Bernard_Christ embracing_RIBALTA, Francisco

Christ Embracing St. Bernard
Francisco Ribalta
1625

I have to admit, I am posting a few days late in regard to the feast day for one of my favorite saints, Bernard of Clairvaux.  Bernard was born in Burgundy (now Southern France) in 1090.  Legend has it that as a child, he had a dream of the infant Christ in the manger, and the memory of that dream led to him fully devote his life to Jesus.  Bernard lived a monastic life, and was widely known as an influential speaker and writer.  History teaches us that his great oratory skills were a primary reason for the Second Crusade.  Muslims had captured Edessa, now Urfa, Turkey.  The Pope commissioned Bernard to inspire the masses to launch a Crusade to regain the territory.  Bernard was not entirely opposed to the idea of a Crusade;  in fact, he thought it might be a good way to encourage thieves, mercenaries, and ruffians to not only know Christ, but to also leave Burgundy to the care of more humble and law-abiding citizens.  I guess that’s one way to improve property values?

I’m kidding.  I know I might occasionally joke about deeply spiritual things, but I don’t think I will sizzle if you throw holy water on me…or at least I hope not…

Bernard was a tremendous writer and composer of hymns.  In fact, I was first exposed to his name through a great old hymn entitled “O Sacred Head now Wounded”, which is based on a poem that he wrote.   My own personal favorite piece of work from Bernard is a treatise called “On Loving God”, which can be read in full online here.

In recent days, I’ve been writing a good deal about liturgy.  Bernard is a figure that teaches to how, in the words of Kallistos Ware, to live the liturgy beyond the liturgy: How to properly respond to the great love of Christ beyond just Sunday morning, into our daily lives.  Bernard’s response to that great love was “to love Him far more than I love myself”.

St. Bernard passed on August 20, 1153, at the age of 63.  He had lived the monastic life for 40 years.  Today, the Anglican Church celebrates his feast day on the anniversary of his death.  His remains are interred at Troyes Cathedral, which is located in the Champagne region of France.

Here’s a few excerpts from “On Loving God” for you to consider. These represent just a portion of this great work, which was a tremendous influence on not only the Catholic Church, but helped shape the theologies of Calvin and Luther.  Bernard’s influence stretches far beyond a monastery in medieval France.  It continues to mold the Church as we know it today.  As you read the following, my prayer is that you can feel the passion this man had for Christ.  Hopefully, we can all strive toward this measure of love.

“You want me to tell you why God is to be loved and how much. I answer, the reason for loving God is God Himself; and the measure of love due to Him is immeasurable love.”

“Neither Jew nor pagan feels the pangs of love as doth the Church, which saith, ‘Stay me with flagons, comfort me with apples; for I am sick of love’ (Song of Solomon 2:5)…she (the Church) sees the Sole-begotten of the Father bearing the heavy burden of His Cross; she sees the Lord of all power and might bruised and spat upon, the Author of life and glory transfixed with nails, smitten by the lance, overwhelmed with mockery, and at last laying down His precious life for His friends. Contemplating this the sword of love pierces through her own soul also and she cried aloud, ‘Stay me with flagons, comfort me with apples; for I am sick of love.’ The fruits which the Spouse gathers from the Tree of Life in the midst of the garden of her Beloved, are pomegranates (SOS4:13), borrowing their taste from the Bread of heaven, and their color from the Blood of Christ. She sees death dying and its author overthrown: she beholds captivity led captive from hell to earth, from earth to heaven, so ‘that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven and things in earth and things under the earth’ (Phil. 2:10). The earth under the ancient curse brought forth thorns and thistles; but now the Church beholds it laughing with flowers and restored by the grace of a new benediction. ”

“O wretched slaves of Mammon, you cannot glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ while you trust in treasures laid up on earth: you cannot taste and see how gracious the Lord is, while you are hungering for gold. If you have not rejoiced at the thought of His coming, that day will be indeed a day of wrath to you.

But the believing soul longs and faints for God; she rests sweetly in the contemplation of Him. She glories in the reproach of the Cross, until the glory of His face shall be revealed.”

“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….

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?”

“Admit that God deserves to be loved very much, yea, boundlessly, because He loved us first, He infinite and we nothing, loved us, miserable sinners, with a love so great and so free. This is why I said at the beginning that the measure of our love to God is to love immeasurably. For since our love is toward God, who is infinite and immeasurable, how can we bound or limit the love we owe Him? Besides, our love is not a gift but a debt…He is all that I need, all that I long for. My God and my help, I will love Thee for Thy great goodness; not so much as I might, surely, but as much as I can.”

I’ll leave you all today with a prayer, along with a song from one of my favorite modern artists, Matthew Smith.  Please take a few moments to visit his website here, along with Indelible Grace, a Reformed University Fellowship ministry that works to preserve the great hymns of the Church.  For musicians, the RUF Hymnbook is a tremendous resource that you should definitely check out.  This hymn, “All I Owe”, isn’t a Bernard of Clairvaux work, but the lyrics definitely lend themselves to thoughts of his love for Christ.

Join in praying my own prayer of devotion to the memory of Bernard or Clarivaux…

“Christ, whose name and work is love

Bid me love You all that I can, and more;

You created all I am;

All I am I owe to You.

Let me be a small part of establishing Your kingdom

As I anxiously await Your return

In the grace of the new benediction:

Your creative, redemptive, unrelenting love.

In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,

Amen.”

Peace of the Lord be with you all….

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