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As It Was in the Beginning

Exactly one hour later, to the exact second that you slid into sleep, your father comes up to check on the kids, and he sees you with the rosary tangled in your fingers, and he silently goes downstairs and gets your mother, whose hands are soapy as she turns toward him questioningly from the sink, but she knows him, and she rinses her hands and dries them on that old blue towel, and she comes upstairs too, and they stand over your bed for a few minutes, in the moonlight. Neither of them says a word, but they never forget those few moments, and even now sometimes, for no reason at all, all these years later, one of them remembers, and says something quietly to the other, and they both smile and feel a pang of joy and glory and sorrow. As it was in the beginning is now, and ever shall be, world without end, amen.

  

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux

Stained glass representing St. Bernard of Clairvaux | photo by Jastrow (2006)
Image: Stained glass representing St. Bernard of Clairvaux | photo by Jastrow (2006)

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux

Saint of the Day for August 20

(1090August 20, 1153)

 

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux’s Story

Man of the century! Woman of the century! You see such terms applied to so many today—“golfer of the century,” “composer of the century,” “right tackle of the century”—that the line no longer has any punch. But Western Europe’s “man of the twelfth century,” without doubt or controversy, had to be Bernard of Clairvaux. Adviser of popes, preacher of the Second Crusade, defender of the faith, healer of a schism, reformer of a monastic Order, Scripture scholar, theologian, and eloquent preacher: any one of these titles would distinguish an ordinary man. Yet Bernard was all of these—and he still retained a burning desire to return to the hidden monastic life of his younger days.

In the year 1111, at the age of 20, Bernard left his home to join the monastic community of Citeaux. His five brothers, two uncles, and some 30 young friends followed him into the monastery. Within four years, a dying community had recovered enough vitality to establish a new house in the nearby valley of Wormwoods, with Bernard as abbot. The zealous young man was quite demanding, though more on himself than others. A slight breakdown of health taught him to be more patient and understanding. The valley was soon renamed Clairvaux, the valley of light.

His ability as arbitrator and counselor became widely known. More and more he was lured away from the monastery to settle long-standing disputes. On several of these occasions, he apparently stepped on some sensitive toes in Rome. Bernard was completely dedicated to the primacy of the Roman See. But to a letter of warning from Rome, he replied that the good fathers in Rome had enough to do to keep the Church in one piece. If any matters arose that warranted their interest, he would be the first to let them know.

Shortly thereafter it was Bernard who intervened in a full-blown schism and settled it in favor of the Roman pontiff against the antipope.

The Holy See prevailed on Bernard to preach the Second Crusade throughout Europe. His eloquence was so overwhelming that a great army was assembled and the success of the crusade seemed assured. The ideals of the men and their leaders, however, were not those of Abbot Bernard, and the project ended as a complete military and moral disaster.

Bernard felt responsible in some way for the degenerative effects of the crusade. This heavy burden possibly hastened his death, which came August 20, 1153.


Reflection

Bernard’s life in the Church was more active than we can imagine possible today. His efforts produced far-reaching results. But he knew that they would have availed little without the many hours of prayer and contemplation that brought him strength and heavenly direction. His life was characterized by a deep devotion to the Blessed Mother. His sermons and books about Mary are still the standard of Marian theology.


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A View of Heaven

Our language limps when we speak of God’s love for us. We have no real understanding of infinite or eternal. But in the end, it seems best if we think of heaven as perfect union with God, the giver of life.

Though we may not be able to comprehend heaven to its fullest extent here on earth and in our wounded state, we can and do experience the presence of God within us because that is where God’s presence is. In a way, the best vision of God is not so much looking up or out, but looking within our very selves. After all, we know God made us in his image and likeness.

Thus, we have the ability to understand the two most important aspects of God: to love and to forgive. And we are capable of both.

 
—from the blog “This Life and the Next”

The Things We Remember Best

 

The things that we remember the best, the things that matter the most to us when we remember them, are the slightest things, by the measurement of the world; but they are not slight at all. 

They are so huge and crucial and holy that we do not yet have words big enough to fit them, and have to resort to hints and intimations to even get anywhere close.

