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Sunday 19 August 2012

St. Bernard on Using Knowledge as Charity and Wisdom

“There are people who only wish to know for the sake of knowing: this is base curiosity. Others wish to know in order that they themselves may be known: this is shameful vanity, and such people cannot escape the mockery of the satirical poet who said about their likes: ‘For you, knowing is nothing unless someone else knows that you know.’ Then there are those who acquire knowledge in order to re-sell it, and for example to make money or gain honours from it: their motive is distasteful. But some wish to know in order to edify: this is charity. Others in order to be edified: this is wisdom. Only those who belong to these last two categories do not misuse knowledge, since they only seek to understand in order to do good.” (St. Bernardus, Sermo XXXVI in Cantica, PL, CLXXXIII, 968.)

Fourth part of the mini-series on St. Bernard, the Saint of Love

The Blessed Virgin Mary is St. Bernard's Lady. Bernard was born and lived in the age of the great poets of Romance. He experienced an intense love of God and the Theotokos. In The Paradiso, as seen in the first of this series, Bernard takes Dante to the Beatific Vision. But, they encounter Our Lady, in the White Rose. The White Rose is the Perfect Love of God, and Mary is there at the center.

Can we not all spend time and let our longings for love center on Mary and Her Son? Today, I ask St. Bernard to lead us, as he led Dante in the poem, to Mary and through Mary to the Trinity. Remember all those medieval Christmas carols calling Mary the Rose. 

Beauty, grace, love...this is our Faith. This is our heritage through baptism. This is the goal of our short lives.

Be bold, like St. Bernard. Let your soul be led to Love, Who is Three Persons in One God.

God is The Rose. He is Love. On this vigil of the feast day of St. Bernard, open yourselves up to Love. Mary, Our Lady, guide us. Be not afraid.

Third part of the mini-series on the Saint of Love

from Sermons on The Song of Songs, 2

It would seem that this holy kiss was of necessity bestowed on the world for two reasons. Without it the faith of those who wavered would not have been strengthened, nor the desires of the fervent appeased. Moreover, this kiss is no other than the Mediator between God and man, himself a man, Christ Jesus, who with the Father and Holy Spirit lives and reigns as God for ever and ever

St. Bernard is a Doctor of the Church. This means that Holy Mother Church recommends his work for our reading list. His sermons and letters fill volumes and volumes of books.

I first discovered him a long time ago and was enraptured by his personal knowledge of Christ and his great response of love for Love. The sermons on The Song of Songs can only be called amazing. That a man would have such boldness to write of his love for Christ and Christ's love for him is only matched, if at all, by the writings of SS. Augustine and John of the Cross.

Where are the men today who show us and communicate the Love Who is a Person to us? Why do we not have examples of such in the recent years? Is it that men who are called by God have to be so macho as not to be able to receive Christ's Love? Think on this. The Church has chosen so many business types of priests and bishops that the poets are missing. Our present Pope Benedict XVI in his encyclical on love, which I have written about here, comes close. But, the romantic age seems to be over and the language of love lost.

Here is St. Bernard. How wonderful are these bold words. The conscientious man of those days might repeat to himself: "Of what use to me the wordy effusions of the prophets? Rather let him who is the most handsome of the sons of men, let him kiss me with the kiss of his mouth. No longer am I satisfied to listen to Moses, for he is a slow speaker and not able to speak well. Isaiah is a man of unclean lips, Jeremiah does not know how to speak, he is a child ; not one of the prophets makes an impact on me with his words. But he, the one whom they proclaim, let him speak to me, “let him kiss me with the kiss of his mouth.” I have no desire that he should approach me in their person, or address me with their words, for they are “'a watery darkness, a dense cloud;” rather in his own person “let him kiss me with the kiss of his mouth;” let him whose presence is full of love, from whom exquisite doctrines flow in streams, let him become “a spring inside me, welling up to eternal life.” Shall I not receive a richer infusion of grace from him whom the Father has anointed with the oil of gladness above all his rivals, provided that he will bestow on me the kiss of his mouth? For his living, active word is to me a kiss, not indeed an adhering of the lips that can sometimes belie a union of hearts, but an unreserved infusion of joys, a revealing of mysteries, a marvelous and indistinguishable mingling of the divine light with the enlightened mind, which, joined in truth to God, is one spirit with him. With good reason then I avoid trucking with visions and dreams; I want no part with parables and figures of speech; even the very beauty of the angels can only leave me wearied. For my Jesus utterly surpasses these in his majesty and splendor. Therefore I ask of him what I ask of neither man nor angel: that he kiss me with the kiss of his mouth.
Note how I do not presume that it is with his mouth I shall be kissed, for that constitutes the unique felicity and singular privilege of the human nature he assumed. No, in the consciousness of my lowliness I ask to be kissed with the kiss of his mouth, an experience shared by all who are in a position to say: “Indeed from his fullness we have, all of us, received.”

