With St. Bernard, finding the humanity in the holy

| Alyssa Bormes | August 19, 2016 | 0 Comments
Bernard of Clairvaux, true effigy by Georg Andreas Wasshuber (1650–1732)

Bernard of Clairvaux, true effigy by Georg Andreas Wasshuber (1650–1732)

Sometimes saints can seem “dusty” and not able to relate to us today. Among them is St. Bernard of Clairvaux — a mystic, preacher, contemplative and doctor of the Church.

Oddly, I am none of these, so what could he teach me?

There is something in each of his titles that conjures an image of perfection — especially “doctor of the Church” and “saint,” and even “mystic” and “contemplative” ­— which might make him feel more distant from the average Catholic in the pew.

How can we relate to him? What is the humanity of St. Bernard?

Maybe we can find it through his life as a preacher.

His preaching took place about 900 years ago, which might suggest that he has nothing to share with people now. However, let’s put that fact aside, and pick a universal topic: love and sorrow.

In what is known as “Sermon 26,”
St. Bernard reveals a sorrow that is overwhelming. He speaks of his late brother Gerard, who was also a Cistercian monk. At Gerard’s death, funeral and burial, Bernard tried to show no emotion. He did this because Gerard nearly died while traveling with Bernard. Bernard prayed, “Wait O Lord, till we return home. Let me give him back to his friends, then take him if you wish, I shall not complain.”

Upon their return home, Gerard died.

In his sermon, Bernard explains how he kept dry eyes while others wept, because he had promised this to God. However, he deeply regretted the death of his brother. Bernard admits that by suppressing it “the sorrow . . . struck deeper roots within, growing all the more bitter . . . because it found no outlet.”

One day, his sorrow overflowed in a rush of emotion during a sermon to his fellow monks. This is “Sermon 26.”

Shared love, grief

Sorrow is universal. Bernard has lost a blood brother and brother monk, his companion and friend. His heart breaks not only because of his own loss, but also because of his own fall. He asked God for a specific favor, which was granted, but selfishly he was not prepared for the outcome. Who would be?

In a moment of raw emotion, Bernard uses his pain, the wound of love, to preach and to tell of God’s mercy. He speaks of Jesus weeping at the death of Lazarus.

“These tears were witnesses to his human kindness, not signs that he lacked trust,” he said.

He goes on: “In the same way, our weeping is not a sign of lack of faith, it indicates the human condition.”

He praises God for having entrusted Gerard to them, and says that Gerard’s death was only God taking what was his from the beginning.

Bernard asks God to impose a limit on his tears. Why? Because we love so dearly that our tears splash with loss. Love and sorrow are universal.

Bernard of Clairvaux is not a dusty saint who has nothing to teach us. Instead, he lived a life of heroic virtue, which means rising after each fall.

His feast is Aug. 20. In honoring him, we can share in his love and sorrow, and he will help Christ, who, as the Book of Revelation tells us, “will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes, and death shall be no more . . . .”

Bormes, a member of Holy Family in St. Louis Park, is the author of the book “The Catechism of Hockey.”

Tags: ,

Category: Everyday Mercies