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Today’s her feastday!

She’s in the Loyola Kids Book of Signs and Symbols. 

 

 

For more on that book go here. 

They’ve created a matching game with some of the images from the book here. 

I have copies here – if you’d like a signed one! 

(St. Jerome images from the book in yesterday’s post)

She’s in The Loyola Kids Book of Saints under “Saints are people who love their families.”  Here are the first two pages of the entry:

amy-welbornamy-welborn2

 

 

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI on today’s saint, Therese of Lisieux.  From the General Audience of 4/6/11:

 

Dear friends, we too, with St Thérèse of the Child Jesus must be able to repeat to the Lord every day that we want to live of love for him and for others, to learn at the school of the saints to love authentically and totally. Thérèse is one of the “little” ones of the Gospel who let themselves be led by God to the depths of his Mystery. A guide for all, especially those who, in the People of God, carry out their ministry as theologians. With humility and charity, faith and hope, Thérèse continually entered the heart of Sacred Scripture which contains the Mystery of Christ. And this interpretation of the Bible, nourished by the science of love, is not in opposition to academic knowledge. Thescience of the saints, in fact, of which she herself speaks on the last page of her The Story of a Soul, is the loftiest science.

“All the saints have understood and in a special way perhaps those who fill the universe with the radiance of the evangelical doctrine. Was it not from prayer that St Paul, St Augustine, St John of the Cross, St Thomas Aquinas, Francis, Dominic, and so many other friends of God drew thatwonderful science which has enthralled the loftiest minds?” (cf. Ms C 36r). Inseparable from the Gospel, for Thérèse the Eucharist was the sacrament of Divine Love that stoops to the extreme to raise us to him. In her last Letter, on an image that represents Jesus the Child in the consecrated Host, the Saint wrote these simple words: “I cannot fear a God who made himself so small for me! […] I love him! In fact, he is nothing but Love and Mercy!” (LT 266).

In the Gospel Thérèse discovered above all the Mercy of Jesus, to the point that she said: “To me, He has given his Infinite Mercy, and it is in this ineffable mirror that I contemplate his other divine attributes. Therein all appear to me radiant with Love. His Justice, even more perhaps than the rest, seems to me to be clothed with Love” (Ms A, 84r).

In these words she expresses herself in the last lines of The Story of a Soul: “I have only to open the Holy Gospels and at once I breathe the perfume of Jesus’ life, and then I know which way to run; and it is not to the first place, but to the last, that I hasten…. I feel that even had I on my conscience every crime one could commit… my heart broken with sorrow, I would throw myself into the arms of my Saviour Jesus, because I know that he loves the Prodigal Son” who returns to him. (Ms C, 36v-37r).

“Trust and Love” are therefore the final point of the account of her life, two words, like beacons, that illumined the whole of her journey to holiness, to be able to guide others on the same “little way of trust and love”, of spiritual childhood (cf. Ms C, 2v-3r; LT 226).

Trust, like that of the child who abandons himself in God’s hands, inseparable from the strong, radical commitment of true love, which is the total gift of self for ever, as the Saint says, contemplating Mary: “Loving is giving all, and giving oneself” (Why I love thee, Mary, P 54/22). Thus Thérèse points out to us all that Christian life consists in living to the full the grace of Baptism in the total gift of self to the Love of the Father, in order to live like Christ, in the fire of the Holy Spirit, his same love for all the others.

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Some months back, I read a blog post from someone I know a bit. Exploring the possibility of revisiting the Catholic faith of her childhood, she had gone to Mass. But she had left with her needs not met, she felt, because the priest’s homily had utilized battle themes. This disappointed her.

What struck me though, was that in reading this person’s writing for a few years, it was clear she had been fighting deep, painful battles, mostly related to her children. She was not fighting against them as much as fighting for them in their struggles with addiction and self-worth and calling. Yes, she had been fighting and she was exhausted by it, but she would not give up on her children.

