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Bernard of Clairvaux (4)

Bible Selection: 1 John 4:7-21

7Beloved,let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born
of God and knows God. 8Whoever does not love does not know God, for
God is love. 9God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent
his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. 10­In
this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be
the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11Beloved, since God loved us so
much, we also ought to love one another. 12No one has ever seen God;
if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.
13Bythis we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.14And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent is Son as the Savior of the world. 15God abides in those who
confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. 16So we
have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who
abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. 17Love has been
perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment,
because as he is, so are we in this world. 18There is no fear in
love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and
whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. 19We love because
he first loved us. 20Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their
brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister
whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. 21The
commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their
brothers and sisters also.



Reflection Questions

The following questions can be used for discussion within a small group, or used for journal reflections by individuals.


  1. Which of the four stages of love have you experienced in your spiritual journey? Describe.

  2. What are the motivating factors that move us from stage 1 to stage 2? Stage 2 to stage 3? Stage 3 to stage 4?

  3. In your opinion, which is the most common stage of love? Why?

  4. The writer of 1 John proclaims that we are able to love because God first loved us. How does the love God has for you enable you to love God? Love yourself? Love others?

  5. The fourth degree of love, writes Bernard, is a powerful moment, a sense of oneness, wherein we are “entirely transfused into the will of God.” Have you ever been blessed by one of these special moments? Describe. Why are they only “temporary”?



Suggested Exercises

The following exercises can be done by individuals, shared between spiritual friends, or used in the contest of a small group. Choose one or more of the following.

  1. The first stage of love is a love of ourselves for our own sake. To get beyond this stage, according to Bernard, we must see God as the one who created us and protects us. Spend some time this week reflecting on your birth, noting how you did not create yourself. Also, reflect on how your life is a gift, that even your continued existence is not your own doing.

  2. The second stage of love is a love of God for self’s sake, wherein we love God for all that he does, though we do not love God for who God is. Bernard believes that after years of being brought through trials by God we can begin to love God for God’s sake. Why wait for tribulation? Make a list of all the times that God has brought you through trials. Use this list to help you move into that third degree of love.

  3. Loving our neighbor, says Bernard, keeps our self-love in check. This week make an effort to lighten the burden of those around you, beginning with those with whom you live. The invaluable gift of listening is a great way to start.

  4. Meditate on Psalm 139. This marvelous song of the glory of creation, of God’s miraculous love and our miraculous existence, will help you focus on the God whose love reaches into the farthest regions in our hearts.




If anyone deserves to stand beside St. John as an “apostle of love,” it has to be Bernard. He wrote some eighty-six sermons on the Song of Solomon as an allegory of divine/human love. His beautiful hymn, “Jesus the Very Thought of Thee,” reverberates with the language of divine love.
            O hope of every contrite heart, O joy of all the meek;
            To those who fall, how kind thou art! How good to those who seek!
            But what to those who find? Ah, this No tongue nor pen can show;
            The love of Jesus, what it is None but His loved ones know.

How very appropriate of Bernard to remind us of the centrality of love. We so easily elevate other things to the place of first importance: our big budgets and impressive buildings, our dedicated service to the world, our doctrinal eccentricities. But Bernard cuts through all our ego-strutting activity and calls us again to love God in purity of heart, in sincerity of soul, in holiness of life. 

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