Tag Archives: St Bernard of Clairvaux

Saint Bernard, 900 years since entering Cîteaux


Nearly 900 years ago Bernard of Fontaine-lès-Dijon led
a group of young Burgundian noblemen, to the Abbey of Cîteaux in 1112 or 1113. The fledgling
new monastery got a burst of new life and from there set the world ablaze with
what became the Cistercian charism. 


Let us pray for the Cistercians in the
North America, paying particular attention to the intention of young men and women entering the
monastic life under the gaze of Saint Bernard. Beginning today until a year from now, the Cistercians are observing a Year of Saint Bernard. Let’s join them in knowing more about this pivotal saint and monk.


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Most loving Father, in establishing
the New Monastery at Cîteaux our fathers followed the poor Christ into the
desert. Thus they lived the Gospel, by rediscovering the Rule of Saint Benedict
in its purity.

You gave Bernard of Fontaine the ability to make this new life
attractive and appealing to others, in the joy of the Holy Spirit.

Grant that
we today, after their example, may live our charism deeply in a spirit of
peace, unity, humility, and above all, in the charity which surpasses all other
gifts.

May men and women of our time be called to follow the Gospel in monastic
life, in the service of the Church’s mission, in a world often forgetful of
You.

May the monks and nuns of our Order  continue to live in the
enthusiastic and generative spirit of the founders. And in all of our needs may
we always turn to Our Lady whom Bernard called the Star of the Sea.

Holy
Father, from whom we have already received so much, grant us again your
blessing that our communities may grow in numbers, but above all in grace and
in wisdom, to your glory, who are blessed for ever and ever. Amen.

Prayer adapted from the original by Dom Olivier, abbot of Citeaux.

Sacred Heart of Jesus

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On the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus I am reminded of Saint Bernard’s image in Sermon 61 on the Song of Songs. There the sainted Cistercian abbot likens the pierced heart of Jesus Christ, and the wounds in his hand and feet to the clefts in a rock. “The secrets of  his heart are laid open through his wounds.” (61:4)


What more can be said of our Lord, our Shepherd and our friend?

A blessed feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus!

Discretion keeps the practice of virtue between extremes

The daily grind of living is only made more fruitful when we take time to use the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  While not technically not one of the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit, Prudence (a cardinal virtue) is perfected by the Spirit’s energy. How often do we move through our day without giving time to self-awareness, reflection on our “I” in action? The lack of a Trinity-diven examination of conscience in one’s  spiritual life is a pitfall many post-moderns fall into. Any person wanting to know more about him or herself needs to spend time, if only 10 minutes a day, in reviewing points of grace and sin in life up to that point of the day while asking for the grace of root-and-branch conversion. For example, it is has been said that a measure of the person today is how he or she uses free time. Discretion is a fruit of the virtue of prudence; ask yourself if you have been sufficiently discrete in your undertakings.

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Spiritual infirmities such as tepidity are caused, not only by chills but also by fevers, that is, by excessive zeal. Saint Paul says, let your service be a reasonable service [Rom. 12:1], because he knew the truth of the words of the Psalmist, the king in his might loves justice [99:4], that is, discretion; and what was prefigured in Leviticus, whatsoever sacrifice you offer, you shall season it with salt [2:13]. In the same vein does Saint Bernard speak: the enemy has no more successful ruse for depriving the heart of real charity than to get him to act rashly and not in keeping with spiritual reasonableness. “Nothing in excess,” said the philosopherAnd this principle should be our guide even in a matter pertaining to justice itself, as we read in Ecclesiastes, be not over just [7:16]. If one fails to observe this moderation, he will find that good is turned into evil and virtue into vice. He will also learn that many inconveniences follow which are quite contrary to the purpose of the one who so acts.

The first is that God is not really served in the long run, as the horse worn out in the first days does not as a rule finish the journey, and thus it happens that someone must be found to care for it.

Second, gains that are made through such excessive eagerness do not usually endure, as Scripture says, wealth gathered in haste will dwindle [Prov. 13:11]. Not only dwindle, but it may be the cause of a fall: and he that is hasty with his feet shall stumble [Prov. 19:2]; and if he stumbles, the further he falls, the greater the danger for he will not stop until he has reached the bottom of the ladder.

Third, there is the danger of being careless in overloading the vessel. There is danger, of course, in sailing it empty, as it can then be tossed about on the waves of temptation; but there is also danger of so overloading it that it sinks.

