Saint Bernard of Clairvaux: Favoured Son of Our Lady

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St. Bernard is a ‘sun’ of the Catholic Church and Marian devotion. He is the “Melifluous Doctor” who exalted the goodness and mercy of Our Lady.

Newsrooom (20/08/2021 15:15, )Gaudium Press Saint Bernard of Clairvaux emerged as a fascinating figure who distinguished himself in his time by having brought the Cistercian reform to its fullest expression.

In the year 1091, the third child of the Lord of Fontaines and the virtuous Lady Alet was born in a castle in Burgundy. Shortly before giving birth to the child, his mother had a dream so clear and expressive that her maternal intuition could not fail to see in it a providential warning about her son’s future: a puppy of the whitest fur appeared in her dream, barking strongly and unceasingly.

Distressed, however, because she could not find a clear interpretation to translate her presentiments, she consulted a servant of God, who told her: “The child will be a great preacher and will bark continuously to guard the House of God, and will heal the wounds of many souls”.

Dr. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira describes him this way: “I imagine him tall, almost slender; clear, with regular features and rigorously shaven hair; firm, transparent, and with piercing eyes; capable, however, of an unimaginable sweetness. He must have been eloquent like a flame of fire rising from the snowy purity of his body, clad in a very clean tunic. An aura of silvery whiteness surrounded him, adorning him with respectability.

“Saint Bernard was a man who emitted the supernatural in a thousand ways; a kind of continuous ‘flash’ for those who knew him. A man formed entirely of the supernatural, I imagine him praying with an emphasis pierced by affection, but with a touch of polemic: ‘Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known…'”

Who in the Christian world does not know the incomparable and sweet prayer of the ‘Memorare,‘ attributed to him? He was one of the first to call the Mother of God “Our Lady”.

Radicality of monastic life

When Bernard was 21 years old, divine grace had long been knocking at the door of his burning heart: ‘Why have you come into the world?’ This question came to his mind with increasing frequency.

The radicalism of the monastic life attracted this soul created for great acts of heroism: to abandon honours, wealth, and family; to consecrate himself forever to the service of the Eternal King; to live by that supernatural love whose flames grew unceasingly within him?

Strengthened and filled with supernatural certainty, Bernard set out for an almost unknown monastery, then recently founded by the holy Abbot Robert of Molesmes, located in a forest not far from his family’s castle: a Cistercian monastery.

Clairvaux

By order of his Superior, Saint Stephen Harding, Bernard set out to found a new abby, accompanied by twelve companions. He was only 25 years old.

The chosen stop was an isolated and shady valley, feared because of the thieves who sought refuge there. But soon the forest gave way to cultivated fields; the walls began to rise; pure and manly voices echoed the Laus Perenni in those vast expanses; the divine light reflected by Saint Bernard dispelled the obscurity of the place, which came to be called Clara Vallis – Clairvaux.

The Abbot of Clairvaux was a soul privileged by grace, with whom Our Lady established an alliance of special affection and trust, as though She saw in him an Alter Christi to whom She revealed the secrets of Her Immaculate Heart.

Partaking of the intimate confidences of the Queen of Heaven enabled the holy monk to have a very close spiritual relationship with Her, to the point of making a vow to love Her always.

His life was animated by great desires, but mostly crowned with colossal failures, permitted by the Mother of Mercy to form him more like Her Divine Son.

Voice and arm of God

The light was not made to be hidden, but instead to enlighten and shine in the eyes of all (cf. Mt 5:15-16). In vain did Bernardo seek the solitude and silence of his beloved valley. Against his will, he became the advisor of popes, bishops, and monarchs, the spiritual director of medieval Europe, indeed the Moses of Christendom.

There was no more ardent preacher or more prestigious personage than he. Venerated as a saint by the crowds and recognized as a prophet and miracle worker, his mere presence, words, and writings aroused new enthusiasm and victoriously combated heresies and opponents of the Church.

Saint Bernard preaches the Second Crusade

He had an eagle’s heart, eager to soar to the wide horizons of contemplation. Yet this did not prevent him from promoting noble institutions on earth, such as the Order of the Knights Templar, to which he dedicated one of his writings – ‘De laude novæ militiæ’.

In it he praises the monks-warriors for being as they were, so as to reveal to him the secrets of his heart; as ministers of God “for the vengeance of the wicked and the praise of the good“.

Through Bernard, Her beloved son, Mary spread throughout Christendom a renewed fervour for Her maternal mediation and blew a powerful breath of life over the embers of medieval combativeness.

In this way, Christian pugnacity showed its most striking face in the Orders of Chivalry, whose beneficial influence on the Crusades is recorded in the annals of history.

“Come, blessed of my Father”.

Returning from an apostolic mission, at the advanced age of 63 years, he healed a blind woman in the presence of a huge crowd which had come to venerate him. It was his last miracle performed during his earthly existence.

When he arrived at his beloved monastery of Clairvaux, he felt faint, yet his soul overflowed with the serene confidence of the sailor who finally sees the longed-for port.

On August 20, 1153, at nine o’clock in the morning, he surrendered his most pure soul to his Creator and Redeemer.

Text adapted from the magazine Heralds of the Gospel, August 2006 and the book ‘Mary Most Holy! The Paradise of God Revealed to Men’, V.3, by Msgr Scognamiglio Clá Dias.

Compiled by Sandra Chisholm

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