with close spiritual friends and spiritual leaders in the Church. Even if, at times we get sleepy, they rouse us and warn us. But too many do not do this and if they pray at all they are lone rangers and many drift from or discount the voice of the Church and family members. Thus, in our weakness there is no one, by our own fault, to warn us, or if some one does, we ignore or ridicule them. Thus the darkness of sin reaches deeper into our interior.

3. paralyzes the affections, – our desires being to go awry first. Our desire for spiritual things is shutting down.

4. obstructs the paths of counsel, The darkness of sin makes good counsel seem difficult at first, obnoxious later. For example, one may begin to wonder, “Why does it matter if I go to Mass or not? What’s the big deal….Why is looking at a little porn so bad….why is the Church so “uptight” about stuff?”

5. unsteadies the light of judgment – Severed from good counsel our judgments become poor and self serving.

6. fetters the liberty of the spirit – The (human) spirit is that part of us that opens us to God, that delights in the truth and in goodness. But as the flesh begins to dominate, the spirit’s influence is diminished and its “liberty” to move within us to draw us to the good, true and beautiful, is hindered.

7. and soon – as appears to bodies sick with fever – a rigor of the mind takes over: – Our thoughts become distorted, stinking thinking begins to masquerade as sensible. As St. Paul says of the Gentiles of his time that, having suppressed the truth, they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools (Rom 1:21-22)

8. vigor slackens – What was once virtuous, i.e. a good habit and easy to do, now seems hard and one lacks strength or vigor to do good.

9. energies grow languid – Without the enthusiasm of an alive spirit infused with grace we begin to lack the energy to do what is good and right. It all seems so much harder, so much effort!

10. repugnance for austerity increases – As the spirit goes more into a coma and the flesh becomes more demanding, any limits to pleasure make us wince and get angry. It is almost like a gluttony wherein  the stomach is stretched and must have a bigger meal each time to satisfy. Never, satisfied, the flesh demands more and more, and any notion of limits causes anger and avoidance.

11. fear of poverty disquietsThe more we get, the more we have to lose and the less secure we feel. The world and the flesh now have in their grip through fear. Poverty is freeing, but wealth enslaves. You can’t steal from a man who has nothing to lose, you can’t intimidate him. But a rich person, a person rooted in the world has too much to lose and is thus disquieted by even the most benign of threats. The laborer’s sleep is sweet, whether he has eaten little or much; but the rich man’s wealth will not let him sleep at all. (Eccles  4:11)

12. the soul shrivels – Just as any part of the body which is underused begins to atrophy (weaken and shrink) so too the soul and its faculties, increasingly unused, recede, grow weak and go dormant.

13. grace is withdrawn – as sin grows serious, now mortal sin robs the soul of graces.

14. time means boredom – without spiritual insight, boredom is sure to follow. Nothing has real meaning. Even the delights of the flesh, now so demanded, fail to satisfy. Scripture says regarding a soul in this state: All things are wearisome; Man is not able to tell it. The eye is not satisfied with seeing, Nor is the ear filled with hearing. That which has been is that which will be, And that which has been done is that which will be done. So there is nothing new under the sun (Eccles 1:8-9)

15. reason is lulled to sleep – foolish thinking is not seen for what it is. One cannot follow the path of simple logic or reason because the flesh feel threatened by it. Sins of the flesh are not the most serious of sins (sins of the spirit are) but they are the most disgraceful because of their capacity to cloud the mind.

16. the spirit is quenched – The human spirit becomes increasingly dead.

17. the fresh fervor wanes away – Even good days, spiritually speaking are fewer and fewer.

18. a fastidious lukewarmness weighs down – one actually begins to cultivate mediocrity, compromise and to celebrate it as open-minded, tolerant and avoiding “extremes.”

19. brotherly love grows cold – Was it Camus or Sartre who said, “Hell is other people.” Yes, sin is growing very deep now, the world is closing in on an increasingly petty object: “Me.”

20. pleasure attracts – It always has, but now inordinately and with greater and greater power.

21. security is a trap – In other words it is a lie. This world is a thief. It takes back everything, no matter what the John Hancock Insurance Co. says. But increasingly the sinful soul prefers lies to truth, even knowing deep down that they are lies.

