St. Bernard of Clairvaux - Aglow with Love for Mary
He managed to inﬂame whomever came close to him with the same love for God and Mary. His name: ST. BERNARD of CLAIRVAUX (1091-1153), one of the ﬁ rst Cistercian monks, third mediaeval father and last father of the Church in chronological order. He was a beacon of spiritual light that illuminated all of western Europe during the XII century.
Amongst the Doctors of the Church he is known as the Marian Doctor; not that he wrote lengthy pages dedicated to Our Lady, or revealed new theological dogmas on the Virgin of Nazareth, as Bernard’s writings on Mary aren’t even that many. However, all his writings and his own life were impregnated with her. Even when Bernard doesn’t speak of her, Mary is always present. We can see this in his writings in which he exhorts his brothers to silence, humility, purity of heart, and ﬁlial obedience: these are all virtues which, according to the saint, not only shine in Mary but are dispensed by her.
He thus merited the title of Marian Doctor because of his great love and ﬁ lial devotion for the Mother of the Saviour. His writings were so appreciated that the Church inserted them in the Sacred Liturgy. Ending the day with a Salve Regina or some other Marian antiphony was his idea. St. Bernard had so much trust in her powerful intercession that he said: “God has wanted that we obtain nothing if not through the hands of Mary.” For St. Bernard “Mary is our mediatrix”; and we receive the Holy Spirit that “overﬂ ows from her.”
Indicating the Source
His Praises of the Virgin Mother are amongst his better known works, not because they say something new about Mary, but because they inﬂame the heart (of he who reads) for love of her, bringing her to life, making her present for those who read his homilies. He admires the faith of the Virgin; he enthuses over her humility; he is fascinated by her radiant purity – with the sole scope of bringing hearts to drink from this “fountain which waters gardens.”
His style, which is lively, rich, and easy ﬂowing, attracts, delights and recalls the mind of the reader to heavenly things and raises it up into the heart of the Mother. It is so gentle that it nourishes and directs one’s devotion towards her, inducing the soul to follow her. This is because the Mother is the star that leads to Jesus, the aqueduct that communicates the graces that gush forth from the Source. Mary is the one who distributes God’s beneﬁts which restore the Universe. In one of his homilies Bernard said of her: “In te et per te ed de te benigna manus omnipotentis quidquid creaverat recreavit” (In you and for you and from you the kindly hand of the Almighty recreates everything that He has created).
Mystery of the “Fiat”
Precisely for this reason Bernard contemplates Mary to learn how to let himself be restored and recreated by God.
Through contemplating what God did in her with the “re-creation” of the Incarnation he is able to say: “Every soul, even though weighed down with sins, ensnared in vice, caught in the allurements of the passions, held captive in exile, and imprisoned in the body ... even, I say, though it be thus damned and in despair, can ﬁnd within itself not only reasons for yearning for the hope of pardon and the hope of mercy, but also for making bold to aspire to the nuptials of the Word, not hesitating to establish a covenant of union with God, and not being ashamed to carry the sweet yoke of love along with the King of the Angels,” like Mary.
In his Praises of the Virgin it is through Mary that Bernard describes the mystery of God and of man, and the mystery of the Fiat which gave beginning to the relationship between man and God, and is able to invade the Christian soul and impregnate it with God. In particular, there are two ﬁ gures which help us say our own “Fiat” to God; the Virgin as star and as divine lover.
Star of the Sea
Mary is the star of the sea, the guide for every man, and the guide for our history because in her is found the perfect humanity. Since she is the vertex of mankind, in her is summarized human history. Man is no longer alone in his quest for God; he is no longer abandoned to the uncertainty of the sea waters in the dark night, for a ﬁ rm point has appeared in heaven: it is the Mother. “Whoever you are that perceive yourself during this mortal existence to be rather drifting in treacherous waters, at the mercy of the winds and the waves, than walking on ﬁrm ground, turn not away your eyes from the splendour of this guiding star, unless thou wish to be submerged by the storm. ... Look at the star, call upon Mary. ... With her for guide, you shall not go astray, while invoking her, you shall never lose heart ... if she walks before you, you shall not grow weary; if she shows you favour, you shall reach the goal.”
Dangers of Excessive Activity
St. Bernard tells us that to live and love as Mary did we must pray as Mary did, and hold our gaze continuously on God. And for this, says the Saint, we must beware of the danger of excessive activity, regardless of one’s condition and occupation, including those inherent to the governance of the Church, because “numerous occupations often lead to hardness of heart; they are suffering for the spirit, loss of intelligence and dispersion of grace.”
It is a message also for our day, said Pope Benedict on the 20th August 2006 in his Angelus address: “How useful for us also is this call to the primacy of prayer! May St. Bernard, who was able to harmonize the monk’s aspiration for solitude and the tranquillity of the cloister with the urgency of important and complex missions in the service of the Church, help us to concretize it in our lives, in our circumstances and possibilities. We entrust this difﬁ cult desire to ﬁnd a balance between interiority and necessary work to the intercession of the Virgin, whom he loved from his childhood with tender and ﬁ lial devotion.”