Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153), Mellifluous (“honey-tongued”) Doctor of the Church, Marian devotee, and Last Father of the Church. Saint Bernard has been referred to as the “man of the twelfth century,” responsible for healing the Church schism of that time, preaching the Second Crusade, writing prayers, poems, and hymns, and “re-founding” the Cistercian Order. The founding abbot of Clairvaux Abbey in Burgundy, Saint Bernard is recognized as one of the most commanding Church leaders, as well as one of the greatest spiritual masters of all times.
Throughout the weekend, I will be posting selections from the writings of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux-- writings which provide a spiritual foundation of our faith, love, hope, and reliance on both Our Lord and Blessed Mother.
“Why have I come here?”, and then remind himself of his main duty - to lead a holy life.
Blessed Virgin Mary, and her role as mediator and co-redemptrix—topics which had not previously received much scholarly attention. Saint Bernard wrote, “God has wanted that we obtain nothing if not through the hands of Mary.”
“In you and for you and from you the kindly hand of the Almighty recreates everything that He has created.” Through contemplating what God did in her with the “re-creation” of the Incarnation he said: “Every soul, even though weighed down with sins, ensnared in vice, caught in the allurements of the passions, held captive in exile, and imprisoned in the body ... even, I say, though it be thus damned and in despair, can ﬁnd within itself not only reasons for yearning for the hope of pardon and the hope of mercy, but also for making bold to aspire to the nuptials of the Word, not hesitating to establish a covenant of union with God, and not being ashamed to carry the sweet yoke of love along with the King of the Angels.”
“Whoever you are that perceive yourself during this mortal existence to be rather drifting in treacherous waters, at the mercy of the winds and the waves, than walking on ﬁrm ground, turn not away your eyes from the splendor of this guiding star, unless thou wish to be submerged by the storm. ... Look at the star, call upon Mary. ... With her for guide, you shall not go astray, while invoking her, you shall never lose heart ... if she walks before you, you shall not grow weary; if she shows you favor, you shall reach the goal.”
devotion to the Saints, on the veneration of the Blessed Virgin, various apologies, and a commentary on the Song of Songs. He wrote many prayers, including one to Jesus on the Cross. He wrote a book of 86 sermons for the whole year. He also wrote the texts for hymns, three of which we still sing to this day ("O Sacred Head, sore wounded," "Jesus, the very thought of Thee," "O Jesus, joy of loving hearts”).
During his service to the Pope, he wrote the Rule of the Knights Templar-- the oath that knight would take to enter the Order of the Temple and serve the Holy See, an oath which became the model of Christian nobility:
“I swear that I will defend by my words, arms, and every possible means, even with the loss of my own life, the mysteries and articles of the Faith, the Seven Sacraments, the Symbols of the Apostles and of St. Athanasius, the Old and New Testaments with the explanations of the Holy Fathers approved by the Church, the unity of the Divine Nature and the Trinity of Persons in God, the virginity of the Virgin Mary before, during and after the parturition.
I promise obedience to the Grand Master of the Order according to the statutes of our Blessed Father Bernard. I will engage in combat on foreign lands whenever it is necessary. I will never flee from the infidels, even should I be alone. I will observe perpetual chastity.
I will assist with my words, arms, and actions religious persons, principally the abbots and religious of the Cistercian Order, as our brethren and special friends with whom we have a perpetual association.
I voluntarily swear before God and His Holy Gospel that I will keep all these commitments.”
Saint Bernard died at Clairvaux in 1153. He was canonized by Pope Alexander III in 1174. Pope Pius VII declared him a Doctor of the Church in 1830. Saint Bernard is remembered best for his unwavering faith in Christ and Mary, Star of the Sea—a faith he worked tirelessly to promote throughout the world. The writings and prayers of Saint Bernard remain, inspiring us to deeper faith and reliance on Our Lord and His Blessed Mother.