It was too bad that she couldn’t see the connection. It was too bad that a combination of perhaps the priest’s failure to connect the battle imagery with personal battles or the walls she had put up to understanding had worked so that she could not see that yes, she and her children were fighting battles and that here in that place, God’s strength was available to her, light ready to be taken up against the darkness.

I have always thought of it this way. God created us in His image and our destiny is eternal life with Him. Darkness is fighting against that, is fighting to win us. It is Temptation 101, yes? But when we leave the battlefield image out of this dynamic because we are uncomfortable with it or think we have progressed beyond it, and we much prefer to talk of “journeys” and “seeking,”  we profoundly misunderstand the nature of the journey to Peace. Darkness doesn’t want you to live in the light of God’s accepting, constant, trustworthy love, and throw everything in its power to keep you out.

Yes, it is a battle.

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In my son’s prayer corner. I wrote about this piece a few years ago. Daniel Mitsui, the artist, seems to no longer have the cited explanation up on his website, but here it is nonetheless from another website:

This ink drawing (with gold leaf details) of St. Michael fighting the devil was commissioned by a priest of the Maryknoll Missionaries, an order with a long history of missionary activity in Japan. He asked whether I thought it possible to create an image of the archangel in the style of traditional Japanese art without the result being kitsch.

I was certainly willing to make an attempt. While inculturation is not something that I have consciously attempted in the past, I was eager to explore some of the illustrative ideas in Japanese woodblock printing. Utagawa Kuniyoshi, one of my favorite artists, provided most of the inspiration here.

I was also curious to see how successfully I could maintain the western iconographic traditions in the content and arrangement of religious pictures while using an eastern style of illustration.

 

From another part of the world, in 2010 on our parish mission trip, in Saltillo, Mexico:

"amy welborn"

Here’s a bit about the prayer of St. Michael from my book, The Words We Pray:

 

 

 

 

Tomorrow is St. Jerome! Get ready!

 

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Today’s her feastday. A post that’s a compilation from previous years:
St. Teresa is in The Loyola Kids Book of Heroes. You can read most of the entry here, at the Loyola site – they have a great section on saints’ stories arranged according to the calendar year. Some of the stories they have posted are from my books, some from other Loyola Press saints’ books.

When we think about the difference that love can make, many people very often think of one amy-welborn-booksperson: Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta. A tiny woman, just under five feet tall, with no tools except prayer, love, and the unique qualities God had given her, Mother Teresa is probably the most powerful symbol of the virtue of charity for people today.

Mother Teresa wasn’t, of course, born with that name. Her parents named her Agnes—or Gonxha in her own language—when she was born to them in Albania, a country north of Greece.

Agnes was one of four children. Her childhood was a busy, ordinary one. Although Agnes was very interested in missionary work around the world, as a child she didn’t really think about becoming a nun; but when she turned 18, she felt that God was beginning to tug at her heart, to call her, asking her to follow him.

Now Agnes, like all of us, had a choice. She could have ignored the tug on her heart. She could have filled her life up with other things so maybe she wouldn’t hear God’s call. But of course, she didn’t do that. She listened and followed, joining a religious order called the Sisters of Loreto, who were based in Dublin, Ireland.

Years ago,  when the excerpts from Mother Teresa’s journal detailing her “dark night” were published, I wrote several posts. All have links to other commentary.

The first is here.  One of the articles I linked there was this 2003 First Things piece.

A second post, in which I wrote:

My first post on the story of Mother Teresa’s decades-long struggle with spiritual darkness struck some as “dismissive,” and for that I apologize. That particular reaction was against the press coverage – not the Time article, but the subsequent filtering that I just knew would be picked up as a shocking new revelation and used by two groups to promote their own agendas: professional atheists (per the Hitchens reaction in the Time piece itself) and fundamentalist Protestants, who would take her lack of “blessed assurance” emotions as a sure sign that Catholicism was, indeed, far from being Christian.  Michael Spencer at Internet Monk had to issue a warning to his commentors on his Mother Teresa post, for example, that he wouldn’t be posting comments declaring that Roman Catholics weren’t Christian.

