Tag Archives: St. Bernard

St. Francis of Assisi (1181-1226)

francis assisi

October 4th is the Feast of Francis of Assisi.  A large statue of St. Francis  with arms outstretched stands facing the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome. Facing the basilica from behind the statue, you might think the saint was holding up the church in his arms. And that’s what he did: Francis raised up a church that was falling down

We need to see saints in the light of their times as they met the needs of their day. Chesterton called saints “God’s antidotes for the poison of their world”.

What was poisoning Francis’ world? Twelfth century Italy’s economy was booming when Francis was born. His family was among its new rich merchant class. As a young man he had everything money could buy, but then, as now, money could be a poison.

Italy’s cities, often at war, fiercely competed with one another, fighting for power.. It was the time of the crusades and everything was settled through force of arms.

It was a time too when the church had become weak and in need of reform. Before Francis, saints like Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) and popes like Gregory VII (1015-1085) and Innocent III (1160-1216) sought renewal and change. The church was looking for a saint.

And so when Francis of Assisi came with twelve disciples to see the pope in Rome about reforming the church in the summer of 1220, he came at the right time. They say that the pope had a dream the night before that St. John Lateran, the mother church of Christendom, was falling down and a young man resembling the 28 year old Francis came to hold its walls up.

The pope asked Francis what would he do and Francis replied with three verses of scripture. The first was from the gospel of Matthew in which Jesus says to the young man ‘If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’(19,21)  The second from Luke’s gospel in which Jesus sends his disciples out saying “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money—not even an extra tunic.”( 9,3) The third from Matthew: Jesus says, “If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross.” (16,24)

The pope was a good judge of people and, sensing the grace of God in Francis,  told him to live those gospel teachings, sending  him on his way. Francis and his companions started a movement that spread like fire throughout Europe.

Francis made Jesus’ teachings his own. He embraced poverty, not just renouncing the rich lifestyle that he was born into, but  renouncing any way that led to power. For example, he never became a priest or a bishop or a pope, because they were positions of power fought for and sometimes paid for in his day.

He did not want a monastery or a religious order as a base of power. Saints like St. Bernard and St Norbert before him thought monasticism was the way to bring about church reform, but Francis wanted a life style where you had nothing, “no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money—not even an extra tunic.” He distanced himself and his movement from the religious institutions of his day, because he feared them becoming places of power.

He took the gospel teachings literally and lived them literally. His renunciation of power became an antidote to the poisonous attraction to power that crippled his world and his church. He imitated the “Son of Man” a poor man who said to his followers the “foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.”

Like the Son of Man, who suffered and died on a cross and rose again, Francis experienced the mystery of the cross and was blessed by it.

Remembering him, we might pray: God send us saints to deal with the poison of our time.

“Time present and time past/Are both perhaps present in time future.”      photo

T. S. Eliot, “Burnt Norton”

St. Bernard

August 20th we remember St. Bernard, a spiritual teacher who never goes out of date. Here is his summary of the two stages of contemplation.

“The first involves humbling ourselves before God: “Heal me, Lord, and I shall be healed; save me and I shall be saved. And again, Lord, have mercy on me; heal my soul because I have sinned against you.

Then, leaving sorrow and ourselves behind, it’s time to “abide rather in the Spirit of God with great delight. No longer do we consider what is the will of God for us, but rather what it is in itself.

Under the guidance of the Spirit who gazes into the deep things of God, let us reflect how gracious the Lord is and how good he is in himself. Let us join the Prophet in praying that we may see the Lord’s will and frequent not our own hearts but the Lord’s temple; and let us also say, My soul is humbled within me, therefore I shall be mindful of you.

These two stages sum up the whole of the spiritual life: when we contemplate ourselves we are troubled, but our sadness saves us and brings us to contemplate God. That contemplation in turn gives us the consolation of the joy of the Holy Spirit.

Contemplating ourselves brings fear and humility; contemplating God brings us hope and love.”

