Bernard of Clairvaux: Convert the Soul

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The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul; The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. Psalm 19:7

“One praises God because He is mighty, another because He is gracious, yet another solely because He is essential goodness. The first is a slave and fears for himself; the second is greedy, desiring further benefits; but the third is a son who honors His Father. He who fears, he who profits, are both concerned about self-interest. Only in the son is that charity which seeketh not her own (I Cor. 13.5). Wherefore I take this saying, ‘The law of the Lord is an undefiled law, converting the soul’ (Ps. 19.7) to be of charity; because charity alone is able to turn the soul away from love of self and of the world to pure love of God. Neither fear nor self-interest can convert the soul. They may change the appearance, perhaps even the conduct, but never the object of supreme desire. Sometimes a slave may do God’s work; but because he does not toil voluntarily, he remains in bondage. So a mercenary may serve God, but because he puts a price on his service, he is enchained by his own greediness. For where there is self-interest there is isolation; and such isolation is like the dark corner of a room where dust and rust befoul. Fear is the motive which constrains the slave; greed binds the selfish man, by which he is tempted when he is drawn away by his own lust and enticed (James 1.14). But neither fear nor self-interest is undefiled, nor can they convert the soul. Only charity can convert the soul, freeing it from unworthy motives.”

Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153), French abbot and reformer among the Benedictine monks, in his classic work, On Loving God, excerpt from chapter 12.

Three people can be celebrating the might, grace, and goodness of God, yet two may have completely impure motives so they miss communion with God and get instead only bondage or isolation. Where are my motives today? Where are yours? Sit with me here for a moment.

This is both sobering and enlightening as Bernard, a Benedictine monk, points the way for us to convert the soul. Notice how we can be living generously or serving in ministry but simultaneously held captive to fear and self-interest. Only His charity can free us from these unworthy motives.

God, hear my prayer for myself and readers today. Teach us to make you the object of our supreme desire. In your charity, cleanse us of all greediness and self-interest. Convert our souls so that our service results not in bondage or isolation but communion with You. Amen.