Maureen F. McCABE, OCSO.  I Am The Way: Stages of Prayer in Saint Bernard.  Collegevillle, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2012.  pp. 108.  $15.95 pb. ISBN 978-0-87907-028-1.  Reviewed by Jill RAITT, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO 63132

This is a gently demanding little book, best for spiritual reading and preparation for prayer.  It is part of a series of Cistercian Publications (Liturgical Press) Monastic Wisdom Series (#28).  The author, currently abbess of Mount Saint Mary’s Abbey in Wrentham, Massachusetts, tells the reader that the structure she uses, following Bernard, is the classic division into the prayer of beginners, of the proficient, and of the perfect, she goes more deeply into the second and third divisions by the way of Bernard’s writing on the seven infusions of the Holy Spirit: “... compunction of heart [compunctio]; ... fervor of spirit [devotio]; ... the labor of penance [poenitentiae labor]; ... works of charity [pietatis opus]; ... zeal for prayer [orationis studium]; ... leisure for contemplation [contemplationis otium]; ... love in all its fullness [plenitudo dilectionis]. (pp. 38-39). 

First, however, one must turn within.  But the mercy of God aids that process by piercing the conscience, rousing compunction, that painfully turns one’s attention from the the superficial to the heart, to the desire for God that is the gift of grace leading to conversion and to prayer. McCabe quotes at length Bernard’s beautiful autobiographical paragraph that includes his own desire to love God that seemed so cold and fruitless until God “set his wind blowing and the waters flowing, and my tears were my food day and night.”  So compunction opens the path to the heart and to the beginning of a life of prayer.  So the experience of coldness and interior poverty is itself a grace that prepares  one to receive the thawing warmth of compunction, the open sesame to one’s own heart and the beginning of a deepening interior life that starts at the feet of Jesus. 

This little book is a harvest of quotations from Bernard’s works, the result of McCabe’s life-long prayerful study.  Stage two, the prayer of the proficient, remains close to Jesus and is marked by profound gratitude based on this simple formula:
“1.  God created us with great ease.
2.  He recreated us with extreme personal difficulty.
3. This labor of re-creation is meant to involve us in a debt that only great love and gratitude can repay.” (p. 35) 

The theme of gratitude runs like a golden thread through the book.  The worst sin is ingratitude, not just for one’s creation, but especially for one’s re-creation bought by Christ through all of his suffering, but particularly by his passion, death, and resurrection.  Why was such labor necessary?  Surely not on God’s part, but solely in order to move hardened human hearts from ingratitude to gratitude and the desire to serve so good a savior.  The first step is recognition of one’s sinfulness and grief, compunction of heart, for wounding so good a savior by one’s ingratitude.  Compunction is followed by penance, by fasting, vigils, the opus manuum or physical labor, and the opus dei, the praise of God in psalms, or the deepening of devotion.  Still within stage two, the fourth infusion is pietas or loving service.  The fifth is orationis studium, “eagerness for prayer.”  The third stage is introduced by a brief chapter that McCabe calls “crossing over.”  It is characterized by progress from “a predominantly affective experience of God to what Bernard calls a spiritual one.” (p. 73)  Oratio, prayer, then beomes contemplatio, contemplation and finally the fulness of love: plenitudo dilectionis

            The beauty of this little book is the choice of quotations from Bernard and from commentators recognized for the depth of their understanding.  These are the fruits of contemplation and the fulness of love.