Blessed Guerric of Igny (1070-80 – 1160) is a stellar example of someone who followed in the example of St Bernard of Clairvaux’s ministry of preaching. Abbot Guerric is remembered for his preaching (see the collections of sermons published by Cistercians Publications). He was skilled at the coalescing sacred Scripture and philosophy, taking biblical types and making the application to Christ and Christian discipleship. It is said that Guerric was the medieval preacher of “God’s grace in biblical imagery.”
The intellectual and spiritual formation of Guerric happened first in a cathedral setting as the master of the school, and then in the Clarivaux Abbey. He was in a short time elected the second abbot of the Cistercian community at Igny.
Brethren, it is the command of our gentle and peace-making Master that we should be at peace with one another. Yet before that he says: Have salt in yourselves. He knows well that peaceful gentleness nourishes vices unless the severity of zeal has first sprinkled them with the sharp taste of salt, just as mild weather causes meat to grow wormy unless the heat of salt has dried it out. Therefore be at peace with one another, but let it be a peace that is seasoned with the salt of wisdom; try to acquire gentleness, but let it be a gentleness filled with the warmth of faith. (Blessed Guerric of Igny, Sermo IV in festo S. Benedicti: PL 185,111-112).
The value of knowing Guerric of Igny is first as a Cistercian monastic father, but also as an eloquent preacher of Grace calling us into deeper communio with the Most Blessed Trinity.
The Psalm for today’s Mass has us singing: “Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved” (80). See in this verse what is happening between Mary and Elizabeth. Think of the baby Jesus leaping for joy in the womb of Mary at meeting of his cousin John. Have you been able to help others to experience, i.e., to see and to hear the Good News of Jesus coming into history this week? Have we made a place for Christ in hearts today?
A prominent Cistercian Father guides our reflection –Blessed Guerric of Iggy taught:
“’Be ready to go out to meet the Lord, O Israel, for he is coming…’ Do, Lord, rise up to meet me as I run to meet you. Since I have not the strength to scale your summits unless you stretch out your hand to me whom your hands have made, rise to meet me, and see whether there is any sinful way in me. If you find any sinful way in me at all, take it from me. Grant me the grace to live by your law and lead me in the ways of eternity, that is, in Christ who is the way by which we journey and the eternity which is our journey’s end: and undefiled way and a blessed dwelling place.”
The Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God was just celebrated on January 1 and today is the first Saturday of January, a day in which we attend a little more to the devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is appropriate to stay close to the Mary in these early days of 2014 for it is Mary who will lead us into the arms of the Messiah. I came across this reflection on Mary by the Cistercian Father Blessed Guerric of Igny. As I have echoed so often before on these pages, a proper Marian theology always indicates a proper Christology. This Berlinghieri icon of the Theotokos (1230) illustrates what I think is the true Marian theology of our Church: to know Mary is to know, love and serve her Son. In the printed word, thanks to Blessed Guerric we have a great example of what the Church teaches: Mary always points to her Son and Savior; Christ is made known through the yes of Mary. Today, ask yourself, in our own body, do we say yes to Jesus Christ?
“One and unique was Mary’s child, the only Son of his Father in heaven and the only Son of his mother on earth. Mary alone was virgin-mother, and it is her glory to have borne the Father’s only Son. But now she embraces that only Son of hers in all his members. She is not ashamed to be called the mother of all those in whom she recognizes that Christ her Son has been or is on the point of being formed…Like the Church of which she is the model, Mary is the mother of all who are born again to new life. She is the mother of him who is the Life by which all things live; when she bore him, she gave new birth in a sense to all who were to live by his life. Recognizing that by virtue of this mystery she is the mother of all Christians, Christ’s blessed mother also shows herself a mother to them by her care and loving kindness. She never grows hard toward her children, as though they were not her own. The womb that once gave birth is not dried up; it continues to bring forth the fruit of her tender compassion. Christ, the blessed fruit of that womb, left his mother still fraught with inexhaustible love, a love that once came forth from her but remains always within her, inundating her with his gifts.”
I am reminded by my own heart that the the early morning is a particularly good time of the day to be clothed in a special silence, but there are time at dusk that the discipline of silence is helpful. This is an essential part of spiritual maturity, an adult faith in Divine Providence. Listening and speaking to the Trinity is done when the heart and mind are slowed, even word-less. Knowing and following God’s will is only possible if we give a certain amount of day to quiet, that is, silence. Not a punishing silence, not a hopeless silence, but a manner of being that helps us to see ourselves in action: the manifestation of the virtues of faith, hope, charity, justice, peace, perseverance, etc.
Blessed Guerric in his 28th sermon says,
“As the Christ-child in the womb advanced toward birth in a long, deep silence, so does the discipline of silence nourish, form and strengthen a person’s spirit, and produce growth which is the safer and more wholesome for being the more hidden.”
Silence, therefore, is a gift that allows us to enter more deeply into the revealed Word of God, the biblical narrative through the practice of lectio divina, the practice of prayerfully reading the sacred Scripture. It is, I am convinced, the new springtime of the Church as Benedict XVI said, proposing once again the ancient Christian practice. Most often we when we hear the words lectio divina we think of monastic reading where the person is immersed in God’s holy word with the distinct desire to seek the face of God, thus making a home for that Word in his heart.
The famous Cistercian father Blessed Guerric of Igny (c. 1070/80-1157) was influenced by Origen and whose formation was under Saint Bernard was quite insightful on many things when it came to liturgical theology and the monasteric life.
If you are inclined to read more about what this Cistercian father taught, you may want to pick up a copy of John Morson’s Christ the Way: the Christology of Guerric of Igny (Liturgical Press). But his liturgical sermons are worth every effort; they are published by Liturgical Press, too.
Blessed Guerric taught the following to his brothers lectio divina:
Search the Scripture. For you are not mistaken in thinking that you find life in them, you who seek nothing else in them but Christ, to whom the Scriptures bear witness. Blessed indeed are they who search his testimonies, seek them out with all their heart. Therefore you who walk about in the gardens of the Scriptures do not pass by heedlessly and idly, but searching each and every word like busy bees gathering homey from flowers, reap the Spirit from the words. (Sermon 54)