Saturday, August 20, 2011

Feast Day of St. Bernard of Clairvaux

Today we celebrate the life of the 12th century monk, St. Bernard of Clairvaux.  What an amazing man!

Those of us interested in monasticism owe a debt to St. Bernard, who was responsible not only for founding his own monastery, but for sending monks out to establish monasteries or to rescue already-formed monasteries from heretical directions.  We give him credit for the founding of hundreds of monastic communities.

Bernard was also responsible for helping the church avoid schism at several key points.  He also defended the church against various nobility who wanted church holdings.

We could give Bernard credit for moving the church towards a more personal faith, although I imagine he would be horrified at the manifestations of those ideas of a personal relationship with Jesus that many of us have.  He's also responsible for elevating the status of Mary within the church.

I confess, as a Lutheran, the veneration of Mary always mystified me.  Then I visited Mepkin Abbey, a Trappist order of monks.  I found the references to Mary soothing, and the Compline service which included prayers to Mary as we faced a stone statue (very abstract in style) surrounded by candles helped me sink into a deep sleep.

As I research these monastics of older centuries, it's intriguing to me to see how ideas that we associate with later centuries were present even in medieval times.  We see medieval thinkers wrestling with an emotional/mystical approach to faith (like Bernard of Clairvaux) and with an intellectual/rational approach to faith (like Peter Abelard).  Throughout Christianity, we still struggle with the best way to integrate these two approaches.

So, today, as I enjoy a Saturday with friends, I'll remember to be grateful for Saint Bernard of Clairvaux.  My friends and I will surely talk about the issue of how to live an authentic life, one where all our values are in sync.  In an earlier age, we might have found sanctuary in an abbey.  I'll probably float the idea of intentional community as we discuss our various options.  Monastic communities are some of the most successful incarnations of intentional communities--how could we follow their models if we want to live an integrated life?

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