Solemnity of Saint Bernard: Sirach 3:17-24; Ephesians 3:14-19; Matthew 11:25-30
I remember an academic guest speaker, when I was a novice, who dismissed Saint Bernard’s confessions of being a sinner as something a pious writer “had to say.” But I don’t think Bernard was putting on an act since he described himself as the chimera of his age.
A chimera is a mythical, beast: a lion with a goat’s head sprouting out of his back and a venomous snake for a tail, an incongruous hybrid coordinated for attack. Bernard took this as an apt image for his inconsistencies, a monk, often out of his cloister, involved in squabbles both ecclesial and political. By the way, a chimera is a fire breathing monster, as Bernard’s opponents knew all too well. His tongue and pen could sting, and he did not find this aspect of himself attractive or defensible.
Any monk or nun is painfully aware, like Bernard, of our inconsistencies and how sin, be it very subtle, seeps through those cracks. It’s not scrupulosity but a refined sense of right and wrong coupled to acute self-knowledge that produces such a confession.
A nun or a monk is not likely to confuse sanctity with flawless behavior, recognizing that it is the work of the Holy Spirit within us, stimulating our compunction and repentance, than engenders holiness. We can cope with the shame for our faults as our sense of responsibility matures, and own our sins without discouragement because we depend on God’s mercy.
In one sermon, Saint Bernard describes our sins and repentance as the manure fertilizing the orchard of our soul. So we have hope not to be trapped in a labyrinth of sin but of finding our way to Christ at the center of our interiority.
Bernard was well aware how his responsibilities compromised his vocation. How often do we find our work, our times, our culture encroaching on the way we would rather live? Let us not acquiesce to those influences but, like Saint Bernard, admit them, contend with them, repent of them, learning from our failures. Let us seize the opportunities that free us from the unwanted habits.
Let us continue to aim high, remaining grateful for God’s mercy and all our blessings, ever hopeful of what God makes of our flawed service.