Memorial of St. Bernard Doctor of the Church

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Vision of St. Bernard

I say “St. Bernard,” and you say, “dog.” But Catholics should know about their St. Bernard too, a doctor of the church and a man whose writings about Christ are so sweet that he is often shown with a beehive. In one of his sermons on the Annunciation, Bernard speaks of what he calls “a very powerful argument for the remission of sins.” He recalls Abel’s murder. (Genesis 4:1-16) God tells the murderer, Cain, “Listen; your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground.”

Bernard then asks us to consider the Lord’s passion and says, “The voice of his blood is far stronger than the voice of Abel’s…we cannot doubt that his death is more effective and powerful for good than our sins are for evil.”

Consider the image: Abel’s blood crying out for justice, while Christ’s blood — stronger, purer, not drained of life, though drained — cries out, “Mercy. Mercy. Mercy.

Bernard was born into a wealthy French family in 1090. Most of what we know about his life and his family is seen through the lens of Bernard’s calling to religious life. It must have been a powerful call, for on the night Bernard reached the Cistercian Abbey of Citeaux, where he wished to be received, he had over thirty men with him, all of whom wished to join their friend and kinsman, Bernard, in this life.

Christ’s blood — stronger, purer, not drained of life, though drained — cries out, “Mercy. Mercy. Mercy.”

At least four of Bernard’s brothers, an uncle and a cousin were among the recruits. Later, Bernard’s father joined them. There were so many monks at Citeaux that the abbot sent them out in groups of twelve to found new houses. Bernard founded the Abbey of Clairvaux and became its abbot. Though he loved his quiet life there of prayer and work, people from all over the land came to seek his wise advice.

Thanks to collections of his sermons, we too, can avail ourselves of Bernard’s wise counsel. Liturgical Press publishes the Cistercian Fathers series, in which many of Bernard’s sermons may be found.