All Saints Day

 

Christ alpha om

We usually think of Mary, the mother of Jesus, apostles like Peter and Paul, or extraordinary individuals like Mother Teresa when we think of saints. True friends of God.

Besides  them, the Feast of Saints reminds us of unnumbered others in God’s company. In a vision of heaven, St. John saw “a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue.” {Revelations 7, 9-13} We hope we will join them one day.

Our hope rests on a promise Jesus made:

“See what love the Father has bestowed on us
that we may be called the children of God.
Yet so we are…
Beloved, we are God’s children now;
what we shall be has not yet been revealed.” (1 John 3,1-3)

How shall we reach that place where we’ll be revealed as children of God? Jesus says to follow him and live as he taught. He shows the way in his Sermon on the Mount, our gospel reading for this feast. He will be the way, the truth and the life.

We haven’t seen yet that promised  life. We haven’t completed our lives here yet. This feast reminds us of the hope God reveals.

Extraordinary saints are not the only ones in heaven. There is a multitude of others, not a few. God welcomes countless others, saints unnoticed here on earth, saints with little to show, saints who were sinners. People like us.

Celebrating  this feast, remember your destiny, St. Bernard says:

“Rise again with Christ and seek the world above and set your mind on heaven. Long for those who are longing for us; hasten to those who are waiting for us, ask those who are looking for our coming to intercede for us. Desire their company and seek a share in their glory. There’s no harm in being ambitious for this. No danger in setting your heart on such glory.

“Remembering the saints inflames us with a yearning that Christ our life may appear to us as he appeared to them and that one day we may share in his glory.”

The Rosary

St. Bernard, in a homily for today’s Feast of the Holy Rosary, says that God is by nature incomprehensible, inaccessible, invisible, unthinkable, but wished “to be understood, to be seen and thought of.” And so the Word became flesh of the virgin Mary.

The Rosary is a prayer inviting us into the mystery of Christ.through Mary, his mother, who gave him birth and treasured his memory in her heart. Human as we are, she introduces us to Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of Mary.

“He lay in a manger and rested on a virgin’s breast, preached on a mountain, and spent the night in prayer. He hung on a cross, grew pale in death, and roamed free among the dead and ruled over those in hell. He rose again on the third day, and showed the apostles the wounds of the nails, the signs of victory; and finally in their presence he ascended to the sanctuary of heaven.

How can we not contemplate this story in truth, piety and holiness? Whatever of all this I consider, it is God I am considering; in all this he is my God. I have said it is wise to meditate on these truths, and I have thought it right to recall the abundant sweetness, given by the fruits of this priestly root; and Mary, drawing abundantly from heaven, has caused this sweetness to overflow for us.”

Friday Thoughts

When you blend the prose of St. Thomas Aquinas with the poetry of St.Bernard, you get something like this:

“Why did the Son of God have to suffer for us? There was a great need, and it can be considered in a twofold way: in the first place, as a remedy for sin, and secondly, as an example of how to act.

It is a remedy, for, in the face of all the evils which we incur on account of our sins, we have found relief through the passion of Christ. Yet, it is no less an example, for the passion of Christ completely suffices to fashion our lives.”  ( Thomas Aquinas)

“Where can the weak find a place of firm security and peace, except in the wounds of the Saviour? Indeed, the more secure is my place there, the more he can do to help me. The world rages, the flesh is heavy, and the devil lays his snares, but I do not fall, for my feet are planted on firm rock. I may have sinned gravely. My conscience would be distressed, but it would not be in turmoil, for I would recall the wounds of the Lord: he was wounded for our iniquities…

They pierced his hands and feet and opened his side with a spear… But the piercing nail has become a key to unlock the door, that I may see the good will of the Lord. And what can I see as I look through the hole? Both the nail and the wound cry out that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. The sword pierced his soul and came close to his heart, so that he might be able to feel compassion for me in my weaknesses.

