Daily Reflection
August 20th, 2007

John Schlegel, S.J.

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Saint Bernard of Clairvaux: Biography and Online Writings
Doctor of the Church

St. Bernard of Clairvaux is clearly one of the greatest preachers of all time. Born to a noble family near Dijon France in 1090 AD, St. Bernard was inspired by the example of a new religious congregation, the Cistercians, who had abandoned the relative ease and security of Benedictine monasticism of that day to live according to the primitive pattern of St. Benedict through hard manual labor, solitude, and rigorous prayer. When St. Bernard decided to abandon the privilege of noble life to enter the monastery, he brought over 30 noble relatives with him. Once professed he was very soon made abbot and went on to found over 40 monasteries in his lifetime. St. Bernard's magnetic preaching and exemplary character changed the lives of thousands and his writing continues today to inspire Christians everywhere. His words were so sweet that he came to be known as the Melifluous ("full of honey") Doctor. St. Bernard died in 1153 and was later proclaimed a saint and a Doctor of the Church. His feast day in the Roman Calendar is today, August 20.

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St. Bernard did just the opposite of the people of Israel in the time of the Judges. They abandoned God and embraced the Baals and false gods and acted accordingly. Bernard abandoned the world and all of its pomp and embraced God ever more tightly. Unlike the rich young man in the gospel who could not part with his material possessions and follow Jesus, Bernard surrendered his titles and possessions for a life of labor, solitude and prayer. Again, unlike the young man “who went away sad,” Bernard found great solace and joy in his Benedictine life.

So we reflect on vocation, on our individual calling to respond to God’s invitation to “follow him.” What is that for me? Where is that for me? While this is a question suitable for consideration during a retreat, it is equally relevant that we review our calling daily.

The Christian life requires faith in God’s loving goodness, hope that that goodness will be stronger than death, a loving response to God and those creatures which reveal him to us, and a generosity of spirit. It is in that context of a responsive love that we hear the call to follow the Lord; to determine how we will live our life in response to that call. Where do you experience that call? How do you hear it?

Our response to God’s love is, of course, an individual response, but it is that of an individual living in a community which both challenges and comforts, sustains and urges us on. So our vocation is both individual and communal. We live as individuals called to a specific task or focus, but called, also, to live in a societal context where our individual vocation contributes to the life and vibrancy of a community—local and global. How do you share your vocation? How do you live and express the communal/societal dimension of your life calling?

When you hear the Lord asking you to follow him, what prevents you from doing so, what makes you tentative or restive about fully embracing the Lord? Is it people? Who? Is it material things? What and why? Is it events or circumstances? If so can they be redirected, modified or changed?

Questions worthy of a retreat, yes; but questions equally worthy of a daily reflection since one’s calling, one’s vocation, is to be lived out daily, amidst the ups-downs, challenges and successes of every day.

Are you more like the “rich young man” in the gospel or like the saint we commemorate today? I suspect we are a bit of both as we reflect on our own response to God’s call and review our individual way of life.

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