Chapter Talk – Fr. Michael Casagram – Advent in the Spirituality of St Bernard 12/06/20

+ADVENT IN THE SPIRITUALITY OF ST BERNARD                   Chapter Talk 6 Dec.’20

Pondering on what I might share with you this morning, I felt myself drawn to Merton’s Seasons of Celebration. We have used this for 2nd Nocturn readings in the past but his chapter on St Bernard’s thoughts on Advent deserves further consideration.

Fr Louis tells us of how:

“The twelfth century Cistercians place a special emphasis on the coming of Christ by His Spirit to the Christian Person. Like the Rhenish mystics they contemplate His hidden birth in our lives, His Advent here and now in the mystery of prayer and providence.” (p.61)

As we think of contemplating about “His hidden birth in our lives” we are given a lot to ponder, a greater appreciation of what becomes all too easily mere routine in our daily lives. We are engaged in a lot of extra work these day will all the shipping of our products going one but this too can become routine unless we are serving a deeper purpose in it all.

We have dedicated ourselves to a whole life of prayer. This is our contribution to the whole of the Church and of our society our time that is going through a lot of trauma. What I would hope from these reflections is a greater sense of gratitude for the gift we have been given. The hidden nature of our life may leave us vulnerable on many levels. As Merton describes this:

“Following an austere and lonely path, deprived of earthly consolation, living in emptiness, aware of their dependence on God, Cistercians live ‘as little ones,’ the Children of the Church. In this way they seek God Himself, beyond all visible things, and because they seek Him in faith he comes to them hidden in the Sacramentum of Advent.”(pp. 62-3)

We live in a world where public opinion through instant communication is more and more common. It is all too easy for any one of us to wonder if we are making any real contribution to all that is going on because of the very hiddenness of our life. Contrary to appearances, our faith empowers us to make the most lasting change in our world, opens the way for the very Advent of Christ so desperately needed. Merton points out that St Bernard sees:

“The Sacrament (of Advent) is the Presence of Christ in the world as Savior. In his theology Advent does not merely commemorate the Incarnation as a historical event, nor is it a mere devotional preparation for the Feast of Christmas, nor an anticipation of the Last Judgment. It is above all the ‘sacrament’ of the presence of God in the world and in time in His Incarnate Word, in His Kingdom, above all His presence in our own lives as our Savior.” (p. 64)

The presence of Christ in our hearts, in our daily lives overcomes all the obstacles to our human and divine growth. This Christ, Merton tells us:

“never grows tired, for He is the power of God, ever ready to revive us and lift us up. But we must call upon Him for help in our battles. Finally, He ‘stands for’ us, He resists within us. If He be for us, who is against us?…He himself will overcome evil and deliver us from forces that we would never be capable of resisting by ourselves. This is the fortitude of faith.” (p. 65)

I don’t think enough can be said about this closeness of Christ in our lives. It is easy enough for us to think of Christ as off somewhere else in the universe, who only on the rare occasion is felt to be near and ready to strengthen us. St Bernard and then Merton are reminding us that His divine presence is far more invasive, far more available and ready to take hold of the whole of our lives if we are aware and open to his presence. Advent sets the tone for the whole of the Church year, sets the tone for the whole of our lives of prayer.

I know that the words of Jesus in chapter 15 of John’s gospel have become more and more loaded in my own life. Jesus saying that without him we can do nothing is revealing far more than most of us can begin to fully grasp even though there could hardly be anything said that is more intimate and loving in all of Scripture.

Fr Louis inspired by St Bernard sees how this season takes us into this great mystery, into something more than the mind can grasp. To end with one more quote from Merton, he tells us that God’s Word continues to take flesh in our lives:

“in order that His Incarnation, prolonged in His Mystical Body the Church, might finally terminate in the glorification of the Whole Christ at the right hand of the Father in heaven. ..Our life is hidden with Christ in God.” (pp. 66-67)