22. old habits return – If one had made progress in virtue, now it erodes.

23. Can I say more? The law is cheated – In other words, legalism and minimalism becomes a tactic. One seeks the “least expensive” interpretation of everything, parses words, and uses every trick to see how the clearly manifest will of God is either not clear, does not apply or how it can be observed in the most perfunctory of ways. One will often collect experts to tickle their ears. Whatever it takes to cheat the law, skirt the edges and reinterpret clear norms.

24. justice is rejectedAfter cheating the law the next step down is just to reject it outright. The person does not care what God says. They now begin to exult the imperial autonomous self saying in effect that they will do what they want and they will decide if it is right or wrong.

25. what is right is outlawed, – next comes trying to outlaw others from proclaiming the truth. Call what they say “hate speech” fine them, arrest them make them answer in court. Banish the truth from schools and the public square. Demonize and criminalize all possible ways of proclaiming the truth.

26. the fear of the Lord is abandoned – The delusion that one will never face consequences of judgement for what they do is embraced. They will answer to God, but they deny it and are permitted a very deep delusion that they will never have to answer for what they do.

27. Shamelessness finally gets free rein Things that ought to cause shame, and used to do so are now celebrated. Scripture laments them saying, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them (Rom 1:32). The celebration of sin, even the exultation of it as virtue shows that the darkness is now complete, the fall reaches as cracking and crushing thud. St Bernard describes it this way:

There [has come] that rash leap, so dishonorable, so disgraceful, so full of ignominy and confusion; a leap from the heights into the abyss, from the court-yard to the dung-heap, from the throne to the sewer, from heaven to the mud, from the cloister to the world, from paradise to hell.

Pay attention to what the Saints say. There are some who will no doubt dismiss this post as negative etc. I am more concerned if it is true, rather than negative (or positive). My own experience as Pastor, teacher, disciple, sinner and denizen of the world, is that St. Bernard is right on target and has given us a kind of diagnostic manual of the progression of the disease know as sin. Read this, ponder it, consider your own life, and consider too the lives of people you love.

Disease unattended has a way of moving deeper in stages to become grave if we do not soberly assess its presence and power and use the medicines of the Prayer, Scripture, Sacraments, and Fellowship with the Church (cf Acts 2:42).

Are you praying with me?? Listen to St. Bernard of Clairvaux

68 Replies to “Stages of Sin from St. Bernard of Clairvaux – Fasten Your Seatbelt!”

    1. Msgn., your analysis is impeccable. And of course, this is straight from the Garden of Eden – The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. For from his tree, the devil is asking us to ‘reinterpret clear norms.’ Satan is asking us to ‘reinterpret’ good and evil. Now where did the devil get this concept of “good and evil” from????

      And here is the devil’s interpretation: You should not be ‘punished with a child’ (who said this?) so now the child is “evil” and “good” is ‘God bless Planned Parenthood’ for killing the child. Yeap, the diabolic game plan all started from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil!

  1. The more we get, the more we have to loose [sic] and the less secure we feel. The world and the flesh now have in their grip through fear. Poverty is freeing, but wealth enslaves. You can’t steel from a man who has nothing to loose [sic], you can’t intimidate him. But a rich person, a person rooted in the world has too much to loose [sic] and is thus disquieted by even the most benign of threats.

    Please get yourself an editor.

    Everything here could be applied to the Church herself. The Church has destroyed so many lives just by being her arrogant self. You owe so much to so many, you should just completely divest her of all her assets and pay off all of her debts.

    1. Patricia,

      You criticize for a misspelling then go on to write a run on sentence which in my mind is more of a grammatical no-no. Msgr. has explained in prior comboxes that with his busy schedule writing a blog every day (which he does so beautifully), he often has no time for proofreading. I had a former boss that confused loose and lose as well but he was a good boss nonetheless.

      You failed to comment on the blog itself just a mini rant on church assets. I think this blog and most of msgr’s blogs are in line with Pope Francis’s efforts to get us to take a fresh look at ourselves and be sure we take the log out of our own eye before we take the splinter out of our fellow man’s eye. Maybe you should do the same.

    2. Which is it Ms. Weatherwax? Should he get an editor or sell everything he has?

      Nothing here can be applied to the Church, herself, but everything here can be applied to the individuals who run her. Unfortunately, the debts of those who run Her can not be paid off with the assets that She has accumulated.