O God, by whose grace your servant Bernard of Clairvaux, kindled with the flame of your love, became a burning and a shining light in your Church: Grant that we also may be aflame with the spirit of love and discipline, and walk before you as children of light; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
“Love is sufficient of itself; it gives pleasure by itself and because of itself. It is its own merit, its own reward. Love looks for no cause outside itself, no effect beyond itself. Its profit lies in the practice. Of all the movements, sensations and feelings of the soul, love is the only one in which the creature can respond to the Creator and make some sort of similar return however unequal though it be. For when God loves, all he desires is to be loved in return. The sole purpose of his love is to be loved, in the knowledge that those who love him are made happy by their love of him.”
“Look at that clever calumniator! He begins by fetching a deep sigh, he affects to be humble, and puts on a modest look, and with a voice choking with sobs tries to gloss over the slander which is on the tip of his tongue One would fancy that he expressly assumed a calm and easy demeanor; for when he speaks against his brother, it is in a tender and compassionate tone. I am really hurt, says he, to find that our brother has fallen into such a sin; you all know how much I love him, and how often I have tried to correct him. It is not today that I have noticed his failing; for I should always be on my guard to speak of others, but others have spoken of it too. It would be in vain to disguise the fact; it is only too true, and with tears in my eyes I tell it to you. This poor unfortunate brother has talent, but it must be confessed that he is very guilty, and however great may be our friendship for him, it is impossible to excuse him.”
I would now like to reflect on only two of the main aspects of Bernard’s rich doctrine: they concern Jesus Christ and Mary Most Holy, his Mother. His concern for the Christian’s intimate and vital participation in God’s love in Jesus Christ brings no new guidelines to the scientific status of theology. However, in a more decisive manner than ever, the Abbot of Clairvaux embodies the theologian, the contemplative and the mystic. Jesus alone Bernard insists in the face of the complex dialectical reasoning of his time Jesus alone is “honey in the mouth, song to the ear, jubilation in the heart (mel in ore, in aure melos, in corde iubilum).”
The title Doctor Mellifluous, attributed to Bernard by tradition, stems precisely from this; indeed, his praise of Jesus Christ “flowed like honey”. In the extenuating battles between Nominalists and Realists two philosophical currents of the time the Abbot of Clairvaux never tired of repeating that only one name counts, that of Jesus of Nazareth. “All food of the soul is dry”, he professed, “unless it is moistened with this oil; insipid, unless it is seasoned with this salt. What you write has no savor for me unless I have read Jesus in it” (In Canticum Sermones XV, 6: PL 183, 847). For Bernard, in fact, true knowledge of God consisted in a personal, profound experience of Jesus Christ and of his love. And, dear brothers and sisters, this is true for every Christian: faith is first and foremost a personal, intimate encounter with Jesus, it is having an experience of his closeness, his friendship and his love. It is in this way that we learn to know him ever better, to love him and to follow him more and more. May this happen to each one of us!
In another famous Sermon on the Sunday in the Octave of the Assumption the Holy Abbot described with passionate words Mary’s intimate participation in the redeeming sacrifice of her Son. “O Blessed Mother”, he exclaimed, “a sword has truly pierced your soul!… So deeply has the violence of pain pierced your soul, that we may rightly call you more than a martyr for in you participation in the passion of the Son by far surpasses in intensity the physical sufferings of martyrdom” (14: PL 183, 437-438). Bernard had no doubts: “per Mariam ad Iesum”, through Mary we are led to Jesus. He testifies clearly to Mary’s subordination to Jesus, in accordance with the foundation of traditional Mariology. Yet the text of the Sermone also documents the Virgin’s privileged place in the economy of salvation, subsequent to the Mother’s most particular participation (compassio) in the sacrifice of the Son. It is not for nothing that a century and a half after Bernard’s death, Dante Alighieri, in the last canticle of the Divine Comedy, was to put on the lips of the Doctor Mellifluus the sublime prayer to Mary: “Virgin Mother, daughter of your own Son, / humble and exalted more than any creature, / fixed term of the eternal counsel” (Paradise XXXIII, vv. 1 ff.).