Through these sacred wounds we can see the secret of his heart, the great mystery of love, the sincerity of his mercy with which he visited us from on high. Where have your love, your mercy, your compassion shone out more luminously than in your wounds, sweet, gentle Lord of mercy? More mercy than this no one has than that he lay down his life for those who are doomed to death.”  (St. Bernard)

The Three Comings of Jesus Christ

Advent_heading copy 2Jesus Christ is our rock, our support, our comfort always with us. St. Bernard says there are three comings of Jesus Christ:

“We know that the coming of the Lord is threefold: the third coming is between the other two and it is not visible in the way they are. At his first coming the Lord was seen on earth and lived among men, who saw him and hated him. At his last coming All flesh shall see the salvation of our God, and They shall look on him whom they have pierced. In the middle, the hidden coming, only the chosen see him, and they see him within themselves; and so their souls are saved. The first coming was in flesh and weakness, the middle coming is in spirit and power, and the final coming will be in glory and majesty.

“This middle coming is like a road that leads from the first coming to the last. At the first, Christ was our redemption; at the last, he will become manifest as our life; but in this middle way he is our rest and our consolation.

“If you think that I am inventing what I am saying about the middle coming, listen to the Lord himself: If anyone loves me, he will keep my words, and the Father will love him, and we shall come to him. Elsewhere I have read: Whoever fears the Lord does good things. – but I think that what was said about whoever loves him was more important: that whoever loves him will keep his words. Where are these words to be kept? In the heart certainly, as the Prophet says I have hidden your sayings in my heart so that I do not sin against you. Keep the word of God in that way: Blessed are those who keep it. Let it penetrate deep into the core of your soul and then flow out again in your feelings and the way you behave; because if you feed your soul well it will grow and rejoice.396px-Stained_glass_St_Bernard_MNMA_Cl3273

The Humanity of God

You can’t say it more beautifully than the way St. Bernard says it in this sermon.

“The kindness and love of God our savior have appeared.  Thanks be to God, through whom we receive such abundant kindness in this pilgrimage, this exile, this distress.

” Before his humanity appeared, God’s kindness lay concealed. Of course it was already in existence, because the mercy of the Lord is eternal, but how could we know it was so great? It was promised but not yet experienced: hence many did not believe in it. At various times and in various different ways, God spoke through the prophets, saying I know the plans I have in mind for you: plans for peace, not disaster.

” What reply did we make, we who felt the affliction, and knew nothing of peace? ‘How long will you keep saying “Peace, peace” when there is no peace?’ And so the angels of peace weep bitterly saying Lord, who has believed our report?

“But now at last let us believe our own eyes, because all God’s promises are to be trusted. So that it cannot escape the notice of even troubled eyes, He has set up his tabernacle in the sun. Behold, peace is no longer promised, but conferred; no longer delayed, but given; no longer predicted, but bestowed.

“Behold, God has sent down to earth a bag bulging with his mercy, a bag that, at the passion, is torn open so that our ransom pours out of it onto us. A small bag, perhaps, but a full one: for it was a small child that was given to us, but in him dwells all the fulness of the Godhead.

“After the fulness of time had come, there came too the fulness of the Godhead. He came in the flesh, so that at least he might make himself manifest to our earthly minds, so that when this humanity of his appeared, his kindness might also be acknowledged. Where the humanity of God appears, his kindness can no longer be hidden. In what way, indeed, could he have better commended his kindness than by assuming my flesh? My flesh, that is, not Adam’s, as it was before the fall.

“What greater proof could he have given of his mercy than by taking upon himself that very thing which needed mercy? Where is there such perfect loving-kindness as in the fact that for our sake the Word of God became perishable like the grass? Lord, what is man, that you make much of him or pay him any heed?

“Let us infer from this how much God cares for us. Let us know from this what God thinks of us, what he feels about us. Do not ask about your own sufferings; but about what God suffered. Learn from what he was made for you, how much he makes of you, so that his kindness may show itself to you from his humanity.

“The lesser he has made himself in his humanity, the greater has he shown himself in kindness. The more he humbles himself on my account, the more powerfully he engages my love. The kindness and humanity of God our Saviour appeared says St Paul. The humanity of God shows the greatness of his kindness, and he who added humanity to the name of God gave great proof of this kindness.”