Today is the feast of St. Bernard. Let’s look at his history. From 900 to 1100 A.D. the life of the Church had been enriched by the monastery of Cluny and by the many monasteries and convents it spawned. But then as politics and human frailty took over there, men who needed freedom from worldliness left Cluny to found their monastery in a remote place named Citeaux. Taking up that name, people took to calling the monks Cistercians.
In 1109 Citeaux admitted Bernard, a nineteen year-old lover of literature. Then, four years later, with Citeaux becoming overcrowded, fifty monks were chosen to find a new a new place and to choose a new abbot. They found a secluded place where the air was so clear that they called it Clairveaux, and they chose young Bernard as their abbot for life.
Even though Bernard tried to live in seclusion, people all around began repeating his sayings, like these:
Hell is full of good intentions.”
“Nothing can damage me the way I damage myself.”
“When religion brought forth Wealth, that daughter devoured her.”
“We find rest in those we love if we make a resting place for them.”
When Bernard was thirty-eight he was called to be secretary to a Church council. When he was forty St. Malachy, archbishop of all Ireland visited him, then begged the pope to let him stay under Bernard’s guidance. At forty-nine he was asked to choose between two claimants to the papacy.
There is an old story about St. Barnard and a man laboring in his field. Bernard was riding up through the foothills to give a retreat to the monks of an isolated monastery when the man halted his mowing to admire Bernard’s horse.
“That’s a beautiful horse, Reverend Father,” the man said.
Noticing the horse for the first time, Bernard agreed. “Yes, it is a beauty, isn’t it?”
The man went on. “You’ve got it easy, riding that wonderful mount, with no hard work, and nothing to do but pray. How easy can it get?”
“But, wait, Sir,” Bernard said, “Prayer is very hard work.”
“There’s no way it can be as hard as what I’m at all day.”
Bernard made a proposal. “I’ll tell you, sir, if you can pray the Our Father through to the end without letting another thought interfere, I’ll give you this horse.”
Delighted, the man began, “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed-say, do I get the saddle too?”