      WAIT! Let me correct myself, FORUNATELY, the debts (sins) of those who run Her, CAN be paid off with the assets (graces) She has accumulated.

      All the art, buildings, furnishings, and such to which you allude is just stuff. Consecrated stuff in some cases, but just stuff. Further, selling all of that stuff, wouldn’t do a thing to pay off the aforementioned debt.

      1. *Replace the comma after myself with a colon.

    3. Thanks Patricia!,
      That is some great insight and it’s not like I have heard that one before. Maybe our great and wonderful Government will do the same, but alas it believes in its own greatness and is going to spend its way out of debt. One of the beautiful lies that the American country fell for, along with free heath care.
      The Church has been around for a bit longer than you would like and has heard your tired refrain many times. The Catholic Community has had the ability to show her weakness and faults as a more loving community and yet, stay true to what is right. Which is why I will always run to Her than the platitudes of your nothing. Get off your high horse and offer something of insight or of your own meekness to help someone. I pray that I never become so smart in my thinking that the words of Msgr. Pope are frivolous and without some interior thought. When the little things in life are worth dismissing, then it becomes easier to put-down larger things and ideas. I am not interested in a verbal fight with you and if you try I will just make myself go to a Church and say a Rosary for you with all the love I can, just for you. So there, take that.

      P.S. I confess that my grmmar is much to be desire, don’t yah think?

    4. Sorry for the typos. Up late last night after a long day. I had a funeral today.. I try to write even when busy. I don’t always get time to proof read well. Any way Patricia it seems you have a lot more going on than concern for typos..

    5. I’m not trying to be unkind, but Patricia, please read number 23 over again in reference to your editor comment.

    6. There are humans within the Church – highly placed, in many cases – who have caused harm, and yes, we should try to fix such harm. And if property needs to be sold to do so, so be it. But I think claiming that the things apply to the Church as a whole rather than to some within it and that the only way it could begin to meet some debt or other is to sell off all its stuff and disappear is a bit melodramatic.

      The whole “should sell all of its assets thing” always leaves me a bit perplexed though. It’s not like the Church can magically convert beautiful statues into money. Rather, it would place such things in the hands of private collectors where the public (including the poor) can no longer appreciate them. The Church would get some money, true, and it would use it to help those in need, true. But the assets still exist, what should be done with them? Put up for display and use by the public? Like the Church is doing now, for the most part, perhaps? Perhaps even in the very well known places and formats in which they now exist, so that they can be appreciated easily?

      Which would be economically equivalent to the rich people who could afford these assets simply donating their money to those in need, for whatever reason. If that is indeed the outcome you desire, then perhaps you should press for that rather than the selling off of Church assets – which would realistically result in a) a lot of beautiful art becoming inaccessible to most people as private collectors bought it and b) the largest charitable organization in the world shutting down because it just liquidated all of the stuff it uses to help people.

      Or then again, perhaps you’re just angry at the Church for some reason and striking out randomly. In which case perhaps it would be best to address the root of whatever problem you have rather than claiming that the only reasonable action for the Church to take is commit one large lump sum act of charity at the cost of no longer being able to feed the hungry afterwards and taking the beauty that inspires millions and essentially throwing it in a wood chipper.

    7. Patricia, I think you need to re-read #23 because your comment indicates that’s where you are.

    8. Sounds like you have deep resentments towards the One True Church that Jesus Christ founded. To seeth with resentment towards His church is to be seething directly towards Jesus.

    9. Clearly, Patricia, you have not followed your argument to its logical conclusion.
      How does one operate in this world without physical assets? Not even the Church can do that. If one is in this world, one necessarily has some assets even if only meagre. Multiply even meagre assets by enough people and one comes up with a collective fortune – but it is only a fortune if the collective is erroneously seen as belonging to the few.
      On the other hand, I am sure that even you have hurt many – just by being an imperfect human being who is still God’s work in progress. The church is made up of the imperfect, many of whom are longing to be made perfect. Most others would rather sit on the sidelines sinning with their lack of charity and judgementalism. But God is able to achieve His ends even with an imperfect instrument. God bless.

