Today, 13 Jun 2012, is the happy memorial of Blessed Gerard of Clairvaux, an elder brother of St Bernard of Clairvaux. At the time Bernard was inspired to join the monks at Citeaux, Gerard was a knight fighting in a siege at Grancy. It took Gerard quite a while to discover that God was calling him to be a knight in His kingdom, but he eventually got the message and lived this calling to the full.
Blessed Gerard of Clairvaux was born in the latter part of the 11th century into a noble family residing in the castle of Fontaines, dear Dijon in France. All he ever wanted in life was to be a knight, fighting battles. When Bernard started inspiring his relatives and friends to come with him to Citeaux, Gerard found it hard to comprehend why such excellent fellow knights would want to become monks living in swamp land.
In order to detach Gerard from his ideal of being a knight, God had to use a form of shock tactics. To begin with, Bernard came again to invite him, and when he wasn’t getting anywhere prophesied that things would change when Gerard suffered a lance wound below his ribs. The promised wound happened soon after when the garrison was surprised at night and Gerard became a prisoner of war. For several months Gerard was incarcerated. As he suffered through each day he began to think more and more about God and what Bernard and his followers were doing to serve Him. Slowly, very slowly, his mind detached from the ideal of being a noble knight and began to entertain the notion of becoming a knight of the King of kings. When God determined that Gerard had at last got the message, he was miraculously set free from the dungeon.
From there Gerard settled his affairs and presented himself at Citeaux asking to be admitted as a monk. The lives of these monks were full of prayer and lots of penance. During the night they would rise to pray in chapel, and spent as many as seven hours in prayer a day. Communication was usually done via sign language so as to keep silence and they only had one very simple meal a day. It was to this battle to win perfection, self mastery, and the conversion of souls that Gerard dedicated himself.
When Bernard moved to Clairvaux to set up the new monastery there, he asked Gerard to come with him and to serve as cellarer. A cellarer’s task was to look after all of the provisions of the monastery. To do this Gerard got involved in all of the manual labour involved in planting vineyards, tending herbs, raising livestock, setting up orchards and growing wheat. They were humble tasks, but he did them with all his heart and to the very best of his ability. Once in a while when things were grim Bernard had to remind Gerard about God’s providence and Gerard in his turn was a source of immense encouragement and wisdom to Bernard.
Gerard with God’s grace managed to pentetrate the secret of monastic life, that all they did was to love Jesus Christ better, and to see His presence in all the things they did and to unite themselves to Him as closely as possible. When monastic life is lived into order to show Jesus how much He is loved, it becomes a joy.
After a while Bernard was called upon to go and preach in various cities. Wisely he took Gerard with him. Gerard had a gift of being able to deftly sift a crowd, into those who had a true need to see Bernard and those who didn’t. This was such a valuable gift, because it meant that Bernard wasn’t being distracted with frivolous queries, that Bernard made a bargain with God. If Gerard who had been ill was made able to go on Bernard’s next preaching mission then Bernard would let God take Gerard to Himself at the time of His choosing afterwards. Having got through that round of preaching, they were only back in Clairvaux for a few months before the good Lord gave Gerard the grace of a happy death in the year 1138.
Needless to say, Bernard was distraught at his brother’s death, because they were brothers in blood, brothers in Jesus and brothers in religious life, but he bowed to God’s decree. Bernard lived out the active preaching life of Jesus, Gerard lived out the hidden life of Jesus. Both of them have been recognised by the Church as having lived lives of great sanctity.
To learn more about Bernard, his brother Gerard and several other holy members of their family, read ‘The Family that overtook Christ’ by Fr M. Raymond OCSO, published by St Paul editions and also available on Amazon Kindle. It is one of those books that you will always treasure the memory of having read it, and the challenge of the call to holiness that it contains.
Blessed Gerard of Clairvaux, we love you, too. Pray for us.