Uncle Eddy's E-mails -- August 20
Saint Bernard, Abbot of Clairvaux, Doctor of the Church (entered heaven this day in 1153)
You underestimate the power of love. Let me say it again: you are UNDERESTIMATING the power of Christian love! The world is made of societies, societies are made of communities, communities are made of people, and people do good or evil depending on the direction their heart is turned: inwards, towards themselves; or outwards, towards God and their neighbor. Original sin made the “inwards” direction the default position of every human heart. So if you want to change the world – which, it seems, you really do, for that I commend you, because it shows that your heart has already overcome its natural selfish bent – if you want to change the world, really change it, you have to change human hearts, because that will have a ripple effect from the inside out, transforming communities, societies, and eventually, the whole world. Now comes the million dollar question: what is the only way to turn people’s hearts out of their selfish, default position? The answer is simple: love them. Only by showing them the love of Christ in the way you think about them and treat them will they be wooed out of the comfortable interior isolation of egoism. It’s what the Bible teaches, it’s what history teaches, it’s what literature teaches, and it’s what today’s saint embodied as well as any saint.
Saint Bernard was called the “Honey-sweet Doctor” of the Church, because he was always gushing forth beautiful speeches and sermons about the love of God. It was a love he had come to know, and that was the real source of his prodigious career – and it really was prodigious. He founded the famous monastery at Clairvaux, which in turn fathered 68 other Cistercian monasteries. He gave spiritual (and political) guidance to Popes and Emperors, Kings and Barons, Abbots and saints. He resolved wars and schisms by the force of his wisdom and tact. He defended Catholic scholarship against secularism (the infamous rationalist Peter Abelard was his contemporary), rallied all of Europe in an effort to defend fellow Christians in the Holy Land (under the banner of the doomed ”Second Crusade”), and left a wake of miracles in his path as he trekked back and forth across the continent in defense of God’s honor. True, all he really wanted was to retire from the world and devote himself to prayer and solitude, but he willingly embraced the cross God fashioned for him – much to the world’s benefit.
His most remarkable deed, to my mind, was his first. And that’s what, I hope, will convince you once and for all that you must never underestimate the power of love. Bernard was of noble birth, and he showed extraordinary social and intellectual talent and skill from a very young age. By the time he finished his education (he was 22), all that the luxurious world of the Middle Ages (for nobles, anyway) had to offer was within his grasp. But he felt God calling him to forsake it all for a higher Kingdom. He struggled at first, but asked the Lord for strength and clarity, and he received both. And then came the amazing thing. Instead of just marching off on his own to join the newly reformed monastic community at Citeaux, he started talking to friends and family members about his decision. He spoke so powerfully about the merits of putting one’s life wholly at God’s service that he convinced one after another of them to accompany him. By the time he set out, he had gathered about him 31 young noblemen. They all showed up together on Citaeux’s doorstep to offer themselves for the Lord’s service, much to the surprised delight of the Abbot, St Stephen Harding, who had not received a new novice for several years. Nothing like it has ever occurred in the history of the Church.
What had achieved such a feat? Love. Pure love. Christ’s love, which had set St Bernard’s heart on fire with love, which in turn inflamed the others’ hearts. So if you really want to change the world, let yourself be totally incinerated by the consuming love of Christ.
Your loving uncle, Eddy
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