  2. “Hell is other people” was Sartre – I hate to judge, but, man…talk about someone with a diseased soul!!!

    Good use of passages from Ecclesiastes, Monsignor. My favorite book of the Old Testament!

      1. The quote by Sartre was given within the context that the hell was created by those people who regard someone as an ‘object’.
        I was specifically interested in the part of the video where he said something like: if you are naive sin will ‘get you’, and if you are wise, the ways are more subtle.
        I am aware in my life now that I have espeially in my youth been drawn into sin because I could not ‘see’ the manipulation, etc. of others clearly. I could not ‘recognize sin’. – Yet I experienced the hell ‘created’ by ‘other people’. Now that I am older, I see people’s psychologies in a far clearer light, but also must wonder whether, if I have attained any wisdom at all it is enough to combat the more subtle manifestations of ‘sin’.

  3. This is an awesome quote from an awesome saint. I think I might be able to do some good with it. If I had a hard copy of it. No computer just mobile phone so do you think you could email a copy to me?

  4. Patricia,

    The Church, made up of sinners, is not perfect. The teachings, she proclaims are. Would you have all the churches be sold? I would ask who would buy it? What would they turn them into? Dust? Shopping malls? Get rid of God all the more? Would you give all of the Church’s assets to Bill Gates (atheist) and his wife (not a Catholic) who self-righteously destroys the gift of life, promote sex as a selfish act, promote sterilization and abortion? Yes, let’s give more power to the wealthy and rich because I guess in your mind they deserve their assets but the Church does not deserve theirs.

    Who has destroyed more lives? The Church or the State? Who dictates liberty yet takes it away? Who celebrates sin and who sins yet do not celebrate it and repents? I freely give my money to the Church while the State dictates taxes and gives it away to glorify murder and sexual lust.

    Because of your comment, I would have to say that it seems something happened in your life that you feel that the Church has destroyed lives. Arrogance? Is preaching the Truth arrogance? Or is it arrogance to dismiss the Truth?

    What about the destruction that Islam has caused? What about Nazism, Communism? Hitler, Stalin, Mao? Has the Church committed anything near what they did? Do you even know that the KGB under the USSR spread misinformation about the Church? Hitler’s Pope. Do you believe this untruth that the KGB spread?

    How much false history do you believe in? The Church saved us from the Dark Ages. The Church saved us from barbarism which we are falling into today. Getting cancer cured is painful. Society is living in a cultural cancer and the cure is painful, very painful. But it is better to be cured than to let the cancer kill us for all eternity.

    The world has been creeping in a darkness that opening the shades is painful and most of humanity is hissing at the sight of the sunlight.

    “The church is the only thing that keeps us from being a slave to our age” – G.K. Chesterton

    1. You tell the troll Darren, Patricia is uneducated and has a hidden agenda that’s all!

      1. You are soooo good Darren, I will steal some of your materials!

        1. It is only because I stand on the shoulders of giants like Chesterton, Belloc, Msgr. Pope, all the saints, St.Joseph, Holy Mother Mary and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Only because of His saving grace do I see a little more clearly. Dear Lord Jesus, help my unbelief.

  5. Yes Patricia…the ‘loose’ instead of ‘lose’ is distracting as was the ‘steel’ instead of ‘steal’. But look out for the log when checking for the splinter!

    The Catholic Church when run by sinful humans has royally screwed up and ADMITS it! We know it is only because of Jesus Christ that it is correct in her mission as HE established it. Jesus promised us to be with us always and while the pharisees were plotting His demise, He was making sure He would be present in every tabernacle around the world. Thank God!

    How do we approach the God of the universe? Well, it would be a really good idea to clean up first – hence the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Take a little time and really read the article…can you see yourself? I know that it made me squirm in my complacency.