So that was my point in the “not news” remark. Because the simple fact of the dark night isn’t – not in terms of Mother Teresa herself or in terms of Catholic understanding and experience of spirituality.  It is very good that this book and the coverage has made this more widely known to people who were previously unaware of either the specifics or the general, and it is one more gift of Mother Teresa to the world, a gift she gave out of her own tremendous suffering. What strikes me is once again, at its best, taken as a whole, how honest Catholicism is about life, and our life with God. There is all of this room within Catholicism for every human experience of God, with no attempt to gloss over it or try to force every individual’s experience into a single mold of emotion or reaction.

In that post, I linked to Anthony Esolen at Touchstone:

Dubiety is inseparable from the human condition.  We must waver, because our knowledge comes to us piecemeal, sequentially, in time, mixed up with the static of sense impressions that lead us both toward and away from the truth we try to behold steadily.  The truths of faith are more certain than the truths arrived by rational deduction, says Aquinas, because the revealer of those truths speaks with ultimate authority, but they are less certain subjectively, from the point of view of the finite human being who receives them yet who does not, on earth, see them with the same clarity as one sees a tree or a stone or a brook.  It should give us Christians pause to consider that when Christ took upon himself our mortal flesh, he subjected himself to that same condition.  He did not doubt; His faith was steadfast; yet He did feel, at that most painful of moments upon the Cross, what it was like to be abandoned by God.  He was one with us even in that desert, a desert of suffering and love.  Nor did the Gospel writers — those same whom the world accuses on Monday of perpetrating the most ingenious literary and theological hoax in history, and on Tuesday of being dimwitted and ignorant fishermen, easily suggestible — refuse to tell us of that moment.

     In her love of Christ — and the world does not understand Christ, and is not too bright about love, either — Mother Teresa did not merely take up His cross and follow him.  She was nailed to that Cross with him. 

Another post with more links to commentary.

And one more.

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For St. Augustine’s feastday, from Notre Dame’s John Cavadini:

(In this lecture – offered as part of Notre Dame’s pre-home game “Saturday with the Saints” series – Cavadini begins by explaining what the phrase “hermeneutic of suspicion” means – and then explores Augustine’s understanding of pride and humility: Augustine, he says, reminds us to embrace a “hermeneutic of suspicion” towards ourselves, first, our motivations and then the culture at large, by judging whether they are rooted in pride or humble gratitude – which is the foundation of praise – to God. )

Augustine drily comments in a sermon that the Cross is the Incarnate Word’s chaired professorship, the place from which he teaches as magister, and yet there are not many would-be educational leaders vying for that particular Chair, which, I suppose, could be called the Word-Made-Flesh Professorship of Suffering Love and Compassionate Self-Gift, endowed not with cash but with blood. Can we listen, Augustine asks us, to Professor Jesus? Can we afford to let that love seep into our own closed hearts? And suddenly, out of gratitude for the sacrifice of love, for something so beautiful, we, in love with something completely non-prestigious, non-excellent as we have come to construe and constrain it, blurt out “Thank you! Thank you, thank you, thank you!” “You burst my bonds asunder, and to you will I offer a sacrifice of praise”—a sacrifice that extends not only to my lips and my heart but becomes a “Thank you” that even enters “all my bones” so that even they cry out the question, “Who is like you, O Lord?” And then he answers, “I am your salvation.” And then, maybe even we reply:

Late have I loved you, Beauty ever ancient and ever new, Late have I loved you! . . . You called, shouted, broke through my deafness; you flared, blazed, banished my blindness; you lavished your fragrance, I gasped, and now I pant for you; I tasted you, and I hunger and thirst; you touched me, and I burned for your peace (Confessions, 10.xx).

 

In the crypt of the Duomo – the baptistry where St. Ambrose baptized St. Augustine:

The Metro stop is nearby, and an underground corridor passes the baptistry.  You can peek out at the passengers rushing by, and if you are on the other side you could peek in to the baptistry – if you knew it was there.

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This is a reprint from previous years. Haven’t changed my mind on any of it, so here you go.