Fourth, it can happen that, in crucifying the old man, the new man is also crucified and thus made unable through weakness to practice virtue. Saint Bernard tells us that because of this excess we lose four things: “The body loses the effect of the good work, the soul its devotion, our neighbor good example, and God His honor.” From this we infer that whosoever thus mistreats the living temple of God is guilty of sacrilege. Saint Bernard says that the neighbor is deprived of good example, because the fall of one and the ensuing scandal are a source of scandal to others; and he calls them, in cause at least, disturbers of unity and enemies of peace. The example of such a fall frightens many and makes them tepid in their spiritual progress. In the fallen there is danger of pride and vainglory, since they prefer their own judgment to the judgment of everyone else, usurping what is not their own by setting themselves up as judges in their own cause when the rightful judge is their superior.

Besides these, there are also other disadvantages, such as overloading themselves with weapons which they cannot use, like David with the armor of Saul [1 Sam. 17:38-39]. They apply spurs to a spirited horse rather than the rein. Therefore there is need of discretion on this point to keep the practice of virtue between both extremes. Saint Bernard gives this advice: “Good will is not always to be trusted, but it must be bridled, regulated, especially in beginners,” if one wishes to benefit others without any disadvantage to himself, for he that is evil to himself, to whom will he be good? [Sir. 14:5].

Saint Ignatius of Loyola 
Letter to the Fathers and Brothers studying in Coimbra, Portugal 
May 7, 1547

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux

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‘What shall I render unto the Lord for all His benefits towards me?’ (Ps. 116:12). Reason and natural justice alike move me to give up myself wholly to loving Him to whom I owe all that I have and am. But faith shows me that I should love Him far more than I love myself, as I come to realize that He hath given me not my own life only, but even Himself. Yet, before the time of full revelation had come, before the Word was made flesh, died on the Cross, came forth from the grave, and returned to His Father; before God had shown us how much He loved us by all this plenitude of grace, the commandment had been uttered, ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul and with all thy might’ (Deut. 6:5), that is, with all thy being, all thy knowledge, all thy powers. And it was not unjust for God to claim this from His own work and gifts. Why should not the creature love his Creator, who gave him the power to love? Why should he not love Him with all his being, since it is by His gift alone that he can do anything that is good? It was God’s creative grace that out of nothingness raised us to the dignity of manhood; and from this appears our duty to love Him, and the justice of His claim to that love. But how infinitely is the benefit increased when we bethink ourselves of His fulfillment of the promise, ‘thou, Lord, shalt save both man and beast: how excellent is Thy mercy, O Lord!’ (Ps. 36:6f). For we, who ‘turned our glory into the similitude of a calf that eateth hay’ (Ps. 106:20), by our evil deeds debased ourselves so that we might be compared unto the beasts that perish. I owe all that I am to Him who made me: but how can I pay my debt to Him who redeemed me, and in such wondrous wise? Creation was not so vast a work as redemption; for it is written of man and of all things that were made, ‘He spake the word, and they were made’ (Ps. 148:5). But to redeem that creation which sprang into being at His word, how much He spake, what wonders He wrought, what hardships He endured, what shames He suffered! Therefore what reward shall I give unto the Lord for all the benefits which He hath done unto me? In the first creation He gave me myself; but in His new creation He gave me Himself, and by that gift restored to me the self that I had lost. Created first and then restored, I owe Him myself twice over in return for myself. But what have I to offer Him for the gift of Himself? Could I multiply myself a thousand-fold and then give Him all, what would that be in comparison with God?

The Sacred Heart of Jesus: What does the Church teach?

It bears reading and knowing what the Church advocates with regard to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Why? Because we are meant to be in relationship with God through Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. We live in relation (communio) to Jesus –as Savior, brother, Redeemer, lover– through whom we see the face of God. In The Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy tells us:

The Roman Pontiffs have frequently averted to the scriptural basis of devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

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Jesus, who is one with the Father (cf. John 10, 30), invites his disciples to live in close communion with him, to model their lives
on him and on his teaching. He, in turn, reveals himself as “meek and
humble of heart” (Mt 11, 29). It can be said that, in a certain sense,
devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is a cultic form of the prophetic and evangelic gaze of all Christians on him who was pierced (cf. John 19, 37; Zac 12, 10), the gaze of all Christians on the side of Christ, transfixed by a lance, and from which flowed blood and water (cf. John 19, 34), symbols of the “wondrous sacrament of the Church.”

The Gospel of St. John recounts the showing of the Lord’s hands and his side to the disciples (cf. John 20: 20), and of his invitation to Thomas to put his hand into his side (cf. John 20: 27). This event has also had a notable influence on the origin and development of the Church’s devotion to the Sacred Heart.

