Sermon: Bernard of Clairvaux

The podcast is available here.

Early in the 12th century, a church was to be consecrated, however, it was infested with flies. The people had made several attempts to rid the holy place from the pesky insects, but to no avail. It was then that St. Bernard (should we call him Cujo for short?), who was there to consecrate the church, entered the building and shouted, “Excommunicabe eas.” He excommunicated the flies. The following morning, the flies were all dead and the floor was thick with them, so much so, that they had bring in shovels to carry them all out.

It might seem odd that a fly would drop dead as the result of an excommunication, but apparently, St. Bernard was one to obeyed. One historian writes, “In the entire history of Christianity there have been few saints as terrifying as St. Bernard… Tall and haggard, he had a face seared in constant pain—all of it brought about the unspeakable… austerities he imposed upon himself—from which blazed a pair of eyes before whose accusing stare kings, emperors, and popes would tremble.” (Based on that description, I get the image of Rubeus Hagrid from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in my head.)

You would think that not many would be drawn to such a person, but it is reported that mothers would hide their sons when he came to the village to preach, because so many that heard him would run off and join his monastery. How much so? The Cistercian Order of monks, of which he was a member, had three houses / monasteries when Bernard joined. When he died forty-one years later, there were over five hundred. The house where he was abbot grew from a handful of individuals, to over seven hundred. In light of that, I can say, I know absolutely nothing about evangelism. He was a hard man and a man that lectured emperors and popes and everyone else, but the manner in which he proclaimed the Gospel message drew many.

As we know, the saints all have their difficulties and faults. The one that hangs over Bernard is the Second Crusade to the Holy Land. He preached for it and when it failed, he was condemned by many. He died soon after in the year 1153.

Even though the stain of the crusade hangs over Bernard, Fr. John-Julian writes, “Saint Bernard of Clairvaux was the single most powerful person in the entire expanse of Western Europe during the first half of the 12th century—more powerful than any king or emperor, any prince or pope. Indeed, it has been said of him that Bernard ‘carried the twelfth century on his shoulders.’”

Jesus said, “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.” We are the fruit that Bernard and so many others produced, but each generation owes to the next the continued planting of seeds and bearing fruit. I pray that all of us and that our church—St. Matthew’s—continues to be a place that produces good fruit.

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