From “Sermon, Concerning the Entrance of the Sons of Israel into the Land of Egypt,” (ca. 1150)

Vigorous and complete morality consists in two activities: avoiding vices and eagerly striving for virtue, because it does not suffice to abstain from evil if we do not do good. Hence the psalmist sings, “turn from evil and do good.” …

Famine forced Israel to immigrate to Egypt. Very soon they get a new ruler there, and he turns freedom to slavery. Living in that region results in their subjection to the power or Pharaoh who orders the baby boys to be killed and the girls to be soared. Israel is harshly afflicted…

It was not hunger for bread or thirst for water that forced so many to enter Egypt. It was hunger and thirst for hearing the word of God. This word of God “is the true light which enlightens every human being who comes into the world” (John 1:9). This is why the psalmist writes, “The precept of the Lord is luminous, enlightening the eyes” (Ps. 19:7). One who follows this light does not walk in darkness but has the light of life…

Those who suffer a lack of this divine word are forced to enter Egypt, that is, darkness. For they are enveloped in the darkness of ignorance and subject to the dominion of Pharoah, that is, the devil who is the leader of Egypt… Straw is given by Pharaoh, that is, light thoughts. This cognitive straw easily catches fire and is consumed in a moment. Thus bad thought sent by the devil are quickly kindled in our minds while the weakness of the flesh gives consent….

Once the straw caught fire, the clay was cooked and solidified into bricks. Little thoughts, which are the clay, catch fire when they take pleasure in the straw. When the thoughts cross over into action, then they cook. When they in fact become a habit, then they solidify.

St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) was one of the most influential preachers and spiritual writers of the Middle Ages. An important leader in the Cistercian reform, he was abbot at Clairvaux


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