20th Saturday of August
Solemnity of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux
Wisdom 7:7, 10-15 ; Phil 3:17-4.1: Mt 5:13-19
This Feast of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux is being celebrated in many Cistercian communities today in a wide variety of cultures and in many countries. We share this commemoration together with our brothers of the Common Observance in Vietnam. Others of us join the monasteries in Brazil, and such distant countries as New Zealand and Indonesia in honoring Saint Bernard today. Moreover, Bernard is a Doctor of the Roman Church and his mass is being offered today by numerous priests, some of whom are in lonely areas of our planet.
The Abbot of Clairvaux had a gift with words, and his influence both in speaking and writing was extensive already in his lifetime. Bernard was still being read after his death and his spiritual influence continues through the centuries to stimulate those who read his works to dedicated lives of seeking God. At the same time, as a pastor and administrator, he proved highly efficient. He was to found more than 150 Cistercian houses. In addition during a schism of the Catholic Church he was commissioned by the Holy Father to defend his claims. He gave himself to this demanding work with great energy. He was to suffer criticism as a result and to experience opposition and further criticism in the course of his defense of monastic traditional observance.
The reading from the Book of Wisdom today is most appropriate for this commemoration on Saint Bernard who made the search for Christ, true Wisdom, the purpose of his whole life. I asked in prayer and knowledge was given to me; I sought by entreaty and received Wisdom. Bernard was uncommonly capable in practical affairs and gifted in his use of words. He employed these gifts , yet his chief interest was growing in understanding and union with God This concern was a major reason why he refused the offer to be made a bishop.
When Saint Paul wrote to the Philippians he was suffering distressing anxiety. The Philippians were being oppressed so that he warns them to stand firm. Many had already yielded to the seductions o f the pagan world that was dominant in their city. The yielding to the practices and attitudes so prominent in society is already a major issue in early Christianity, just as it remains a source of falling away from the faith today in our modern culture. Adapting to attitudes and values that are popular, up to date is legitimate in certain areas, but undermines spiritual values when followed in others. The history of our Order provides examples of such erosion and gradual loss of the Cistercian way of life. Saint Robert and our founders left Molesme to begin a more austere observance due to this weakening of the authentic Benedictine spirit.
The Gospel we have just heard tell us of two events in Jesus’ life that remain relevant for us today. He lowered himself in submitting to the baptism that John gave as a remedy for sin. Our Lord very deliberately overcame John’s objection to the abasement involved in such an action. He wished to take on our sins and to make it clear he wished to be identified with us sinners, innocent as he was. This act of self-abasement was promptly followed by an impressive sign of approval in the form of a voice from heaven. God declared the authority of Christ’s teaching. We are told to take his words to heart, obviously so as to live by them. May the grace of this sacrament enable us to carry out these words from God Himself.