I know some monks today would be squirming in their stalls today if their abbot spoke like this. But, these are the words of experience, of a mystical union with God. And, as Garrigou-Lagrange writes, this experience is for all Catholics, not merely the great ones.

Do we believe that?

I must ask you to try to give your whole attention here. The mouth that kisses signifies the Word who assumes human nature; the nature assumed receives the kiss; the kiss however, that takes its being both from the giver and the receiver, is a person that is formed by both, none other than "the one mediator between God and mankind, himself a man, Christ Jesus." It is for this reason that none of the saints dared say: "let him kiss me with his mouth," but rather, "with the kiss of his mouth." In this way they paid tribute to that prerogative of Christ, on whom uniquely and in one sole instance the mouth of the word was pressed, that moment when the fullness of the divinity yielded itself to him as the life of his body. A fertile kiss therefore, a marvel of stupendous self-abasement that is not a mere pressing of mouth upon mouth; it is the uniting of God with man. Normally the touch of lip on lip is the sign of the loving embrace of hearts, but this conjoining of natures brings together the human and divine, shows God reconciling "to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven.'' "For he is the peace between us, and has made the two into one.'' This was the kiss for which just men yearned under the old dispensation, foreseeing as they did that in him they would "find happiness and a crown of rejoicing," because in him were hidden "all the jewels of wisdom and knowledge.' Hence their longing to taste that fullness of his.

Second part of the mini-series on St. Bernard of Clairvaux

Can you imagine in the cold and damp monastery of Clairvaux, in the refectory or monastery church, St. Bernard reading to his monks an exposition of The Song of Songs? I wonder at his audacity as well as his mystic insights. What must the monks have thought of his intense descriptions of the Love of Christ for each soul of the monk there in the twilight?

One of the sermons, Number 20, is called the "Three Qualities of Love". I would like to share part of this beautiful meditation with you. The saint begins with the realization that we are all called to love God and that we all fall short of doing this. But, this monk is on fire with real love.

Turn toward yourself, O God, this little that you have granted me to be; take from this miserable life, I beg you, the years that remain. In place of all that I lost in my evil way of living, O God, do not refuse a humble and penitent heart. My days have lengthened like a shadow and passed without fruits I cannot bring them back, but let it please you at least if I offer them to you in the bitterness of my soul. As for wisdom -- my every desire and intention is before you -- if there were any in me, I would keep it for you. But, God, you know my stupidity, unless perhaps it is wisdom for me to recognize it, and even this is your gift. Grant me more; not that I am ungrateful for this small gift, but that I am eager for what is lacking. For all these things, and as much as I am able, I love you.

He continues referring to the fact that Christ's suffering in His Passion is the great sign of His Love given freely.

As St John said: "Not that we had loved him, but that he first loved us." He loved us even before we existed, and in addition he loved us when we resisted him. According to the witness of St Paul: "Even when we were still his enemies we were reconciled to God through the blood of his Son." If he had not loved his enemies, he could not have had any friends, just as he would have had no one to love if he had not loved those who were not.

St. Bernard gives his monks and us three qualities of love: the first is that it is tender or sweet. We do not use this word so much in 2012. Tenderness means sweetness, a kindness and an appropriate compassion. Christ taking on our humanity in the Incarnation is the sign of sweet love for St. Bernard. Because of the Incarnation, men and women can have a loving relationship with Christ. Bernard calls Christ his Friend. But, He is also Lover. The tender concern of a lover is a sign of love.

The second is wisdom, like the wisdom with God has given us in Confirmation and perfected in prayer and fasting, as well as practising virtues. But it is also the wisdom of God to allow Christ to suffer and die for us. In the plan of God, the Passion is necessary. Bernard sees this, of course, as love and zeal.