These and other texts present Christ as the paschal Lamb, victorious and slain (cf. Apoc 5,6). They were objects of much reflection by the Fathers who unveiled their doctrinal richness. They invited the faithful to penetrate the mysteries of Christ by contemplating the wound opened in his side. Augustine writes: “Access is possible: Christ is the door. It was opened for you when his side was opened by the lance. Remember what flowed out from his side: thus, choose where you want to enter Christ. From the side of Christ as he hung dying upon the Cross there flowed out blood and water, when it was pierced by a lance. Your purification
is in that water, your redemption is in that blood
” (ed. emphasis).

Devotion to the Sacred Heart was particularly strong during the middle ages. Many renowned for the learning and holiness developed and encouraged the devotion, among them St. Bernard (+1153), St. Bonaventure (+ 1274), the mystic St. Lutgarda (+1246), St Mathilda of Marburg (+ 1282), the sainted sisters Mathilda (+ 1299) and Gertrude (+ 1302) of the monastery of Helfta, and Ludolf of Saxony (+1380). These perceived in the Sacred Heart a “refuge” in which to recover, the seat of mercy, the encounter with him who is the source of the Lord’s infinite love, the fount from which flows the Holy Spirit, the promised land, and true paradise.

In the modern period devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus underwent new developments. At a time when Jansenism proclaimed the rigours of divine justice, the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus served as a useful antidote and aroused in the faithful a love for Our Lord and a trust in his infinite mercy symbolized by his Heart. St. Francis de Sales (+ 1622) adopted humility, gentleness (cf. Mt 11, 29) and tender loving mercy, all aspects of the Sacred Heart, as a model for his life and apostolate. The Lord frequently manifested the abundant mercy of his Heart to St. Margaret Mary (+ 1690); St. John Eudes (+ 1680) promoted the liturgical cult of the Sacred Heart, while St. Claude la Colombière (+ 1682) and St. John Bosco (+ 1888) and other saints
were avid promoters of devotion to the Sacred Heart.

Devotions to the Sacred Heart of Jesus are numerous. Some have been explicitly approved and frequently recommended by the Apostolic See. Among these, mention should be made of the
following:

  • personal consecration, described by Pius XI as “undoubtedly the principal devotional practice used in relation to the Sacred Heart”;
  • family consecration to the Sacred Heart, in which the family, by virtue of the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony already participating in the mystery of the unity and love of Christ for the Church, is dedicated to Christ so that he might
    reign in the hearts of all its members;
  • the Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, approved for the whole Church in 1891, which is evidently biblical in
    character and to which many indulgences have been attached;
  • the act of reparation, a prayer with which the faithful, mindful of the infinite goodness of Christ, implore mercy for the offences committed in so many ways against his Sacred Heart;
  • the pious practice of the first Fridays of the month which derives from the “great promises” made by Jesus to St. Margaret Mary.

At a time when sacramental communion was very rare among the faithful, the first Friday devotion contributed significantly to a renewed use of the Sacraments of Penance and of the Holy Eucharist. In our own times, the devotion to the first Fridays, even if practised correctly, may not always lead to the desired spiritual fruits. Hence, the faithful require constant instruction so
that any reduction of the practice to mere credulity, is avoided and an active faith encouraged so that the faithful may undertake their commitment to the Gospel correctly in their lives. They should also be reminded of the absolute preeminence of Sunday, the “primordial feast”, which should be marked by the full participation of the faithful at the celebration of the Holy Mass.

Devotion to the Sacred Heart is a wonderful historical expression of the Church’s piety for Christ, her Spouse and Lord: it calls for a fundamental attitude of conversion and reparation, of love and gratitude, apostolic commitment and dedication to Christ and his saving work. For these reasons, the devotion is recommended and its renewal encouraged by the Holy See and by the
Bishops. Such renewal touches on the devotion’s linguistic and iconographic expressions; on consciousness of its biblical origins and its connection with the great mysteries of the faith; on affirming the primacy of the love of God and neighbour as the essential content of the devotion itself.

Popular piety tends to associate a devotion with its iconographic expression. This is a normal and positive phenomenon. Inconveniences can sometimes arise: iconographic expressions that no longer respond to the artistic taste of the people can sometimes lead to a diminished appreciation of the devotion’s object, independently of its theological basis and its historico-salvific content.

This can sometimes arise with devotion to the Sacred Heart: perhaps certain over sentimental images which are incapable of giving expression to the devotion’s robust theological content or which do not encourage the faithful to approach the mystery of the Sacred Heart of our Saviour.

Recent time have seen the development of images representing the Sacred Heart of Jesus at the moment of crucifixion which is the highest expression of the love of Christ. The Sacred Heart is Christ crucified, his side pierced by the lance, with blood and
water flowing from it (cf, John 19, 34). (167-173).

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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