Today we honor Bernard of Clairvaux. Born in 1090, Bernard was given a secular education. In 1113, he entered a Benedictine Abbey. His family was not pleased with his choice of a monastic life, but Bernard convinced four of his brothers and about 26 of his friends to join him in establishing a monastery at Clairvaux, France, in 1115. Bernard had a real power for persuasion – his preaching and letters were so persuasive that sixty new Cistercian abbeys were founded through him. His writings have made him one of the most influential figures in Christendom. A fiery defender of the Church, he was known for his passion and message about the abundant love of God.
We can almost hear a description of Bernard’s passion and commitment in our lesson from Ecclesiasticus. The reading says, “He seeks out the wisdom of all the ancients … he seeks out the hidden meanings of proverbs … He sets his heart to rise early to seek the Lord who made him …” You can almost imagine Bernard rising early, studying scripture, meditating on the Lord. In fact, Bernard was known to forego sleep and even his health because he was so absorbed in the Church.
The truth is, I am not sure Bernard’s life pattern is exactly what our lesson or even God has in mind for us. Though most monastics have time to absorb themselves in prayer, study and meditation, we do not expect to maintain the same pace and stamina. Most of our reaction to Bernard or Ecclesiasticus is, “Oh, that’s lovely, but not for me,” or we dismiss both as irrelevant to our lives.
Where we find grounding is in the rest of the story. Bernard did all that he did because he was alive with the love of God. The love of God was so overwhelming that he just wanted more. Though we may not be able to immerse ourselves as fully as Bernard, we can take a cue from Jesus Christ. Jesus says in the gospel, “Abide in my love,” “Keep my commandments … abide in my love.” Jesus says this because, as he says, he wants his joy to be in us, so that our joy might be complete. Living into God’s love, keeping God’s commandments, seeking God in the ways that we can are not overwhelming tasks – and when we know that they are for our complete joy, the invitation feels much lighter. So abide in God’s love – so that your joy might be complete. Amen.