Tag Archives: St Bernard of Clairvaux

On the Holy Family by Saint Bernard of Clairvaux

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In Mary we praise that which places her above all others,
that is, fruitfulness of offspring together with virginity. For never has it
been known in this world that anyone was at the same time mother and virgin.
And see of Whom she is mother. Where does your astonishment at this so wondrous
dignity lead you? Is it not to this, that you may gaze in wonder yet never
sufficiently revere? Is she not in your veneration, no, in the esteem of Truth
itself, raised above choirs of angels? Does not Mary address the Lord and God
of all the angels as Son, saying: Son, why have you done so to us?

Who among the angels may thus presume? It is enough for
them, and for them their greatest honor, that while they are spirits by nature
they have become and are called angels, as David testifies: Who makes your
angels spirits. [Ps.103: 4] Mary, knowing herself a mother, with confidence
calls that Majesty Son Whom the angels in reverence serve
. Nor does God disdain
to be called that which He disdained not to be. For the Evangelist adds a
little later: He was subject to them.

Who was subject to whom? A God to men.
God, I repeat, to Whom are the angels subject: Whom principalities and powers
: subject to Mary; and not alone to Mary, but to Joseph also, because
of Mary. Admire and revere both the one and the other, and choose which you
admire the more: the most sweet condescension of the Son, or the sublime
dignity of the Mother
. For either am I at a loss for words: for both are
. For that God should obey a woman is humility without compare; and
that a woman should have rule over God dignity without equal. In praise of
virgins is it joyfully proclaimed: that they follow the lamb withersoever he
goes. [Rev. 14: 4] Of what praise shall you esteem her worthy who also goes
before Him?

Learn, O Man, to obey. Learn, O Earth, to be subject. Learn, O
Dust, to submit. The Evangelist in speaking of his Maker says: He was subject
to them
; that is, without doubt, to Mary and to Joseph. Be you ashamed, vain
ashes that you are. God humbles Himself, and do you exalt yourself? God becomes
subject to men, and will you, eager to lord it over men, place yourself above
your Maker? O would that God might deign to make me, thinking such thoughts at
times in my own mind, such answer as He made, reproving him, to His apostle: Get behind me, Satan: because you savor not the things that are of God. [Mark 8:

For as often as I desire to be foremost among men, so often
do I seek to take precedence of God; and so do I not truly savor the things
that are of God. For of Him was it said: And he was subject to them. If you
disdain, O Man, to follow the example of a Man, at least it will not lower thee
to imitate thy Maker. If perhaps you cannot follow Him wheresoever He goes, at
least follow in that wherein He has come down to you.

If you are unable to
follow Him on the sublime way of virginity, then follow God by that most sure
way of humility; from whose straightness should some even from among the
virgins go aside
, then must I say what is true, that neither do they follow the
Lamb to wherever he goes. He that is humble, even though he be stained, he
follows the Lamb; so too does the proud virgin; but neither of the two
whithersoever He goes: because the one cannot ascend to the purity of the Lamb
that is without stain, nor will the other deign to come down to the meekness of
the Lamb, Who stood silent, not merely before the shearer, but before the one
that put Him to death. Yet the sinner [you and me] who follows Him in humility, has
chosen a more wholesome part than the one that is proud in his virtue; since
the humble repentance of the one washes away uncleanness, but the pride of the
other contaminates his own virtue.

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Truly blessed was Mary who possessed both
humility and virginity. And truly wondrous the virginity of those whose fruitfulness is not stained, but adorned her; and truly singular the humility, which this
fruitful virginity has not troubled
, but rather exalted; and wholly
incomparable the fruitfulness which goes hand in hand with her humility and her
virginity. Which of these things is not wondrous? Which is not beyond all
comparison? Which that is not wholly singular? It would be strange if you did
not hesitate to decide which you regard as most worthy of praise: whether the
wonder of fruitfulness of offspring in virginity, or of virginal integrity in a
mother: sublimity of Offspring, or humility joined to such dignity: unless it
be that we place both together above each one singly: and it is truly beyond
any doubt more excellent and more joyful to have beheld these perfections
united in her, than to see but one part of them.

