Solemnity of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux
Wis 7:7-10, 15-16, Wis 8 65 , 1 Jn 4:7-16, Jn 15:9-17
Jesus’ words: “as the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love” are a timeless treasure for all who would aspire to live in faith. St. Bernard it would seem had access to this truth and made it his personal meditation and reflection, made it his focus in many of his writings and he lived by contemplation in the awareness of God’s nearness and generosity so that he attracted others to join him in living the monastic way and gave them reason to surrender distractions and entertainments and be grounded in the reality of God pouring forth his love on us at all times.
The Judaeo Christian tradition holds wisdom in a special place. We repeated the phrase from chapter 8 of Wisdom: “Wisdom I have loved; wisdom I have sought” as our response to a passage from chapter 7 of Wisdom, today’s first reading. Bernard reflected on this choice of wisdom over beauty and strength, and now is calling us in the age of data and technology to pursue more than the accumulation of bits and pieces of information. A life lived in the awareness of being loved by God and being entrusted with transmitting divine love, is possible for everyone. Rich or poor, alphabet soup after your name or not – every one of us is capable of bringing God’s tenderness, God’s mercy, God’s compassion and God’s grace to others. It requires using intellect and will, choosing what we give our time to, choosing how we conduct ourselves, more in the seemingly insignificant day to day, than in the one big dramatic moment, because God’s love is encountered in a gentle breeze, a whisper, more often than in a blazing fire or a thundering wind.
Cultivating the awareness that we are always being drawn into the dynamism of love being engaged in by the Holy Trinity, suffuses our existence with a meaning that cuts through the tedium and boredom so many contemporary people are feeling, which disappoints them so remarkably and consistently. It is into this complete joy God is inviting us by our encounter with Jesus who has given us his Spirit, that our souls rejoice, filled up in a way that words often fail to be able to convey.
St. Bernard wrote about God’s love as being accessible and beautiful, which did not mean that his writings were sugary or sentimental. Bernard was a realist. He knew himself to be flawed and in need of a savior. Coming before God in prayer was not about seeking a sustained series of spiritual consolations and delights but an encounter with “the truth of our condition in God’s sight.” For this reason, Bernard of Clairvaux implores the Word to come to him, full of grace and truth. In Sermon 74 he writes “I need both of these. I need truth that I may not be able to hide from him and grace that I may not wish to hide. Indeed, without both of these, his visitation would not be complete. For the stark reality of truth would be intolerable without grace, and the gladness of grace might appear lax and uncontrolled without truth.”
As members of the church, of the believing People of God, this Sunday with Saint Bernard we renew our resolve to live the command to love as God loves. Profoundly grateful that Jesus calls us his friends — and we know what the children in the schoolyard say, you can pick your friends but you can’t pick your family — we are brought to think about the relationships of faith that encourage, sustain and help us to grow and we pledge to be people who encourage others, invite them to join us at the table of God’s love to receive his sustenance and to live lives marked by a stance of caring and offering help – we will live as Jesus lived.
For the monastic community, let me offer another gem from St. Bernard that speaks to all evangelists who have a burning desire to make Christ known and loved so that others might come to believe in him as well, from Sermon 61: “How will you then be able to set the hearts of others on fire by your words and witness? If, gazing on the face of Christ, you feel unable to let yourself be healed and transformed, then enter into the Lord’s heart, into his wounds, for that is the abode of divine mercy.”
Called by these scriptures today to choose wisdom, to live the command to love, to abide in the love of God and to embrace the freedom offered those who choose to walk in faith, may our ives, like that of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, encourage others to live as recipients of and bearers of God’s love each and every day!