Friday, August 20, 2010

For All the Saints: Bernard of Clairvaux

Today we celebrate the feast day of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, a medieval monk, writer and a gifted preacher. This Doctor of the Church was born in Burgundy in 1090.  I  heard about him earlier this year over breakfast with  a dear friend who is a medieval historian and an expert on the Crusades. The only St. Bernard I remember hearing about  prior to that conversation was a dog. That breed is named after a different St. Bernard.

There is much to learn about and from the life of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, considered one of the last Fathers of the Church. His father was a knight who died in the First Crusade. Encouraged by his devout mother, St. Bernard joined a Cistercian monastary when he was 22. His enthusiasm for the cloistered life was so great his four brothers and nearly 30 friends joined the monastery too. He later founded and became Abbott of Clairvaux Abbey. While St. Bernard was a contemplative, politicians, bishops and kings sought him out. Consequently, his life was woven in with the politics of the the Second Crusade and of the Papacy.

What intrigues me most about the life of St. Bernard is his founding and reviving of dozens of monasteries in Europe during his lifetime. What an inspiration as our Church faces declining vocations. We are blessed that St. Bernard left so much writing  (which Frank has already written about here and here ), spiritual food to taste centuries later.

Here is an excerpt from St. Bernard's book On Loving God.

"Why should not the creature love his Creator, who gave him the power to love? Why should he not love Him with all his being, since it is by His gift alone that he can do anything that is good? It was God’s creative grace that out of nothingness raised us to the dignity of manhood; and from this appears our duty to love Him, and the justice of His claim to that love."

He was devoted to Our Blessed Mother. Tradition tell us he wrote the Memorare prayer.

Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that any one who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, and sought thy intercession, was left unaided. Inspired with this confidence, I fly unto thee, O Virgin of virgins, my Mother, to thee I come, before thee I stand sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate! Despise not my petitions, but, in thy mercy, hear and answer me. Amen.

St. Bernard's overwhelming love of God and his knowledge that without God's love we would not exist, is a reminder to me to always put this fact in front of me. "Every morning Bernard would ask himself, "Why have I come here?", and then remind himself of his main duty - lead a holy life."