+YOU ARE THE SALT OF THE EARTH Solemnity of St Bernard 2020
St Bernard was one of the most outstanding men of his time, making the newly founded Order of Citeaux outstanding not only for his own time but ours as well. His parents were members of the Burgundian aristocracy so he received a better education than most. The third of seven born to Aleth and Tescelin, his early schooling was at Chatillon-sur-Seine run by the secular canons of Saint-Vorles. Early on he had a great taste for literature and devoted himself to poetry for some time. But with the death of his mother Aleth when he was only 17 or18, the experience set him on his “long path to complete conversion” as he put it.
There was fulfilled in him the words from the book of Wisdom we just heard “I prayed, and prudence was given me; I pleaded and the spirit of wisdom came to me. I preferred her to scepter and throne.” Having sought the counsel of the Stephen Harding, an early abbot of Citeaux, he decided to join this new and austere community in its effort to restore Benedictine life to its more primitive observance. Little did he realize that in doing so he would become a light that could not be put under a bushel basket but would be set on a lampstand that would give light not only to this monastery but to the whole of the Church and society of his time.
While it took him awhile to terminate his domestic affairs and to persuade his brothers, some 25 of family and friends joined him as he entered Citeaux. Within three years he was asked to found Clairvaux from which he was to shine before others throughout the world. What is so moving in Bernard’s thought is the way Christ is so one with our human nature that he takes hold of our hearts. It is a divine initiative that engages us in a love relationship whatever may be the unique circumstances of each of our lives. Bernard’s own heart was so touched by Jesus that he craved to be one Spirit with him. When satisfied, he effectively shared the same to all around him.
The mystery of the Incarnation is at the center of his spirituality and much discussed by the theologians of his time, a mystery especially dear to our early Cistercians. Bernard and others saw this mystery as overflowing into our own lives as when Jesus tells us in the gospel today, “your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.” God became human so that men and women of all time might be won over by love. For Bernard, God becomes totally lovable by taking on our human flesh. In his treatise on the Degrees of Humility and Pride, Bernard shows us how God becoming incarnate in Christ “learned by experience that particular form of mercy of which he had previously been ignorant and which consists in sharing the suffering of others in the flesh.” Bernard sees this “sharing in the suffering of others in the flesh” as revealing the beauty of God so as to win over our hearts totally to this mystery of love. His sermons on the Song of Songs reveal the heart of Bernard as one divinely inebriated, making him such a great light for peoples of all time.
It is this mystery of Divine Love that we celebrate each day at this altar. The simple elements of bread and wine here become the very Body and Blood of our glorified brother Jesus. The mystery of God’s self emptying loves takes place right here before us, that we may be filled with gratitude and be vessels of this gift for all with whom we live. Nothing would more delight the heart of Bernard than to see the wisdom he learned made our own.