I spent some time today reading about and trying to sort out St. Rose of Lima.  I knew the basics that most of us know, and not much more: mystic, extreme ascetic.  When I was a girl, I remember reading about how she drove her metal-spiked crown of thorns into her scalp. That was, not surprisingly, my main takeaway.

So today, I decided to dig deeper. I read through most of this 19th century biography – a translation into English from French. I read what chapters I could (the first two) of this reassessment and psychological unpacking, and finally settled in a more comfortable place than either of those with a chapter from Four in Heaven (1962) by British author Sheila Kaye-Smith.

What to make of her, the first saint of the Americas, this young woman who engaged in such extreme mortifications that even some of her contemporary confessors and other observers, including her mother,  thought she was going too far?

It might be tempting for us moderns to dismiss figures such as Rose. She was, we might gently suggest, mentally ill.  She was a victim and product of a guilt-ridden Catholic culture who could not simply accept the grace of God, but thought she had to abnegate herself in order to merit it.

But we shouldn’t do that. It is not helpful or right, in a Catholic context, to be so dismissive. Nor is it necessary to uncritically embrace all the hagiography. We must also always remember that in the Catholic view of saints, we bring two perspectives: to imitate st. rose of limaand to admire. We are not called to imitation of every action of every saint, because we live in different cultures, with various personalities. So not feeling the pull to jam a crown of metal thorns into our scalps should not cause anxiety. It’s okay.

In thinking this over, this struck me: it seems to me that even the saints who pursued extreme ways of personal asceticism did not indicate that everyone do the same.

St. Catherine, in her many letters, does not advise her correspondents that the solution to their spiritual problems was to live as she did, on a single grain of rice a day and sleeping on a board (when she slept). There might be a call to change, to repent, and perhaps to embrace some small mortification, but mostly what we read in her writings, at least, is an urgent invitation to realize how deeply Christ loves us and to live in that light, not the darkness the world offers.

They seem quite aware of the uniqueness of their own path, and do not suggest that theirs is the standard by which all others should be judged. In fact, the saints seem to take the opposite tack: as stubborn as they are about their own mortifications, they tend to keep them secret as much as they are able and are uncomfortable with “followers” who are following them rather than following Christ.

In trying to understand St. Rose, these thoughts come to mind.

She sensed a call to belong to Christ alone. In her culture and her family circumstance, she had to go to extremes to make sure that was clear to everyone and she would not be forced into marriage. Perhaps you can see this as manipulation, or you can see it as a strong rejection of the world in a most personal way.

It is interesting and important to note that hardly anyone knew of these mortifications during her life. The people of Lima who flocked to her funeral by the thousands certainly did not – they came because this young woman radiated the love of Christ.

St. Rose would say that her mortifications were in fidelity to her call to conform herself completely to Christ. Christ sacrificed himself. Christ’s supreme act of love was his Passion and death.  Many of us think of this call differently today: to accept what sufferings happen to come our way in a sacrificial spirit, in imitation of Christ, rather than to create them ourselves. Perhaps the experience of St. Rose can expand our own approach by helping us understand that living as a disciple does, indeed mean conforming ourselves to the Crucified Christ, accepting that the Cross will be a part of whatever path we follow, but that if we do find ourselves conforming to the world instead, it is time to take action and be more intentional – to make sacrifices in addition to accepting them as they come.

I also wondered, based on the minimal reading I did on this, if perhaps Rose knew herself and we should trust her. Perhaps she knew that she had a tendency to vanity. Perhaps she knew that even if she gave up marriage and lived as sort of anchorite, intensely focused on Christ, that she would still draw attention and that attention, even if it is directed at spiritual rather than physical beauty, would be a temptation to her. Perhaps her extreme mortifications were directed at keeping herself conformed to the humble Christ in the most radical way, a way that she knew, for herself, would be at risk as people were drawn to her. Perhaps she wanted to keep herself radically open to Christ in her physical weakness so that she would always remember it was Jesus, not her, that the people of Lima desired and sought.

I don’t know. I’m just guessing.

