ST BERNARD KNEW HIMSELF TO BE CALLED TO SEEK GOD’S FACE, to be conformed to Christ and to work tirelessly for the Kingdom of God and he saw all of that happening within the Cistercian community. From his prayer, three personal qualities developed in St Bernard: self-knowledge, merciful compassion, contemplation. Self-knowledge: although he didn’t seem to doubt his own giftedness, he was someone who remained fully aware of his own limitations in a way that did not cripple him or curtail his activities, but which grounded in reality whatever he did and whatever he taught. He was self-accepting and he did not take himself too seriously. Secondly, this good-humoured self-knowledge meant that he had a high degree of empathy for others and was accepting of different temperaments and vocations. He was known for many acts of personal kindness and for his compassion for those of his monks who found themselves in some sort of trouble.
In his teaching as in his life he emphasised that we are social beings, called to care for one another without partiality or limits: ‘The measure of love is to love without measure’. Finally, this self-forgetful acceptance of the neighbour opened the way to an intimacy and union with God which was the goal of his life, the fruit of his ardent desire and lifelong seeking. While ever keeping his feet on the ground, Bernard was a man who allowed himself to be drawn into the life of heaven, who sought the things that are above, whose real homeland was in heaven.
Bernard was often called away from the simple contemplative, monastic life that he had been called to, to serve as advisor to Popes and princes, a peace-maker in difficult situations and, paradoxically, as the spiritual leader for the second Crusade. Inevitably there was ambiguity in some of these involvements. He himself experienced the frustration of his situation: called to serve in ways that were beyond his calling and feeling/interest. To his friend Guigo he wrote: ‘I am poor and naked, a man born for toil, like a little bird that has not yet grown feathers, nearly all the time out of its dear nest, at the mercy of wind and storm’. Letting God’s light, wisdom, grace shine forth is not an exercise in self-glorification; it is hard labour for the sake of God’s kingdom.
Despite his lifelong labour he remained a contemplative man; his deeds emerged from an inner core of prayer. As for ourselves, we also are called to be a sign of goodness and light in our world: by the honesty and integrity of our lives, by the depth of our self-knowledge and ongoing conversion. We are called to be light in our world by our compassion for others and our willingness to share their concerns. We are called to be light in our world by our union with God, our prayer, our contemplative life. This is also our mission, our call. On this Solemnity of Saint Bernard let us ask his intercession and pray that divine grace may bring to completion the good work already begun in us so that in all things God may be glorified.