Summary: How many times do we need to see or hear God asking us to do some good thing for the spread of His kingdom?
Tuesday of the 20th Week in Course 2019
St. Bernard of Clairvaux
If there is a critical message in our Scriptures today, it is something we see here and there in both Old and New Testaments: “with God all things are possible.” St. Luke records the angel Gabriel saying it to Mary in a double negative: “with God nothing will be impossible.” So here is this nothing guy from a nothing clan of the tribe of Manasseh. And because the Midianites are ravaging the land and either stealing or destroying the crops, this Gideon is trying to separate the edible part of the wheat from the chaff in a wine press, probably under cover of darkness. So we can understand why he is skeptical when the divine messenger comes to him and calls him a “mighty man of valor.” This has got to be some kind of joke, right? But, like Mary, he hears the Lord telling him “the Lord is with you. . .I will be with you.” Read the whole story in Judges, and see that Gideon needed more than one sign to show that God was really with him, and wanted him to deliver his people. Fortunately, the Blessed Virgin only needed to be asked once. How many times do we need to see or hear God asking us to do some good thing for the spread of His kingdom?
Why is it so hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven? I think part of the reason is that we may think the riches are due to human effort, that we in some way deserve wealth or status. Of course another problem is that wealth and status tend to distract us, like a fun video game, or, more ominously, pornographic videos or still pictures. Our entry into the kingdom of heaven is conditioned on our living and dying in love. Another way to look at it–only when we show in our lives the image of Christ do we deserve to enter into the inheritance of Christ. It is divine grace that enables us to live like that, and to sit on thrones judging even the angels, like Christ. That grace was won for us by the death and resurrection of Jesus, and it is that sacrifice we celebrate together today.
Our saint today is Bernard of Clairvaux, one of the most awesome and influential saints of the twelfth century, the age of Christian Crusade. Here is what he said about today’s key words: “There are those who seek knowledge for the sake of knowledge; that is Curiosity.
There are those who seek knowledge to be known by others; that is Vanity. There are those who seek knowledge in order to serve; that is Love.” St. Bernard “was a French abbot and a major leader in the reform of Benedictine monasticism that caused the formation of the Cistercian order.” His was not the calm, prayerful life he desired. He was constantly called on to settle disputes and stir up the spirit of Catholics in southern Europe. When he responded as best he could, for instance at the Council of Troyes, he was thought to be a troublemaker. One cardinal wrote him, on behalf of Pope Honorius, saying, “It is not fitting that noisy and troublesome frogs should come out of their marshes to trouble the Holy See and the cardinals.” Bernard, who had a dry sense of humor, responded: “Now illustrious Harmeric if you so wished, who would have been more capable of freeing me from the necessity of assisting at the council than yourself? Forbid those noisy troublesome frogs to come out of their holes, to leave their marshes ... Then your friend will no longer be exposed to the accusations of pride and presumption.”
In 1130, Bernard successfully stopped a schism by getting the major European powers to acknowledge Innocent II as pope, rather than the antipope Anacletus. He opposed and defeated Peter Abelard’s erroneous teachings about the validity of rationalism. And he was the driving preacher behind the successful Second Crusade for the freedom of the Holy Land against the Seljuk Turks.
But his most important work had to do with promoting the liturgical and contemplative works: “Bernard was instrumental in re-emphasizing the importance of and contemplation on Scripture within the Cistercian order. Bernard had observed that when was neglected monasticism suffered. Bernard considered and contemplation guided by the Holy Spirit the keys to nourishing Christian spirituality.” We owe him that wonderful prayer, Jesu Dulcis Memoria. The first verse, translated by Fr. Caswell, is worth memorizing:
“JESU, the very thought of Thee,
with sweetness fills my breast,
but sweeter far Thy face to see,
and in Thy presence rest.”
St. Bernard of Clairvaux, pray for us.