These reflections, characteristic of a person in love with Jesus and Mary as was Bernard, are still a salutary stimulus not only to theologians but to all believers. Some claim to have solved the fundamental questions on God, on man and on the world with the power of reason alone. St Bernard, on the other hand, solidly founded on the Bible and on the Fathers of the Church, reminds us that without a profound faith in God, nourished by prayer and contemplation, by an intimate relationship with the Lord, our reflections on the divine mysteries risk becoming an empty intellectual exercise and losing their credibility. Theology refers us back to the “knowledge of the Saints”, to their intuition of the mysteries of the living God and to their wisdom, a gift of the Holy Spirit, which become a reference point for theological thought. Together with Bernard of Clairvaux, we too must recognize that man seeks God better and finds him more easily “in prayer than in discussion”. In the end, the truest figure of a theologian and of every evangelizer remains the Apostle John who laid his head on the Teacher’s breast.
I would like to conclude these reflections on St Bernard with the invocations to Mary that we read in one of his beautiful homilies. “In danger, in distress, in uncertainty”, he says, “think of Mary, call upon Mary. She never leaves your lips, she never departs from your heart; and so that you may obtain the help of her prayers, never forget the example of her life. If you follow her, you cannot falter; if you pray to her, you cannot despair; if you think of her, you cannot err. If she sustains you, you will not stumble; if she protects you, you have nothing to fear; if she guides you, you will never flag; if she is favorable to you, you will attain your goal…”
Inspired by the origins and spiritual history of the Holy Rosary, we continue our meditation on the psalms, one each day, in order, for 150 days.
Psalm: Psalm 117: Doxology of All the Nations
1 Praise the LORD, all you nations;
extol him, all you peoples.
2 For great is his love toward us,
and the faithfulness of the LORD endures forever.
Praise the LORD.
Day 232 of 365
Prayer Intentions: For an increase in faith and reliance on Jesus and Our Blessed Mother; For all those in the armed services; For humility and love;
Requested Intentions: Successful return to the faith (F); Emotional, physical, and financial healing (D); Diagnosis and recovery (A); For a successful relationship (J); For healing of a head injury (S); For employment for two sons (R); For sanctification of a fried considering a move (A); For friends experiencing job difficulties (A); Health, employment, and conversion of a son (S); Health, financial success, positive move (S); Financial security, and health, guidance, and protection for children (ML); For the religious and children of Saint Xavier’s Boarding School, India (FB); Fortitude and faith, Career success (A); Healing of a relationship, employment (A); End to debt and legal difficulties; immigration success (B); For a mother’s continued employment (S); For continued blessings on a relationship (S); For a sick grandmother (R); For the building of a Catholic community, family, and law practice (M); Those suffering from depression (J); Successful adoption (S); Healing of a father battling cancer (S).
Psalm: Psalm 117: Doxology of All the Nations
Why pray the Rosary every day for a year?
Each time the Blessed Virgin has appeared-- whether it be to Saint Bernadette Soubirous at Lourdes; to Lucia, Jacinta, and Francisco at Fatima; or to Mariette Beco at Banneux-- she has asserted the importance, saving grace, and power of praying the Holy Rosary on a daily basis. Based upon her words, the Rosary is penance and conversion for sinners, a pathway to peace, an end to war, and a powerful act of faith in Jesus Christ. Pope Paul VI presented the Rosary as a powerful means to reach Christ "not merely with Mary but indeed, insofar as this is possible to us, in the same way as Mary, who is certainly the one who thought about Him more than anyone else has ever done."
To show us how this is done, perhaps no one has been more eloquent than the great Cardinal Newman, who wrote: "The great power of the Rosary consists in the fact that it translates the Creed into Prayer. Of course, the Creed is already in a certain sense a prayer and a great act of homage towards God, but the Rosary brings us to meditate again on the great truth of His life and death, and brings this truth close to our hearts. Even Christians, although they know God, usually fear rather than love Him. The strength of the Rosary lies in the particular manner in which it considers these mysteries, since all our thinking about Christ is intertwined with the thought of His Mother, in the relations between Mother and Son; the Holy Family is presented to us, the home in which God lived His infinite love."
As Mary said at Fatima, "Jesus wants to use you to make Me known and loved. He wishes to establish the devotion to My Immaculate Heart throughout the world. I promise salvation to whoever embraces it; these souls will be dear to God, like flowers put by Me to adorn his throne."