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For a large part of the liturgical year, we devote ourselves to listening to the mystery of Christ in all its aspects unfolded as we seek God's truth and understanding.
Bernard of Clairvaux, Abbot and Doctor, 1090-1153
Bernard, the third son of seven children of a noble family, was born at the family castle near Dijon. Upon the death of his mother and after a misspent youth, Bernard decided to lead a religious life.
In 1112, he persuaded thirty-one of his friends and relatives (including his brothers) to go with him to the first Cistercian monastery at Cîteaux. This community, which followed a very strict Benedictine rule, had been on the verge of dying out when Bernard arrived. With his help, the group recovered its vitality and, in 1115, Bernard was sent to open a new monastery at what was later to be called Clairvaux. This monastery was to become the mother house of sixty-eight Cistercian monasteries.
Bernard was noted for his wisdom and the eloquence of his preaching. He was often consulted by rulers and popes and soon became one of the most powerful influences in Europe. He led the successful struggle to support the legitimacy of Pope Innocent II’s election against the claims of an antipope and was the leader in gaining Lothaire II’s acceptance as Emperor.
In 1142, Peter Bernard Paganelli, whom Bernard had brought to Clairvaux as a postulant, was chosen as pope, taking the name, Eugene III. Three years later, Pope Eugene asked Bernard to preach against the Albigensian heresy growing in southern France. The next year, he was asked to go throughout Europe to encourage a crusade against the Turks who had captured Edessa, one of the four principalities of Jerusalem, in 1144. Bernard succeeded in rallying all of Europe around the Second Crusade, which was headed by Emperor Conrad II and King Louis VII of France.
Bernard was given many other assignments by the pope and rulers and was certainly the dominant influence in religious and political affairs of the twelfth century. His works included, among other things, a treatise written for the guidance of Pope Eugene, more than three hundred sermons, and five hundred letters. Through all of this, Bernard’s greatest desire was to return to the strict monastic life of his youth. He had a great devotion to Mary and to the Baby Jesus fostered by a vision, which he had experienced in his youth, of the divine birth. He said, “In dangers, in doubts, in difficulties, think of Mary, call upon Mary: under her protection, you have nothing to fear; if she walks with you, you shall not grow weary; if she shows you favor, your shall reach the goal.”
St. Bernard, called the “Mellifluous Doctor” for his way with the spoken word, was canonized in 1174 and was declared a Doctor of the Church in 1830. He is considered the last of the Fathers of the Church. St. Bernard is the patron of chandlers (a person who makes or sells candles). A memorial honors this saint on August 20.
Bernard's message today: Though Bernard was called to use his wisdom and counsel in world affairs, he had a great desire to lead a quiet contemplative life. He took on the missions assigned to him and completed them successfully while deeply grounded in his spiritual roots. In the turmoil of today’s world, it is worthwhile taking some time to get back to basics, as Bernard did.