And can we wonder that God, of
Whom it is written that He is wonderful in his saints, [Ps. 67: 36] shows
Himself in His own Mother yet more wondrous still. Venerate then, Ye spouses,
this integrity of flesh in our corruptible flesh. Revere likewise, you virgins,
fruitfulness in virginity. Let all men imitate the humility of God’s Mother.
Honor, you angels, the Mother of your King, you who adore the Offspring of our
; Who is your King and our King, the Healer of our race, the Restorer of
our fatherland: Who among you is so sublime, yet among us was so lowly: to
Whose Majesty as well from you as from us let there be adoration and reverence:
to whose Perfection be there honor and glory and empire for ever and ever.

All Saints

Christ glorified in heaven.jpgThe feast of All Saints has observed by the Church at least since the fourth century. For a time it was celebrated on the Sunday following Pentecost due to the obvious link of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles and the foundation of the Church. Tertullian’s famous insight that the Church is built on the blood of the martyrs rings true; the witnesses to the person of Jesus Christ concretizes the Christian faith and makes relevant for us the work of holiness given to us by God. In Rome, Pope Boniface IV consecrated what was the pagan pantheon as the Church of All Saints and moved the liturgical observance of All Saints to November first.

From a sermon by Saint Bernard of Clairvaux for the feast of All Saints

Why should our praise and glorification, or even our celebration of this feast day, mean anything to the saint? What do they care about earthly honors when their heavenly Father honors them by fulfilling the faithful promise of his Son? What does our commemoration mean to them? The saints have no need of honor from us; neither does our devotion add the slightest thing to what is already theirs. Clearly, when we venerate their memory, it is serving us, not them. But I tell you, when I think of them, I feel myself inflamed by a tremendous longing to be with them.

Calling the saints to mind inspires, or rather arouses in us, above all else, a longing to enjoy their company which is desirable in itself. We long to share in the citizenship of heaven, to dwell with the spirits of the blessed, to join the assembly of patriarchs, the ranks of the prophets, the council of apostles, the great host of martyrs, the noble company of confessors and the choir of virgins. In short, we long to be united in happiness with all the saints. But our dispositions change. The Church of all the first followers of Christ awaits us, but we do nothing about it. The saints want us to be with them, and we are indifferent. The souls of the just await us, and we ignore them.

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Come, let us at length spur ourselves on. We must rise again with Christ, we must seek the world which is above and set our mind on the things of heaven. Let us long for those who are longing for us, hasten to those who are waiting for us, and ask those who look for our coming to intercede for us. We should not only want to be with the saints, we should also hope to possess their happiness. While we desire to be in their company, we must also earnestly seek to share in their glory. Do not imagine that there is anything harmful in such an ambition as this; there is no danger in setting our hearts on such glory.

When we commemorate the saints we are inflamed with another yearning: that Christ our life may also appear to us as he appeared to them and that we may one day share in his glory. Until then we see him, not as he is, but as he became for our sake. He is our head, crowned, not with glory, but with the thorns of our sins. As members of that head, crowned with thorns, we should be ashamed to live in luxury; his purple robes are a mockery rather and honor. When Christ comes again, his death shall no longer be proclaimed, and we shall know that we also have died, and that our life is hidden with him. The glorious head of the Church will appear and his gloried member will shine in splendor with him, when he transforms this lowly body anew into such glory as belongs to himself, its head.

Therefore, we should aim at attaining this glory with a wholehearted and prudent desire. That we may rightly hope and strive for such blessedness, we must above all seek the prayers of the saints, that what is beyond our own efforts to obtain may be granted through their intercession.

(Sermon 2; S. Bernardi Opera, ed. J. Leclercq and H. Rochais, vol. V, 1968, pp364-8; ET by ICEL)


With the Church, let us pray,

Almighty and everlasting God, Who has given us in one feast to venerate the merits of all Thy Saints, we beseech Thee through the multitude of intercessors, to grant us the desired abundance of Thy mercy.

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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