  6. Definitely a sword of the Spirit article.
    See Hebrews 4:12 for reference.
    Thankyou Msgr.

  7. If writing were boxing, then every phrase in that St. Bernard of Clairvaux quote would be a wicked body shot.

  8. One of the classic examples of this type of steady descent is the salami tactics used by the homosexual lobby. At first the activists just asked for ‘toleration’. That’s not much is it, they said. But it wasn’t enough. Then they asked for ‘acceptance’. That’s only a little bit more to ask, they said. Then they asked for ‘approval’. Again they said, that’s only a little bit more to ask. Finally, they demanded that anybody who does not approve of what they do is to be persecuted. And they demanded that children be taught only their version of morality. Another example is the steady descent among some Protestants from acceptance of contraception in very limited circumstances to the approval of abortion. And at first, of course, divorce was only to be for very hard cases. We look at Nazi Germany and ask how a civilised people could be perverted in such a way as to be willing to take part in the Holocaust. But we can also ask how our own civilisation has become perverted that people are willing to take part in abortion, approve the use of sex outside of marriage and turn the meaning of marriage upside down and inside out.

  9. ‘Hell is other people.’ That is one of the last lines of Sartre’s play, No Exit. A very good read Msgr.; you should take the time to read it if you have not yet done so. It won’t take much of your time. In the context of the play, that statement makes complete sense. Sartre is a good challenge to us; he always stimulates me to think more about and to endeavor to better understand our Faith. One thing I believe I can say about Sartre is that he is very honest.

    I think the Church teaches that Heaven is also other people in a different sense: Heaven is in the saints, since God is in them. That is what St Thomas says in his catechism on the Lord’s prayer. I think Sartre would have understood this; though [almost] certainly he would not have believed it in the way that we do.

    I am not partial to your belief that a ‘culture’ can refuse to repent, since ‘culture’ is not a personal subject; but, I would be a fool to deny that when certain sinful attitudes become widespread, customs and law change accordingly. The believer’s role in such a situation is essentially the same as always: first, personal sanctification; second, attempting by word and life example to convince others of the truth; third, to endeavor to create good customs and correct evil laws.

  10. The bible says “….confess your sins to one another…” does not say anything about priests.

    Why the priests hijacked the confession?

    How do men feel about confession their sins to a woman?

    1. Hmmm… Your comment is strange considering that the whole context of the quotation you cited the calling of the prebyteroi. Hence, even if you want to debate the meaning of the Greek term, it is not simply a reference to any Christian or disciple indiscriminately. The declaring of the sins, has the context of the calling of the elders, as we would say in the Catholic tradition the priest….

    2. @Jen at 2:16 p.m.:
      Please read John’s gospel, Ch.20, verses 19-22.
      If Jesus told the Eleven (Judas is gone, you know) to forgive men’s sins, or hold them bound, how are they to know whether the “men” referred to are repenting sincerely if there is no discussion?
      And do you think Jesus would give this power to the Eleven, and not provide some means of transmitting it to later generations?
      As far as confessing to a woman, I have been married 58 years and counting. I think my wife has a pretty good grasp of my faults and imperfections. I thank God at least daily that she still loves me anyway.

  11. If women are assumed to know the difference between good and evil, then, why aren’t they allowed to define what is sin is what is not sin, there at the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith?
    Why only men there?

    1. Jen,

      You are mistaken. Men do not define what is sin. GOD defines what is sin and what is not sin.

      Dwell in peace and know GOD does love you.

  12. I found this at Father Z’s blog and it is right on the same theme of reason being put to sleep and the laws twisted to make the love of life worthless. It is as if the Love of God is to be put on trial and found guilty, all because man is obsessed with himself and his own miserable world view.

    “The legalization of the termination of pregnancy is none other than the authorization given to an adult, with the approval of an established law, to take the lives of children yet unborn and thus incapable of defending themselves. It is difficult to imagine a more unjust situation, and it is very difficult to speak of obsession in a matter such as this, where we are dealing with a fundamental imperative of every good conscience — the defense of the right to life of an innocent and defenseless human being.”
    Blessed Pope John Paul II

    Abortion is an example where man believes in his own greatness over God. That man will use his laws to replace God’s laws and man ends up in the spiral of corrupt behaviors to justify this evil. To submit ourselves to God’s love is too scary for many people, because it require one to lose your self-center ways and become more human in love and charity. Oh, to be lost in Faith I would rather be than to be ruled by man’s greatness!

  13. 15. reason is lulled to sleep – foolish thinking is not seen for what it is. One cannot follow the path of simple logic or reason because the flesh feel threatened by it. Sins of the flesh are not the most serious of sins (sins of the spirit are) but they are the most disgraceful because of their capacity to cloud the mind.