It comes down to this. Different culture, but same Jesus, same faith. We are tempted to dismiss it, but that’s not Catholic. Instead, we dig deeper, realize our own cultural limitations, and listen. Because, you know, she’s not wrong.

It’s a mystery, but suffering can be beneficial and bear tremendous fruit. She’s not wrong.

Christian discipleship is about conforming ourselves to Christ. She’s not wrong. 

The world is beautiful (Rose grew flowers!) but can stand between us and God if we don’t know how to love properly.  She’s not wrong.

“Success”  in the spiritual life can lead to an inflated sense of self and hubris.

She’s not wrong.

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Only one substantive thing today, related to reading. Not surprisingly, this took me down a rabbit trail that ended up being quite absorbing and, in several strange turns, pertinent to the present day.

But first: Writing: Still working on an essay, which I hope to finish today, then on to the talk for Saturday. From the past – since it’s the feast of the Queenship of Mary – don’t forget that you can get my e-book Mary and the Christian Life – for .99 here. 

Reading: The only pieces of substance that I read were journal articles –  two available through “open access” at the Journal of Ecclesiastical History: “The ‘Affair of the Photographs:’ Controlling the Image of a Nineteenth-Century Stigmatic.” The abstract:

The article focuses on an episode concerning the photographs of the famous Belgian Louise_Lateaustigmatic, Louise Lateau. Examining the events leading up to the bishop’s decision to restrict the circulation of her portrait, it becomes clear that the ‘affair’ of 1877 was as much about creating her public saintly image as it was about controlling it. Studying the ecclesiastical response to grassroots initiatives adds a more religious perspective to the young field of celebrity studies and offers a more complex view on sanctity, and the role of the media and modern techniques in its creation, use and misuse.

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This, somehow, lead me to another journal article (also with open access) on a very specific topic – as journal articles tend to be – on the use of houses and memorabilia collections in canonization campaigns: 

In this article, I argue that the houses and memorabilia collections associated with venerated personages played an important role in campaigns to elevate popular, unofficial, saintly figures to the level of the blessed or even canonised saints. Two practices converged in these campaigns: the Catholic tradition of sacralising specific sites and endowing material remnants with special meaning, and the ‘museumification’ of memorial houses and collections. The focus here is on the use of material culture in the beatification campaigns for modern stigmatics (who carried the wounds of Christ). Of the hundreds of cases that were reported, only a few were beatified and canonised. The article concentrates primarily on one success story: the evolution of the German stigmatic Anne Catherine Emmerick (1774–1824) from a ‘living saint’ to her being officially blessed (2004) and the role that her houses and possessions played in the promotion of her cult following and image construction.

Whether you are interested in these particular areas or not, hopefully, even scanning these abstracts might remind you of something important: Our sense of the past (and present, for that matter) tends to be flattened into a series of inevitable narratives that fit neatly into whatever our contemporary ideological narrative is – that is just not the way it was or is. Digging into particular elements of history even from weirdly specific angles (like museum studies) sheds light on the past – and present – in valuable ways. In other words: things just don’t happen. People make them happen. 

By the way, a side road unrelated to canonization that popped out of these articles was the very bizarre case of the Bishop of Tournai, one Edmond Dumont. Bear with me and read along. You won’t regret it.

This is a translated version of the French Wiki page. Born in 1828, apparently brilliant, studied in Rome, ordained, and the volunteered for North American missions (inspired by DeSmet)  where he served in Michigan for six years before returning to Belgium because of health issues. Appointed to the see of Tournai, he was a vocal supporter of the papacy and of a more “conservative” angle to Catholicism among more “liberal” voices in the Belgian church. (And a supporter of stigmatist Louise Lateau.)

He generated hostility among his clergy, and an apostolic administrator was appointed by Rome. At this point, he became even more vocal, and, in the words of this biography of Leo XIII: “…influenced by the enemies of religion, with his mental troubles growing worse, he began to protest, ever more and more violently, by word of mouth, and in the Press, against the Papal decree. Having become a rock of scandal, acting in concert with writers most hostile to the Catholic Church, he almost daily poured out insult and outrage through the newspapers, exciting the faithful to the same insolence, insulting men clad in the highest dignities of the Church….”