—from the book Eight Whopping Lies and Other Stories of Bruised Grace

Listen to Your Own True Self

One thing I have learned as a dad and a husband is that no one listens to me, and they ought not to, either. You ought to listen to your own true self. I can maybe help you tiptoe a little closer to that self by sharing stories that matter, but if you are too cool to play today, swell. I suggest that the sooner you wake up and get it that there actually is a wild grace and defiant courage in people, and there actually are stories that save and change lives, and that there is a lot more going on here than we can ever find words for, and that love and attentiveness and creativity are real and wild and immanent, the cooler and wilder a life you will enjoy while you have such a priceless and inexplicable thing as a life, which goes by awfully fast, my friend.

Believe me, I know.

—from the book Eight Whopping Lies and Other Stories of Bruised Grace

Perhaps Even Today

 

Very elderly men and women will, without the slightest discomfort, hold hands, often both hands, with every single person who stands next to them and talks to them and listens to them, and the first time I noticed this I thought maybe it was for personal safety and security reasons, like being worried about toppling, but the more I noticed it the more it seemed to me that very elderly men and women have stripped away all self-consciousness and worry about what other people might think, and they take a deep honest genuine pleasure in touching their fellow beings, and being touched, and they know better than anyone else how ancient and holy and moving it is to touch and be touched, and they are going to touch and be touched as much as possible in the time granted them to touch and be touched; which seemed to me, as I strolled away from the wedding reception late that evening, arm in arm with the woman I like best, immensely wise, and something to aspire to, perhaps even today, perhaps as soon as you finish reading these words. 

—from the book Eight Whopping Lies and Other Stories of Bruised Grace

Instruments of Peace

How can we become instruments of peace? Fear, anger, bluster, or revenge do not overcome violence; they feed it—whether between people or nations.

Saint Francis of Assisi knew that only love will bring peace: a fierce, gentle love that gives us the courage to face suffering, a love whose power even death cannot defeat. As Christians, we claim this to be divine love, embodied in Jesus: in his ministry, on the cross, and in the resurrection.

Opening ourselves to this fierce love through prayer, and then acting out of it—personally and in our public policies—is the only pathway to peace.

  

Because It's Hard

I was in a monastery the other day and got to talking to a monk who, when I asked him why he was a monk, why he volunteered for a job liable to loneliness, a commitment to an idea no one can ever prove or document, a task that entails years of labor in the belief that somehow washing dishes and cutting grass and listening to pain and chanting in chapel matters in the long scheme of things, said, because it’s hard.

—from the book Eight Whopping Lies and Other Stories of Bruised Grace

At Play in the Fields of the Lord

Praise and adoration take us from our self-preoccupation and lead us outward to God and to the creation that bears God’s perfect imprint. This is the key to the prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi, who praised God through Brother Sun and Sister Moon, Brother Wind and Sister Water and all creatures.

Like Saint Francis of Assisi, the spirit prompts us to celebrate our brotherhood and sisterhood with other creatures and praise God, not in isolation from creation, but through sunlight, rain, wind, trees, and flowers. Now is a good time for us to praise God in the woods, a garden, a valley, a lake, or at sea.

–from the blog “Pathways to Prayer” by Friar Jack Wintz

The Prayers of a Parent

Three children were granted to us, a girl and then, together, one minute apart, two boys; and my prayers doubled, for now I knew fear for them, that they would sicken and die, that they would be torn by dogs and smashed by cars; and I felt even then the shiver of faint trepidation that someday, if they grew up safely, and did not suffer terrible diseases, and they achieved adulthood, that they would be heart-hammered by all sorts of things against which I could not protect or preserve them; and so I did, I admit it, sometimes beg the Coherent Mercy, late at night, for small pains as their lot, for relatively minor disappointments, for love affairs that would break apart but not savagely, for work that they would like and even maybe love.

In the end, I remember vividly, I boiled all my prayers as a parent down to this one: Take me instead of them. Load me up instead of them. Let me eat the pains they were served for their tables. I don’t think I ever fully understood the deep almost inexplicable love of the Christ for us, why he would accept his own early tortured death as a sacrifice, until I had been a father for a while.

—from the book Eight Whopping Lies and Other Stories of Bruised Grace