    This assessment really helps me. I see this in members of my family, who seem actually “stupid” in how they look at the world. They know that the current government situation is bad, and they acknowledge it for all the right reasons, yet they have no room for God and morality in their lives. They eat poorly, watch television constantly and do not have a faith life. I struggle with disgust over them, rather than loving them in spite of all of this. Yet, the explanation you gave really opens my eyes to the reason for their current ignorance. Thank you so much.

  14. We have a lot to learn from the saints, specially from the church doctors. Thank you Monsignor for sharing what you have read from St-Bernard of Clairvaux.

  15. Gay pride parades are the manifestation of the last one – #27.

    That is something to say about the state our society is now in.

  16. Thank you for your very excellent commentary, Monsignor. It reminds me of similar analyses made by various saints who describe the soul’s descent into obstinate mortal sin as being accomplished in many stages, one of the more dangerous being “delight in sinning” (which is certainly true of a lifestyle based upon any form of sinful sexuality) and finally culminating in a conscience so dead that it no longer regards sin as sin. It regards mortal sin as the normal, default state, and is genuinely shocked by innocence, true purity and chastity. I believe this may be where the USA is largely today–and unfortunately, we seem to be hellbent on copying every single mistake made in western Europe, learning nothing from their mistakes.
    As far as the Internet troll who unfortunately got her comment published and then sparked a furious firestorm, I would urge all of you good people to simply pray for this misguided woman.

  17. Thank you Father. I will add this saint to my ever expanding reading list…

    The experience you speak of being stunned by the insights of a saint’s writing, I experienced most recently in “The Sadness of Christ” by St. Thomas More.

  18. Wow, what a powerful quote!! Not only do we have open sewers running through our neighborhoods but lost souls happily leaping in.

  19. What is really sad to me, is that if you do not have faith to begin with, you can’t see or understand a word of what was written here. I used to be that person. Because you are so outside of God and His Church, one can only attack when you hear the Truth. Deep within our souls, we know the Truth, we are just so wounded and broken that we can’t see it. We want it, but we are afraid that it could never come to us. The more we sin, the less we can tolerate those who do not. Wisdom Chapter 2.
    We all sin. We all gravitate towards sin. It is only by the grace of God that we can follow Him. I so pray that everyone will allow Him to wake them up, clear their hearts so they can see. Every day is a fight to stay on the right path.
    I tell ya, that video scared the bleep out of me. Too real.

  20. Really good stuff Father, thanks. Penetrating! I wonder if your blog would be a proper place for an idea I’ve been having. Namely; this idea of having a personal relationship with Jesus. As many times as I have heard that said, I have never heard an explanation of what that truly means. Maybe it means different things to different people. I think some kind of forum where people are invited to comment on that would be of interest. Certainly to me it would. Thanks again, I enjoy your blog immensely. Especially this one.

  21. One part, an important one, was left un-analyzed. “From the cloister to the world”. Bernard was a monk’s monk. These are the stages of sin for a monk. For him, those of us in the world have not sought virtue in the first place. It gives a different cast to his advice.

  22. St Bernard is the most eloquent St. in our Church. He’s probably the deepest most mystical theologian the Church has ever seen.Thanks for giving those who might not know him a chance to catch a glimpse of his greatness.

  23. Just wanted to offer a thank you, Monsignor Pope. There is great stuff in the treasury of the Church. Thanks for bringing it out into the open.

  24. It is interesting to also note the process is equally valid in reverse as one comes to a greater alignment with the Holy Spirit. Growth in holiness is a process. One challenge, though, is to not be disappointed in a slow climb back from somewhere “down” that pit. Rejoice that you recognize you are on that journey… and keep climbing!

    Well written, Msgr.!

    I know I will be searching more on this as well. Ralph Martin’s book, you say…?

  25. Thank you for this jem, Msgr.

    It struck me because I have long been influenced by St. Bernard’s description of four stages of growing in love:
    1. Love of oneself for one’s sake
    2. Love of God for one’s own sake
    3. Love of God for God’s sake
    4. Love of oneself for God’s sake

    St. Bernard’s explanation of these stages can be found in the last chapter of his work On Loving God.