The pope convened a commission to study the situation, and the recommendation was to depose Dumont – so he was. Deposed of any episcopal jurisdiction and stripped of his title.

But wait!

There’s more!

From something called Appleton’s  – a very detailed annual almanac of world events (here, 1883), we learn the following:

In Belgium, there was property associated with clerical offices, property which was passed on to successors. After Dumont’s power was diminished by the appointment of an apostolic administrator (but before he was deposed), the diocesan administrator decided it would be wise to protect that property, so he put them under the charge of one Canon Bernard.

“Although Tournai is the smallest and poorest of the six Belgian sees, yet the portable funds in the treasury amounted to more than 5 million francs. Canon Bernard, after that-escalated-quicklyfirst consulting [a member of the Belgian cabinet] ran away with the securities and accounts to America and deposited most of them in safety-vaults in New York and Boston. About 1,700,000 francs of the private funds of Monseigneur  Dumont were sent back to Belgium in charge of a Montreal attorney, named Goodhue, who was arrested on his arrival. The Belgian government applied for his [I think “he” here is Bernard] extradition and he was arrested at Havana and sent back to Belgium on charges of embezzlement.”

Bernard was tried and acquitted since his actions were under obedience to church authorities.

More detail here. 

Crazy. 

(I will say that there are a lot of pieces missing to the English-speaker here. Perhaps somewhere in Belgium archives there is a complete telling of this story, but there are so many gaps and questions – how did this ultramontane bishop turn into a rabble-rouser against papal authority? Was he really mentally unstable, or was that a story told by his opponents?)

Now, let’s look at that rabbit trail.

Regular readers are probably tired of me advocating for reading history as a remedy for despair in the present – but do you see why? Saying that corruption and sin have always been a part of Church life is not in any way a diminishing of current troubles, scandals and sins. But it does, I hope, moderate our temptation to despair and – this is important – see how the Church has dealt with corruption in the past – which it has, in varied ways, in varied circumstances, with varied results, including  – yes – removing and deposing bishops.

 

 

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Today, it’s Bernard of Clairvaux, via Benedict XVI, Pius XII, and Thomas Merton.

And no, “Doctor Mellifluus” is not the title of a film starring Vincent Price.  It means, “the honey-sweet doctor.”

Starting most recently and moving backwards – from a 2009 General Audience, part of the lengthy series Benedict offered as a catechesis to the whole world on great men and women of the Church.

Today I would like to talk about St Bernard of Clairvaux, called “the last of the Fathers” of the Church because once again in the 12th century he renewed and brought to the fore the important theology of the Fathers. We do not know in any detail about the years of his childhood; however, we know that he was born in 1090 in Fontaines, France, into a large and fairly well-to-do family. As a very young man he devoted himself to the study of the so-called liberal arts especially grammar, rhetoric and dialectics at the school of the canons of the Church of Saint-Vorles at Châtillon-sur-Seine; and the decision to enter religious life slowly matured within him. At the age of about 20, he entered Cîteaux, a new monastic foundation that was more flexible in comparison with the ancient and venerable monasteries of the period while at the same time stricter in the practice of the evangelical counsels. A few years later, in 1115, Bernard was sent by Stephen Harding, the third Abbot of Cîteaux, to found the monastery of Clairvaux. Here the young Abbot he was only 25 years old was able to define his conception of monastic life and set about putting it into practice. In looking at the discipline of other monasteries, Bernard firmly recalled the need for a sober and measured life, at table as in clothing and monastic buildings, and recommended the support and care of the poor. In the meantime the community of Clairvaux became ever more numerous and its foundations multiplied.

