Feast of St. Bernard, Abbot and Doctor of the Church
Well, it happened! The whole world watched Michael Phelps swim into Olympic history and claim the title of "the greatest Olympian of all time!" While we watched this amazing athlete surely we were thinking to ourselves, "He can do it all! No matter what the event, he really is the greatest!" You may be surprised to discover that in other moments of human history there were other amazing people, holy people, who could justifiably be called, "the greatest". These were men and women who, in the service of the Lord, simply seemed to be able to "do it all"! This would certainly be true of the man whose feast we celebrate today, St. Bernard of Clairvaux.
Bernard was a twelfth century saint who guided the popes of his time, reformed a great monastic Order, was a great preacher, theologian, and scholar, and a fiery man who preached throughout Europe the call to the Second Crusade (for which years later he would have tremendous regret given the crusade’s sad outcome.) Bernard’s contributions matched his greatness, even as he longed for silence and prayer within the contemplative, monastic life itself.
Now you may be thinking, "Well, I am no Michael Phelps and I am surely no St. Bernard of Clairvaux. What does this feast have to do with me in my own humble life?" I would like to suggest that there is a simple, but very clear and heartening message for each of us in our scripture readings for this feast of St. Bernard of Clairvaux. In our first reading from the prophet Ezekiel, just at its conclusion, we are regaled with such assuring words:
For thus says the Lord God: I will claim my sheep…I will save my sheep. I myself will look after and tend my sheep.
No matter who you are, whether you are great or small, the Lord, our Shepherd, will be there guiding us along the way. After hearing the message from Ezekiel we are then lulled even more deeply into this great assurance with the words of Psalm 23: The Lord is my Shepherd, there is nothing I shall want! Imagine! Wanting nothing else but the Lord! Yet, for me, the real clincher is found in the 20th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel. In this rather complicated but only too human story we hear about those workers who, while working disproportionate hours, receive exactly the same pay! When questioned, the landowner replies, "Am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous?" And so we are reminded once again that the Lord is generous and lavish in his love for us — whether we win the gold, the silver, or the bronze!! We are all the greatest in the eyes of the Lord.
Fr. Pat Brennan, C.P. is the retreat director at Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center, Sierra Madre, California.