The problem of mysticism is to endow the mind and will of man with a supernatural experience of God as He is in Himself and, ultimately, to transform a human soul into God by a union of love. This is something that no human agency can perform or merit or even conceive by itself. This work can be done only by the direct intervention of God. Nevertheless, we can dispose ourselves for mystical union, with the help of ordinary grace and the practice of the virtues. We have just seen that, for St. Bernard, the two principal steps in this active preparation were humility and charity, or meekness and compassion. They both are “experiences” of the truth: the truth about ourselves and the truth about others. But since contemplation is an “experience” of God by connaturality, by union of love, St. Bernard sees that a connatural appreciation of the sufferings and sentiments of other men is an excellent preparation for the mystical knowledge of God in the obscure “sympathy” of infused love. After all, contemplation is an intimate knowledge of God that flows from a loving union with His will. And God himself has told us that the ordinary way to that union of wills with Him is union of wills with other men for His sake… We can see that, for St. Bernard and his contemporaries, the true fulfilment of the Cistercian life was something more than the literal observance of the Rule of St. Benedict, more, even, than the practice of perfect fraternal charity in a common life like that of the first Christians. Both of these were only means to a more perfect end: mystical contemplation and union of the soul with God. This must be well understood by anyone who hopes to grasp the full meaning of the Cistercian vocation, whether in the twelfth century or in the twentieth. The Cistercian Order is essentially contemplative, and it is contemplative in the purest and strictest sense of the word.
— Thomas Merton, The Waters of Siloe