20 August 2014

St. Bernard of Clairvaux


It was said of St. Bernard that his personality “was so attractive, his power of persuasion so difficult to withstand, that we are told that mothers hid their children and wives clung to their spouses lest he attract them into the monastery.” Who was this man? Bernard’s father was a knight who had died in battle and his mother also died when Bernard was still quite young. In the year 1098 Bernard felt called to join a monastic community of reformed Benedictines. In his excitement about entering the monastery, he also persuaded 24 of his friends, four of his brothers and two of his uncles to join with him. This shows the influence that he had at a young age! The community had been dwindling, so we can imagine what it meant when this zealous young man showed up with thirty other men, ready to learn and live the monastic life. Bernard really wanted to live a hidden life, spending his time doing simply manual work and praying to God. Instead, St. Bernard and 11 others were sent out to establish a monastery. Before the monastery was established the town was called Wormwood and was a haven for thieves; after the monastery was established the area was known as Clairvaux, the Valley of Light. It was here in Clairvaux where Bernard was positioned as abbot and became well-known throughout Christendom.

This newly established monastery grew fast and soon had 130 monks. At first St. Bernard was very strict about fasting and would allow the monks to eat very little, but an experience with serious sickness helped him to understand that God had created the body with a need for food, so he reformed the requirements, although life was still quite strict. He felt led to start preaching and became so famous for his preaching that he was sought from all over and people started flocking to hear Bernard of Clairvaux. The teachings brought a lot of people, but St. Bernard also prayed for the sick who came, and many of them were healed by God – sometimes when St. Bernard simply made the sign of the cross over them.

All St. Bernard wanted was a life of contemplation in Clairvaux, but his reputation was wide spread and his advice sought after by princes, popes, and other high ranking leaders in the religious and political arenas. St. Bernard used his influence to work for real justice and he did his very best to make sure that holy and righteous men were placed in positions of leadership. In fact, St. Bernard influenced many bishops and other leaders to change their ways and humble themselves.

As St. Bernard grew older, he began to tire from all his travelling and preaching, and settling disputes, but finally he was able to return to Clairvaux where he continued in his meditations and writings. He spent his last few years writing, and his works are still among the classic works on the Catholic faith. On August 20, 1153 he gathered those who were close to him and received the Last Sacraments. He died at the age of 63.

O God, by whose grace thy servant St. Bernard of Clairvaux, enkindled with the fire of thy love, became a burning and a shining light in thy Church: Grant that we also may be aflame with the spirit of love and discipline, and may ever walk before thee as children of light; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, liveth and reigneth, one God, now and for ever. Amen.