Monday, August 21, 2017

Saint Bernard

Saint Bernard constantly places before us the major events of the life of Christ, and writes: “He was incomprehensible and inaccessible, invisible and completely unthinkable. Now he wishes to be comprehended, wishes to be seen, wishes to be thought about. How, do you ask? As lying in the manger, resting in the Virgin’s lap, preaching on the mountain, praying through the night, or hanging on the cross, growing pale in death, free among the dead and ruling in hell, and also as rising on the third day, showing the apostles the place of the nails, the signs of victory, and finally as ascending over heaven’s secrets in their sight.” Nat BVM 11.

Bernard tells us that the invisible God wished to be seen in the flesh and to live among humans as a human, so that he might recapture all the affections of humans and little by little, lead them to spiritual love. Christ Jesus uses our attraction to his human existence to take our disordered affections and desires and reconfigure them around himself. And as a person advances in love and contemplation, he is more and more present to God. “A person is present to God to the extent that the person loves him,” says Bernard. This will lead to the heights of the intimacy with the divine Bridegroom in unity of spirit.

Finally Saint Bernard stresses that the call to these heights is universal, it is open to everyone. Bernard writes: “Every soul, even if burdened with sin, enmeshed with vice, ensnared by the allurements of pleasure, a captive in exile, imprisoned in the body, caught in mud, fixed in mire, bound to its members, a slave to care, distracted by business, afflicted with sorrow, wandering and straying…every soul, I say, standing thus under condemnation and without hope, has the power to turn and find that it can not only breathe the fresh air of the hope of pardon and mercy, but also dare to aspire to the nuptials of the Word, not fearing to enter into alliance with God or to bear the sweet yoke of love with the King of angels. Why should it not venture with confidence into the presence of him by whose image it sees itself honored, and in whose likeness it knows itself made glorious? Why should it fear a majesty when its very origin gives it ground for confidence? All it has to do is to take care to preserve its natural purity by innocence of life, or rather to study to beautify and adorn with the brightness of its actions and dispositions the glorious beauty which is its birthright. Why then does it not set to work?” Sermon 83.1

Filippino Lippi, Apparition of the Virgin Mary to Saint Bernard, 1480, oil on panel, 83 x 77 in., Badia, Florence. Excerpts from Father Timothy's homily for the Solemnity.