Sermon: Bernard of Clairvaux

Born in the year 1090, Bernard of Clairvaux would grow to become a force to be reckoned with. Not only did he establish a monastery at Clairvaux, but through his teaching, sixty other monasteries would be founded and associated with Clairvaux. That in itself would be a great enough accomplishment, but he was also a poet and hymn writer, preacher of the Crusades, priest to the Knights Templar, and counselor to popes and kings. “By 1140, his writings had made him one of the most influential figures in Christendom.”

In his writings, particularly those to Pope Eugenius III, Bernard stressed moderation in all things. He wrote to the overburdened Pope, “As the Lord says, ‘What does it profit you to gain the whole world, but lose yourself alone?’ Now since everyone posses you, make sure that you too are among the possessors.” Yes, Bernard is saying, give yourself completely to the work the Lord has called you to, but do not forget the Lord or yourself in the process. However, if there was one area where Bernard would not preach such moderation, it would be in the act of “love,” for when it comes to love, Bernard knows no limits. For Bernard, this understanding of love comes partly from his meditations on our Gospel reading.

Jesus said, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” Bernard understood, “in me,” in God, to mean, in love with God. To be in God is to be in love with God. He believes that we are called to be in love with God and were in fact created to do so, writing, “God hath endowed us with the possibility of love.” When someone asked him “Why should we love God?”, his answer was similar to the one we heard a few Sunday’s ago: “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.” He concludes by asking, “Is this plain?” A more modern translation of “Is this plain?” could be something like, “Duh!”

Not only is our love to be extended to God, but also to one another. Perhaps one of his more famous quotes states, “Love me, love my dog.” If you are going to be in a relationship with someone, then you have to love everything about them, including the goofy dog with fleas and bad breath and all other unfortunate and annoying aspects of their character.

In living such a life of moderation and love, Bernard fulfilled his own definition of a holy person: “seen to be good and charitable, holding nothing for himself, but using every gift for the common good.”

Centuries later, St. Josemaría Escrivá wrote, “Lord: may I have due measure in everything… except in Love.” Escrivá wasn’t speaking directly of Bernard, but those words articulate clearly the pattern of life that Bernard of Clairvaux would call us each to: a life of moderation and perpetual, unrestrained love.

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