Daily Bread

Saint of the Day

August 20

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux

Bernard was born in a castle near Dijon, France, in 1090. One of seven well-educated children, he was particularly gifted. His mother's death when he was 17 affected him deeply. Of a passionate nature, he suffered from migraines all his life. In his Apologia, he wrote that it was because of his unruly nature that he chose the newly founded Cistercians, thinking their austerity could tame him.

At 22, forsaking a life of privilege, Bernard went to Cîteaux, an abbey known for its strict observance of St Benedict's Rule. He overcame the objections of his family, and such was his remarkable enthusiasm that he persuaded his uncle, his brothers and many friends to join him, and the group of about 30 men left for the abbey. The abbot of Cîteaux, the dedicated Englishman Stephen Harding, was soon able to send monks out to begin new foundations, and within three years, the gifted and dedicated Bernard was sent with 12 monks to a diocese in Champagne. There, in a valley which came to be known as the Valley of Light ('Clairvaux'), Bernard founded the monastery where he ruled as abbot for the rest of his life.

His initially stern rule gave way to tolerance and fatherly care and before long he was known throughout Europe and consulted in person and in writing by popes, emperors and commoners alike. Thanks to his tireless efforts, Bernard helped the Church avoid schism in 1130. He was fearless in his support of the truth as he saw it.

From the time he became abbot until his death in 1153, Bernard dominated the religious and political life of Western Europe. His mystical and theological writings, sermons, letters, treatises, and biblical commentaries have had a profound and lasting influence on Catholic spirituality. His abbey became the motherhouse for dozens of Cistercian monasteries around the world.

When Bernard died, all Europe mourned. He was canonized in 1174 and declared a Doctor of the Church in 1830. Because his teaching is modelled on that of the early Fathers of the Church, he is often called the last of the Fathers.

©2011 Living with Christ, Novalis - Bayard Press Canada Inc., http://www.livingwithchrist.ca/. Reprinted with permission.

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