Today, 20 August 2012, is the feast day of St Bernard of Clairvaux, priest, Cistercian monk and Doctor of the Church, who lived most of his life in 12th century France. In life he inspired many to embrace a radical Christian lifestyle, and several hundred years later his writings are still inspiring people to love God more and to be more deeply committed to Him.
St Bernard of Clairvaux was born in 1090 at Fontaines into a noble family of Dijon, France. He was the third son of seven children, several of whom are recognised as Saints. Sorrow entered his life early with the death of his mother when Bernard was in his late teens. When he responded to the call of Jesus to follow Him as a monk, he rounded up 30 friends and relatives and inspired them to join the new monastery at Citeaux founded by St Robert, St Alberic and St Stephen Harding. They all arrived at Easter 1112.
Three years later, Bernard was sent as abbot to found a new monastrery in the Valley of Light, known as Clairvaux. Bernard remained as abbot for the rest of his life, but was also called upon to preach, to advise popes, and negotiate peace between warring princes. Busy with the things of God, he founded many monasteries and wrote many letters, sermons and books about spritual matters and theological subjects. To him God granted the gift of miracles. Despite all this, Bernard’s one desire was for God alone.
He had a very deep love of the Blessed Mother, and always greeted her with a Hail Mary whenever he passed one of her statues. One day he heard her voice reply ‘Hail Bernard’, so much did this practice of his please her. To St Bernard is attributed the powerful prayer to Our Lady known as the Memorare:
Remember, O most loving Virgin Mary that never was it known that anyone, who fled to your protection, implored your help or sought your intercession was left unaided. Inspired with this confidence therefore I fly to you, O Virgins of virgins, my mother, to you do I come, before you I stand, sinful and sorrowful. Do not O Mother of the Word of God despise my prayers, but in your mercy graciously hear and answer them. Amen.
To St Bernard is also attributed the Prayer to the Shoulder Wound of Jesus:
O Loving Jesus, meek Lamb of God, I a miserable sinner, salute and worship the most Sacred Wound of Your Shoulder on which You bore Your heavy Cross, which so tore Your Flesh and laid bare Your Bones so as to inflict on You an anguish greater than any other Wound of Your Most Blessed Body. I adore You, O Jesus most sorrowful; I praise and glorify You and give You thanks for this most sacred and painful Wound, beseeching You by that exceeding pain and by the crushing burden of Your heavy Cross to be merciful to me, a sinner, to forgive me all my mortal and venial sins, and to lead me on towards Heaven along the Way of Your Cross. Amen. (Our Father… Hail Mary… x 3)
Here is a small taste of St Bernard’s writings from ‘On the Canticle of Canticles’ (or Song of Songs) : ‘ The Holy Spirit wisely compares the bridegrom’s name to oil when he leads the bride to exclaim: ‘Your name is as oil poured out.’ For oil gives light, nourishes, and anoints. Oil kindles fire, renews the flesh and eases pain. It is light, food and medicine. How much more so is the name of the true Bridegroom! When preached, His Name gives light ; when contemplated, it nourishes the soul ; when invoked, it heals and eases our wounds. We can profitably meditate upon each point…The name of Jesus is not only light, but it is also food. Are you not strengthened as often as you call it to mind? What else so strengthens the soul of the person contemplating it! What else so renews our tired senses, encourages us to virtue, establishes good and holy habits and develops noble affections? All spiritual consolation dries up unless infused with this oil; it all becomes insipid unless seasoned with this salt. If someone writes a book, I cannot savour it unless it speaks to me of Jesus. If someone speaks or preaches, I cannot enjoy it unless I find Jesus therein.’
After a lifetime of bringing souls to God, on August 20, 1153, God called Bernard into eternity.
If you think you are up to being challenged today by St Bernard and his holy family, read ‘The Family that overtook Christ’ by M. Raymond, which is also available on Kindle. If you feel up to the challenge of reading his writings, try here and here.
St Bernard of Clairvaux, pray for us.