    Perhaps someday you could write on his stages of love. I have long been interested in how to help people make the jump from stage three (a devotion to God based on hope for reward and fear of punishment) to stage 3 (a devotion to God based on a genuine “falling in love” with God).

    1. Yikes! Proofreading fail.

      Stage 1 should read, “Love of oneself for one’s OWN sake.”

      And I meant to say that I’ve been interested in the transition from stage TWO to stage three.

  26. Given what was written by Msgr. Pope about stages 23 – 27 I was surprised there were not more comments regarding the state of the western world. It is clearly already in the final stage of sin as outlined by St Bernard.

  27. In his The Passion and Death of Jesus Christ, St. Alphonsus gives the following quotation from St. Bernard: “How unspeakable is the love of the Son of God for sinners.”

  28. Dear Msgr.,

    An excellent article. May God bless you. Let me ask you a little question. St. Bernard starts with “…… the soul is neglectful and the spirit asleep….”. I am confused with the words ‘soul’ and ‘spirit’. Are they different?

    1. In the common current usage they are often interchangeable. More technically, the spirit is not a third component part of the person, but is an aspect of the soul. It is that aspect of the soul that opens us to God, that gives us capax Dei (a capcity to be addressed by and answer God). As such it is the aspect of the soul that we are most concerned with in spiritual discussions. The animating principle of the soul etc. are of less concern in discussions of this sort. And thus, “spirit” sometimes better targets the issue at hand than merely “soul”

  29. Monsignor,

    Note that Dante thought so highly of St Bernard’s holiness and eloquence that he uses him as his guide in the Paradiso. However, the passage here on the effects of sin reminded me of an earlier scene in the Inferno, where the Dante’s guide was the Roman poet Virgil. The two are about to enter Lower Hell and encounter Medusa, the mythological demon whose face was so horrible to behold that any human who looked upon it was turned to stone. Virgil covers Dante’s eyes to protect him, and an angel appears to dispatch Medusa and to open the gate to Lower Hell. Medusa’s presence symbolizes the power of sin to harden the heart, to turn it to stone. It is the process St Bernard describes above. Even to cast a brief glance would be deadly. Turn your back and hide your eyes Virgil tells Dante. Do not allow the cold to enter or the soul will shrivel and the affections will become paralyzed says St Bernard.

  30. Fr. Frank Jindra – you are right that climbing out of the dark pit of sin is a long process. I am still climbing from that pit I ‘happily jumped into’ (as another person noted) back in my early 20’s. Thank God for the gift of forgiveness. And although I am still climbing, it seems that the light is better the farther I get from the depths. This is a wonderful post and I am sharing the link with friends. God bless!

  31. Spot on! Very timely! I think I will share with my wife and friends and with God’s help try to ponder this often. I am confident it will assist me in my daily struggles. Praised be Jesus Christ through Mary his Mother! By the way Saint Bernard had a HUGE devotion to the Jesus through the Mother of God, the Most Blessed Virgin Mary! Mary is the key to unlock all the treasure trove of Graces God wishes to share with us but which our sin prevents us from being worthy to receive. Mary our Mother will obtain the Graces for us if we but ask her.

  32. Even if the wealth accumulated by the church was used to pay off the debt of those abused/swindled would that be sufficient to allow the Grace of Christ to flow into their lives? It’s only through forgiveness and repentance does one find that Grace.
    Thank you Msgr. for the bringing out the teachings of St. Bernard.

  33. How very true, and how very sad when we see our own going down this path.
    If you read this, just please say a prayer for my daughter.

  34. Sin is something we must combat with frequent Confession, Prayer (the Rosary and the Litany of the Saints are great prayers), Fasting and with great teachings from the Saints and Doctors of the Church.
    We must remember NOT to despair if we fall we need to get up again, and the way to do it is to go to Confession as soon as we can especially if we fall in grave sin.

    Thank you Msgr. Charles Pope for writing this article; your commentaries were great and the teaching of St. Bernard was very clear and simple to understand thanks to your great writing!!!

  35. I have the book “The Fullfillment of all Desire” written by Ralph Martin and I cannot say enough about it. I can say that it is extremely usefull for all those on the journey to holiness!

  36. Thank you, Monsignor, for this wonderful post. Could we ask for more?

    I must thank God for giving us a monsignor such as you. You are one of the ways how God declares His love for me today.

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