O Pelican of Mercy! O Jesus Lord!
Unclean am I, but cleanse me in your Blood;
Of which a single drop, for sinners spilt,
Is ransom for a world's entire guilt.
In the image above we see the "pious pelican," traditionally a symbol of the wounded Jesus, since according to legend the pelican is the most loving of creatures and pierces her own breast to feed her young. As we celebrate the Solemnity of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, our great Cistercian father and teacher, we ponder these words from his Sermon 61, On the Song of Songs:
Where can the weak find a place of firm security and peace, except in the wounds of the Savior? Indeed, the more secure is my place there the more he can do to help me. The world rages, the flesh is heavy, and the devil lays his snares, but I do not fall, for my feet are planted on firm rock. I may have sinned gravely. My conscience would be distressed, but it would not be in turmoil, for I would recall the wounds of the the Lord: He was wounded for our iniquities. What sin is there so deadly that it cannot be pardoned by the death of Christ? And so if I bear in mind this strong, effective remedy, I can never again be terrified by the malignancy of sin.
Surely the man who said: “My sin is too great to merit pardon,” was wrong. He was speaking as though he were not a member of Christ and had no share in his merits, so that he could claim them as his own, as a member of the body can claim what belongs to the head. As for me, I can appropriate whatsoever I lack from the Heart of the Lord who abounds in mercy. They pierced his hands and feet and opened his side with a spear. Through the openings of these wounds I may drink honey from the rock and oil from the hardest stone: that is, I may taste and see that the Lord is sweet.
He was thinking thoughts of peace, and I did not know it, for who knows the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? But the piercing nail has become a key to unlock the door, that I may see the good will of the Lord. And what can I see as I look through the hole? Both the nail and the wound cry out that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. The lance pierced his soul and came close to his Heart, so that he might be able to feel compassion for me in my weaknesses.
Through these sacred wounds we can see the secret of his heart, the great mystery of love, the sincerity of his mercy with which he visited us from on high. Where have your love, your mercy, your compassion shone out more luminously than in your wounds, sweet, gentle Lord of mercy? More mercy than this no one has than that he lay down his life for those who are doomed to death.
My merit comes from his mercy; for I do not lack merit so long as he does not lack mercy. And if the Lord’s mercies are many, then I am rich in merits. For even if I am aware of many sins, what does it matter? Where sin abounded grace has overflowed. And if the Lord’s mercies are from all ages forever, I too will sing of the mercies of the Lord forever. Will I not sing of my own righteousness? No, Lord, I shall be mindful only of your justice. Yet that too is my own; for God has made you my righteousness.
Opening verse from the hymn Adoro Te Devote. Photograph of a mosaic in the sanctuary of the Abbey church by Brother Brian.