In those same years before 1130 Bernard started a prolific correspondence with many people of both important and modest social status. To the many Epistolae of this period must be added numerous Sermones, as well as Sententiae and Tractatus. Bernard’s great friendship with William, Abbot of Saint-Thierry, and with William of Champeaux, among the most important figures of the 12th century, also date to this period. As from 1130, Bernard began to concern himself with many serious matters of the Holy See and of the Church. For this reason he was obliged to leave his monastery ever more frequently and he sometimes also travelled outside France. He founded several women’s monasteries and was the protagonist of a lively correspondence with Peter the Venerable, Abbot of Cluny, of whom I spoke last Wednesday. In his polemical writings he targeted in particular Abelard, a great thinker who had conceived of a new approach to theology, introducing above all the dialectic and philosophical method in the constructi0n of theological thought. On another front Bernard combated the heresy of the Cathars, who despised matter and the human body and consequently despised the Creator. On the other hand, he felt it was his duty to defend the Jews, and condemned the ever more widespread outbursts of anti-Semitism. With regard to this aspect of his apostolic action, several decades later Rabbi Ephraim of Bonn addressed a vibrant tribute to Bernard. In the same period the holy Abbot wrote his most famous works such as the celebrated Sermons on the Song of Songs [In Canticum Sermones]. In the last years of his life he died in 1153 Bernard was obliged to curtail his journeys but did not entirely stop travelling. He made the most of this "bernard of clairvaux"time to review definitively the whole collection of his Letters, Sermons and Treatises. Worthy of mention is a quite unusual book that he completed in this same period, in 1145, when Bernardo Pignatelli, a pupil of his, was elected Pope with the name of Eugene III. On this occasion, Bernard as his spiritual father, dedicated to his spiritual son the text De Consideratione [Five Books on Consideration] which contains teachings on how to be a good Pope. In this book, which is still appropriate reading for the Popes of all times, Bernard did not only suggest how to be a good Pope, but also expressed a profound vision of the Mystery of the Church and of the Mystery of Christ which is ultimately resolved in contemplation of the mystery of the Triune God. “The search for this God who is not yet sufficiently sought must be continued”, the holy Abbot wrote, “yet it may be easier to search for him and find him in prayer rather than in discussion. So let us end the book here, but not the search” (XIV, 32: PL 182, 808) and in journeying on towards God.

I would now like to reflect on only two of the main aspects of Bernard’s rich doctrine: they concern Jesus Christ and Mary Most Holy, his Mother. His concern for the Christian’s intimate and vital participation in God’s love in Jesus Christ brings no new guidelines to the scientific status of theology. However, in a more decisive manner than ever, the Abbot of Clairvaux embodies the theologian, the contemplative and the mystic. Jesus alone Bernard insists in the face of the complex dialectical reasoning of his time Jesus alone is “honey in the mouth, song to the ear, jubilation in the heart (mel in ore, in aure melos, in corde iubilum)”. The title Doctor Mellifluus, attributed to Bernard by tradition, stems precisely from this; indeed, his praise of Jesus Christ “flowed like honey”. In the extenuating battles between Nominalists and Realists two philosophical currents of the time the Abbot of Clairvaux never tired of repeating that only one name counts, that of Jesus of Nazareth. “All food of the soul is dry”, he professed, “unless it is moistened with this oil; insipid, unless it is seasoned with this salt. What you write has no savour for me unless I have read Jesus in it” (In Canticum Sermones XV, 6: PL 183, 847). For Bernard, in fact, true knowledge of God consisted in a personal, profound experience of Jesus Christ and of his love. And, dear brothers and sisters, this is true for every Christian: faith is first and foremost a personal, intimate encounter with Jesus, it is having an experience of his closeness, his friendship and his love. It is in this way that we learn to know him ever better, to love him and to follow him more and more. May this happen to each one of us!

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Then Pius XII, who wrote an encyclical on St. Bernard on Pentecost, 1953:

6. From these words it is clear that in his study and his contemplation, under the influence of love rather than through the subtlety of human reasoning, Bernard’s sole aim was to focus on the supreme Truth all the ways of truth which he had gathered from many different sources. From them he drew light for the mind, the fire of charity for the soul, and right standards of conduct. This is indeed true wisdom, which rides over all things human, and brings everything back to its source, that is, to God, in order to lead men to Him. The “Doctor Mellifluus” makes his way with care deliberately through the uncertain and unsafe winding paths of reasoning, not trusting in the keenness of his own mind nor depending upon the tedious and artful syllogisms which many of the dialecticians of his time often abused. No! Like an eagle, longing to fix his eyes on the sun, he presses on in swift flight to the summit of truth.

