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Saint Bernard of Clairvaux and the Necessary Christian Ingredient


“Let us work for the food which does not perish…our salvation.” ~ Saint Bernard of Clairvaux

It’s interesting to note Jesus‘ advice to the crowd as well as his disciples in today’s Gospel (Matthew 23:12). He says “The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seats on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you.” It’s clear that these men possessed knowledge in spades, for knowledge to them was power, but not in the traditional way that you or I might consider that to be so. But nonetheless, on matters pertaining to the law, they were indeed experts, and Jesus knew that.

But our Lord goes on to warn those in his midst that they should not follow the scribes and Pharisees’ example, for they do not put their expertise in matters pertaining to the law to work. He then goes on to indict them for their selfishness, hypocrisy and narcissism. This Gospel teaching would indeed seem to pair nicely with the teachings of the man whom we celebrate today, the great Abbot and Doctor of the Church, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux.

“There are those who seek knowledge,” he would observe, “purely 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.” Saint Bernard knew that knowledge, a cherished gift of the Holy Spirit, is nonetheless merely a tool, a pathway to the greater virtues of love and charity.

As followers of Jesus and members of his Mystical Body, it’s important to remember that we are not a select group of enlightened elites but instead a humbled and forgiven band of pilgrims called to tell the world about what God has done for us. What he promises to do for those who choose his will, love him, forgive without measure, and love their neighbor. To once again quote Saint Bernard, “Many often err and accomplish little or nothing because they try to become learned rather than to live well.” This is not to say that Saint Bernard viewed the pursuit of knowledge as unimportant. On the contrary, he despised folly and frivolity. Of those who would wander through life in such a state, he would say “Ignorance is brutal, arrogance is devilish.”

“Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.“ These are the words of Jesus in the closing verse of today’s passage, one which we have reflected upon in the past In fact humility is a virtue that takes center stage all throughout scripture

Humility you could argue is oftentimes a very misunderstood word. But it is a necessary ingredient for those who honestly and earnestly pursue the Christian life. We must be humble as Christ was humble. Jesus places such stock in the virtue of humility because it vanquishes pride, the deadliest of sins. We are called to learn from Jesus, because he is "meek and humble of heart." (Matthew 11:29). In humility we find truth, because the humble person accepts the truth about themselves and accepts their own limitations. For the humble person, every moment of their lives is rooted in a very simple reality: There is a God. It is not me.

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux spoke often about the virtue of humility. he wii would say “Learn the lesson that, if you are to do the work of a prophet, what you need is not a scepter but a hoe.” Saint Bernard teaches us that humble discipleship is not about pomp and self-aggrandizement but instead an opportunity to work in our Lord’s vineyard

In today's first reading from the prophet Ezekiel (43:1-7), I was struck by the numerous references to God's indescribable glory. These thoughts always eventually segue into the life of Jesus, the Son of God, and the love he had for humanity, dying for our sins so they we could have life (John 3:16). With that in mind, I'll leave you with one final quote from Saint Bernard of Clairvaux. Poetic in prose and poignant in its message, he said, “To shame our sins He blushed in blood; He closed His eyes to show us God; Let all the world fall down and know that none but God such love can show.”

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Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, pray for us.

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, Abbot and Doctor of the Church

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, Abbot and Doctor of the Church

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