The third characteristic of love is strength. We see this in the psalms, which the monks say and said then, daily. Love is as strong as death. Bernard writes:

He is the one who conquered all things, even death, and tricked the serpent, the seducer of the world, with a holy deception. He was more prudent than the one, more powerful than the other. He took to himself a true body but only the likeness of sin, giving a sweet consolation to weak men in the one and in the other hiding a trap to deceive the devil. To reconcile us to the Father he bravely suffered death and conquered it, pouring out his blood as the price of our redemption. His divine majesty would not have sought me in chains unless he had loved me so tenderly, but he added wisdom to his affection by which he deceived the serpent. Then he added patience with which to appease his divine Father who had been offended...So love the Lord your God with the full and deep affection of your heart, love him with your mind wholly awake and discreet, love him with all your strength, so much so that you would not even fear to die for love of him. As it is written: "For love is strong as death, jealousy is bitter as hell." Your affection for your Lord Jesus should be both tender and intimate, to oppose the sweet enticements of sensual life. Sweetness conquers sweetness as one nail drives out another. No less than this keep him as a strong light for your mind and a guide for your intellect, not only to avoid the deceits of heresy and to preserve the purity of your faith from their seductions, but also that you might carefully avoid an indiscreet and excessive vehemence in your conversation. Let your love be strong and constant, neither yielding to fear nor cowering at hard work. Let us love affectionately, discreetly, intensely. We know that the love of the heart, which we have said is affectionate, is sweet indeed, but liable to be led astray if it lacks the love of the soul. And the love of the soul is wise indeed, but fragile without that love which is called the love of strength.

We are all called to an intimate relationship with Christ, either through celibacy or marriage. Let us not be afraid of love. I like to think of myself in that cold chapter house listening to the warm words of the saint, looking out at the stones and grass, knowing that I, too, can return that Love for Love.

to be continued....

The Saint of Love--a mini-series

St. Bernard of Clairvaux is my favourite saint and Dante puts him high in heaven, Beatrice leaving Dante in the hands of the mystic saint. St. Bernard is, in my mind, the Saint of Love. He asks Mary, Queen and Mother, to allow Dante the Poet to see the Beatific Vision. I am placing the entire section of the Canto here.
Over the next two days, I shall look at St. Bernard's views on Love, Who is a Person.

Here are the verses from The Divine Comedy:

"O virgin mother, daughter of thy Son,
humble beyond all creatures and more exalted;
predestined turning point of God's intention;

Thy merit so ennobled human nature
that its divine Creator did not scorn
to make Himself the creature of His creature.

The Love that was rekindled in Thy womb
sends for the warmth of the eternal peace
within whose ray this flower has come to bloom.

Here to us, thou art the noon and scope
of Love revealed; and among mortal men,
the living fountain of eternal hope.

Lady, thou art so near God's reckonings
that who seeks grace and does not first seek thee
would have his wish fly upward without wings.

Not only does thy sweet benignity
flow out to all who beg, but oftentimes
thy charity arrives before the plea.

In thee is pity, in thee munificence,
in thee the tenderest heart, in thee unites
all that creation knows of excellence!

Now comes this man who from the final pit
of the universe up to this height has seen,
one by one, the three lives of the spirit.

He prays to thee in fervent supplication
for grace and strength, that he may raise his eyes
to the all-healing final revelation.

And I, who never more desired to see
the vision myself that I do that he may see It,
add my own prayer, and pray that it may be

enough to move you to dispel the trace
of every mortal shadow by thy prayers
and let him see revealed the Sum of Grace.

I pray the further, all-persuading Queen,
keep whole the natural bent of his affections
and of his powers after his eyes have seen.

Protect him from the stirrings of man's clay;
see how Beatrice and the blessed host
clasp reverent hands to join me as I pray."

The eyes that God reveres and loves the best
glowed on the speaker, making clear the joy
with which true prayer is heard by the most blest.

Those eyes turned then to the Eternal Ray,
through which, we must indeed believe, the eyes
of others do not find such ready way.

And I, who neared the goal of all my nature,
felt my soul, at the climax of its yearning,
suddenly, as it ought, grow calm with rapture.

Bernard then, smiling sweetly, gestured to me
to look up, but I had already become
within myself all he would have me be.

Little by little as my vision grew
it penetrated faintly through the aura
of the high lamp which in Itself is true.

What then I saw is more than tongue can say.
Our human speech is dark before the vision.
The ravished memory swoons and falls away.

As one who sees in dreams and wakes to find
the emotional impression of his vision
still powerful while its parts fade from his mind -

just such am I, having lost nearly all
the vision itself, while in my heart I feel
the sweetness of it yet distill and fall.

