Just three years after Bernard of Clairvaux and thirty-one members of his family joined the Benedictine community at Citeaux he went on to found a new monastery at Clairvaux. There he began a new and stricter interpretation of the monastic way of life, eventually founding sixty-eight monasteries throughout Europe.
Because of his spiritual insight, holiness, and devotion to God, Bernard of Clairvaux became an adviser of popes, preacher of the Second Crusade, defender of the faith, healer of a schism, reformer of a monastic Order, Scripture scholar, theologian and eloquent preacher. Just one of these titles would distinguish an ordinary man. Yet Bernard was all of these — and he still retained a burning desire to return to the hidden monastic life of his younger days.
As a young abbot, Bernard published a series of sermons on the Annunciation as well as other works on the topic of devotion to Mary. These marked him not only as a most gifted spiritual writer but also gave him the title of the “Mellifluous Doctor.” He was especially noted for his development of the understanding of Mary’s role as the mediator between humanity and her divine Son.
In one such meditation on the Annunciation, Bernard places himself at the Annunciation event. He addresses Mary and says, “You have heard, O Virgin, that you will conceive and bear a son; you have heard that it will not be by man but by the Holy Spirit. The angel awaits an answer; it is time for him to return to God who sent him. We too are waiting, O Lady, for your word of compassion…we shall be set free if you consent.”
Bernard paints a picture of a world holding its collective breath for this answer, waiting in anticipation so that we might be freed from the effects of the first sin. He concludes his reflection by telling us what we already knew: the Ever-Virgin Mary did respond affirmatively to the invitation of the All-Loving God and history was radically changed forever.
Today we are asked by the same All-Loving God for our own affirmative response to the question – Will we be the bearers of Jesus Christ in the world? Mary’s humble response changed the course of human history and set it on a path to the fullness of salvation which is God’s kingdom of justice and peace, of harmony and love, of goodness and light. It was a work begun and set in motion by the Incarnation but a journey that is not yet done.
Each of us is called, in our own response, to further the work of that process, to add to the building of the kingdom by doing what God asks of us to make Christ present in the world and radically change lives forever.
Through the work of Cross Catholic Outreach and its ministry partners we make the presence of Jesus real, we further the development of the kingdom of God. Today the world holds its breath for our answer – will we say “Yes” to the invitation to be the face of Christ for those who need it the most?
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