Monday, August 21, 2006

Pope Benedict on St. Bernard of Clairvaux

Yesterday was the feast day of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, who was one of the most influential spiritual teachers of the Medieval period. He remains one of my personal favorite saints and his writings have had a profound influence on my spiritual growth.

On the occasion of his feast day, Pope Benedict XVI gave his own thoughts on the importance of St. Bernard to Catholic spirituality in the modern age. Here are some excerpts:
"Among the saints of the day, the calendar mentions today St. Bernard of Clairvaux, great doctor of the Church, who lived between the 11th and 12th centuries (1091-1153). His example and teachings appear particularly useful also in our time.
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The wealth and value of his theology are not owed only to his opening new avenues, but rather on his having succeeded in proposing the truths of faith with a clear and incisive style, able to fascinate those who hear him and to dispose the spirit to recollection and prayer.

In each of his writings the echo is perceived of a rich interior experience, which he succeeded in communicating to others with an amazing capacity of persuasion.

For him, love is the greatest force of the spiritual life. God, who is love, creates man out of love and out of love rescues him. The salvation of all human beings, mortally wounded by original sin and burdened with personal sins, consists in adhering firmly to divine charity, which was fully revealed to us in Christ crucified and risen.

In his love, God heals our will and sick intelligence, raising them to the highest level of union with him, namely, to holiness and mystical union.

St. Bernard speaks of this among other things in his brief but consistent "Liber de diligendo Deo" (Book on the Love of God). He has another writing that I would like to point out, the "De Consideratione," a brief document addressed to Pope Eugene III. The dominant theme of this book, extremely personal, is the importance of interior recollection -- and he said this to a Pope -- an essential element of piety.

It is necessary to pay attention to the dangers of excessive activity, regardless of one's condition and occupation, observes the saint, because -- as he said to the Pope of that time, and to all Popes and to all of us -- numerous occupations often lead to "hardness of heart," "they are no more than suffering for the spirit, loss of intelligence and dispersion of grace" (II, 3).

This admonition is valid for all kinds of occupations, including those inherent to the governance of the Church. The message that, in this connection, Bernard addresses to the Pontiff, who had been his disciple at Clairvaux, is provocative: "See where these accursed occupations can lead you, if you continue to lose yourself in them -- without leaving anything of yourself for yourself" (ibid).

How useful for us also is this call to the primacy of prayer! May St. Bernard, who was able to harmonize the monk's aspiration for solitude and the tranquility of the cloister with the urgency of important and complex missions in the service of the Church, help us to concretize it in our lives, in our circumstances and possibilities."

You can read St. Bernard's famous treatise On Loving God online at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library.

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