Wednesday, August 20, 2008

St. Bernard of Clairvaux

Besides having a breed of rescue dog named after him, most evangelicals know little about St. Bernard. He was indeed a rescuer ... of men's souls for Christ Jesus. So today we can learn a little about this twelfth-century saint who became a foot soldier of God in more ways than one, who brought unity where strife reigned, who brought healing when schism threatened the Church, and who devoted himself body, mind, and soul to the study of and obedience to the Word of God.
From the online Catholic Encyclopedia:

Bernard, the third of a family of seven children, six of whom were sons, was educated with particular care, because, while yet unborn, a devout man had foretold his great destiny. At the age of nine years, Bernard was sent to a much renowned school at Chatillon-sur-Seine, kept by the secular canons of Saint-Vorles. He had a great taste for literature and devoted himself for some time to poetry. His success in his studies won the admiration of his masters, and his growth in virtue was no less marked. Bernard's great desire was to excel in literature in order to take up the study of Sacred Scripture, which later on became, as it were, his own tongue.... During his youth, he did not escape trying temptations, but his virtue triumphed over them, in many instances in a heroic manner, and from this time he thought of retiring from the world and living a life of solitude and prayer.

And from the Saint of the Day e-mails from
St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1091-1153)
Man of the century! Woman of the century! You see such terms applied to so many today—“golfer of the century,” “composer of the century,” “right tackle of the century”— that the line no longer has any punch. But the “man of the twelfth century,” without doubt or controversy, has to be Bernard of Clairvaux. Adviser of popes, preacher of the Second Crusade, defender of the faith, healer of a schism, reformer of a monastic Order, Scripture scholar, theologian and eloquent preacher: any one of these titles would distinguish an ordinary man. Yet Bernard was all of these — and he still retained a burning desire to return to the hidden monastic life of his younger days.

In the year 1111, at the age of 20, Bernard left his home to join the monastic community of Citeaux. His five brothers, two uncles and some 30 young friends followed him into the monastery. Within four years a dying community had recovered enough vitality to establish a new house in the nearby valley of Wormwoods, with Bernard as abbot. The zealous young man was quite demanding, though more on himself than others. A slight breakdown of health taught him to be more patient and understanding. The valley was soon renamed Clairvaux, the valley of light.

His ability as arbitrator and counselor became widely known. More and more he was lured away from the monastery to settle long-standing disputes. On several of these occasions he apparently stepped on some sensitive toes in Rome. Bernard was completely dedicated to the primacy of the Roman See. But to a letter of warning from Rome he replied that the good fathers in Rome had enough to do to keep the Church in one piece. If any matters arose that warranted their interest, he would be the first to let them know....

The Holy See prevailed on Bernard to preach the Second Crusade throughout Europe. His eloquence was so overwhelming that a great army was assembled and the success of the crusade seemed assured. The ideals of the men and their leaders, however, were not those of Abbot Bernard, and the project ended as a complete military and moral disaster....

Bernard’s life in the Church was more active than we can imagine possible today. His efforts produced far-reaching results. But he knew that they would have availed little without the many hours of prayer and contemplation that brought him strength and heavenly direction....

I really appreciate the closing lines of the comment about St. Bernard: "His efforts ... would have availed little without the many hours of prayer and contemplation that brought him strength and heavenly direction." Just as St. John's Gospel states, "Apart from Me [Christ], you can do nothing," so we all need to realize that despite our busy, hectic modern lives in which we seem to do so much, none of it is worth a farthing unless we have Christ in us, uniting His Spirit and direction to our efforts. Following Bernard as he followed Christ, may our own "many hours of prayer and contemplation" bring us "strength and heavenly direction" in Christ Jesus our Lord.

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