7. The charity which moves him, knows no barriers and, so to speak, gives wings to the mind. For him, learning is not the final goal, but rather a path leading to God; it is not something cold upon which the mind dwells aimlessly, as though amusing itself under the spell of shifting, brilliant light. Rather, it is moved, impelled, and governed by love. Wherefore, carried upwards by this wisdom and in meditation, contemplation, and love, Bernard climbs the peak of the mystical life and is joined to God Himself, so that at times he enjoyed almost infinite happiness even in this mortal life.

After this encyclical was released, Thomas Merton was enjoined by his superiors to write a brief book introducing the saint and the encyclical to American readers. It’s called, The Last of the Fathers: Saint Bernard of Clairvaux and the Encyclical Letter Doctor Mellifluus. 

I read it on Scribd last night (and in order to read it you must have an account) and cannot cut and paste excerpts.  But just know that it’s a good, brief introduction to Bernard’s life and writings, and Merton’s treatment of the preaching of the Second Crusade is particularly helpful.  I’ll be non-lazy and actually type out an excerpt, which is Merton’s summary of Pius’ summary of one aspect of Bernard’s approach.  First, the encyclical:

In the following words, he describes most appropriately the doctrine, or rather the wisdom, which he follows and "amy welborn"ardently loves: “It is the spirit of wisdom and understanding which, like a bee bearing both wax and honey, is able to kindle the light of knowledge and to pour in the savor of grace. Hence, let nobody think he has received a kiss, neither he who understands the truth but does not love it, nor he who loves the truth but does not understand it.”[7] “What would be the good of learning without love? It would puff up. And love without learning? It would go astray.'[8] “Merely to shine is futile; merely to burn is not enough; to burn and to shine is perfect.”[9] Then he explains the source of true and genuine doctrine, and how it must be united with charity: “God is Wisdom, and wants to be loved not only affectionately, but also wisely. . . Otherwise, if you neglect knowledge, the spirit of error will most easily lay snares for your zeal; nor has the wily enemy a more efficacious means of driving love from the heart, than if he can make a man walk carelessly and imprudently in the path of love.”[10]

And then, as Merton puts it:

The Holy Father then proceeds to distinguish the wisdom of Saint Bernard from true and false philosophy, reminding us that the only philosophy Saint Bernard despised was the false ‘curiosity’ which could not lead to the true knowledge of God because it blinded us to our need for His merciful love.

Opposed to this curiosity, the science that ‘puffeth up’ because it is without charity, is the true theology which Bernard loved with the most ardent devotion. This theology, as the Holy Father points out in three succinct quotations from Saint Bernard is a wisdom rather than a science. It is not only a perception of the divine truth by understanding but an embrace of that truth by love. Both these elements of knowledge and love are absolutely essential for true wisdom, for ‘What would be the good of learning without love? It would puff us up And love without learning? It would go astray.’ This is one of those many instances in which Saint Bernard’s Latin loses all its character in translation. The original must be seen to be fully appreciated: ‘Quid faceret eruditio absque dilectione? Inflaret. Quid absque eruditione dilectio? Erraret.’

Saint Bernard, the Doctor of Mystical Love, must necessarily be a defender of truth and of learning. God Himself is wisdom. Therefore He can only be loved fittingly if He is loved wisely. Neglect of knowledge leads love into error, and the enemy of souls has no more efficacious way of drawing God’s love out of our hearts, Saint Bernard says, than by inducing us to seek Him without the light of intelligence. 

Also – many today still turn to St. Bernard’s words on humility and pride. Msgr. Charles wrote about this a few years ago in a way that’s very helpful and relatable to the present moment. 

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