So, in the sun, the footprints fade from snow.
On the wild wind that bore the tumbling leaves
the Sybil's oracles were scattered so.

O Light Supreme who doth Thyself withdraw
so far above man's mortal understanding,
lend me again some glimpse of what I saw;

make Thou my tongue so eloquent it may
of all Thy glory speak a single clue
to those who follow me in the world's day;

for by returning to my memory
somewhat, and somewhat sounding in these verses,
Thou shalt show man more of Thy victory.

So dazzling was the splendor of that Ray,
that I must certainly have lost my senses
had I, but for an instant, turned away.

And so it was, as I recall, I could,
the better bear to look, until at last,
my Vision made one with the Eternal Good.

Oh grace abounding that had made me fit
to fix my eyes on the eternal light
until my vision was consumed in It!

I saw within Its depth how It conceives
all things in a single volume bound by Love,
of which the universe is the scattered leaves;

substance, accident, and their relation
so fused that all I say could do no more
than yield a glimpse of that bright revelation.

I think I saw the universal form
that binds these things, for as I speak these words
I feel my joy swell and my spirits warm.

Twenty-five centuries since Neptune saw
the Argo's keel have not moved all mankind,
recalling that adventure, to such awe

as I felt in an instant. My tranced being
stared fixed and motionless upon that vision,
even more fervent to see in the act of seeing.

Experiencing that Radiance, the spirit
is so indrawn it is impossible
even to think of ever turning from It.

For the good which is the will's ultimate object
is all subsumed in It; and, being removed,
all is defective which in It is perfect.

Now in my recollection of the rest
I have less power to speak than any infant
wetting its tongue yet at its mother's breast;

and not because that Living Radiance bore
more than one semblance, for It is unchanging
and is forever as it was before;

rather, as I grew worthier to see,
the more I looked, the more unchanging semblance
appeared to change with every change in me.

Within the depthless deep and clear existence
of that abyss of light three circles shown -
three in color, one in circumference;

the second from the first, rainbow from rainbow;
the third, an exhalation of pure fire
equally breathed forth by the other two.

But oh how much my words miss my conception,
which is itself so far from what I saw
than to call it feeble would be rank deception!

O Light Eternal fixed in Itself alone,
by Itself alone understood, which from Itself
loves and glows, self-knowing and self-known;

that second aureole which shone forth in Thee,
conceived as a reflection of the first -
or which appeared so to my scrutiny -

seemed in Itself of Its own coloration
to be painted with man's image. I fixed my eyes
on that alone in rapturous contemplation.

Like a geometer wholly dedicated
to squaring the circle, but who cannot find,
think as he may, the principle indicated -

so did I study the supernal face.
I yearned to know just how our image merges
into that circle, and how it there finds place;

but mine were not the wings for such a flight.
Yet, as I wished, the truth I wished for came
cleaving my mind in a great flash of light.

Here my powers rest from their high fantasy,
but already I could feel my being turned -
instinct and intellect balanced equally

as in a wheel whose motion nothing jars -
by the Love that moves the sun and other stars.

See How They Love One Another

The passage I have been contemplating this week is from Ephesians 4:30-5:2. One of the marks of this section is that St. Paul is writing to the community of Christians. This is a passage for mature Christians and not for newbies.

What do I mean? In this Church of Nice, to which I referred in January on this blog, so many people are afraid to speak out against sin, vice, evil in the world, or politics, or in families. I have written about this earlier this week in the posts on tough love.

I lived in a community for seven years. It was a great, but very hard experience. Some people were judgmental and some were not involved. Some were intense and some superficial. Some were humble and some were control freaks. One learned how to love all in Christ. This did not mean glossing over differences or sin, but helping each other is a spirit of love to overcome evil and become personally holy. When those outside the community saw how we treated each other, they were drawn to us and through us to Christ.

I did not stay as I discerned that I did not have a permanent commitment to that community.

However, the lessons of self-giving and discipline, such as the fact that we got up and had daily prayer at 5:30 a.m. have stayed with me to a certain extent.

Also, the giving up of self in small things, like space, time, plans was learned. Some of us learned these things in family life, but community, focussed on Christ and His Love, brought these virtues to a different perfection.

St. Paul was not talking about ignoring flaws. He assumed that the Christians were repenting daily and learning to love. He was fine-tuning the work of the Holy Spirit.

His lessons are lessons for family life as well.