Tag Archives: Catholic Church

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux: Lesser Festival

20 Aug

St. Bernard

In 1125, Hugh, the Count of Champagne,return to Jerusalem first his third and final time. He had reputed is unfaithful wife, disinherited the son whom he believed was not his and made over his county to his nephew. Hugh now renounced all his worldly wealth and without poverty, chastity and obedience as a Templar.

This is not the most significant Count Hugh’s penitential deeds. Some 10 years before,he given attractive wild, and forested land about 40 miles east of Troyes to a group of monks led by young Burgundian nobleman, Bernard of Bernard of Fontaines-les-Dijon. This foundation at Clairvaux was an offshoot from the Abbey of Citeaux from which a new order of monks, the Cistercians, took their name. Here, the new Abbott Bernard would preach an immediate faith, in which the intercessor was the Virgin Mary, and use as a base for the rest of his ministry.


It is difficult, in the 21st century, when a monk is seen as an oddity on the margins of society, to understand how so many belong to their countries elite should have chosen a life of self-abnegation. Without necessarily doubting the sincerity of each one’s conviction that he was responding to a call from God, it should be borne in mind that the choice for a scion of a noble house, or even the minor gentry, was then, and must remain for some time, between fighting and praying, warfare and ministry, the scarlet and the black.

Thus a young man with a sensitive or studio’s nature, or simply inadvertent of violence and bloodshed, might well be directed by pious and loving mother towards a religious vocation:this would seem to have been the case with Bernard and his mother, Aleth of Montbard. Those entering an easier going monastery could envisage a career as an ecclesiastical administrator or statesman, ending up, like Odo of Lagery, as Pope. Or they would be free to pursue scholarship and learning.


Bernard’s decision to choose the narrow escape in the steepest path to the Kingdom of Heaven demonstrates the purity of his vocation. It also betrays a measure of self-knowledge: by his own account, his passionate, even violent nature could only be tamed by the austere life followed by the Cistercians. Evidence that nature is found in his crawl over a young monk with Peter the Venerable, Abbot of Cluny. in his letter to Peter, Bernard scornfully contrast the pleasant, easy, luxurious life at Cluny with the spare diet and harsh regime at Clairvaux. Carried away by his own rhetoric, Bernard castigates the moral degeneracy of Peter’s community. He is ardent, provocative, uncompromising, revolutionary.

Yet in the summarizing of Bernard’s life by Dom David Knowles, a Benedictine historian of our own time, is:

one of the small class of supremely great men whose gifts and opportunities have been equally matched. As a leader, as a writer, as a preacher and as a saint his personal magnetism and the spiritual power of far reaching an irresistible. Men came from the ends of Europe to Clairvaux, and were sent out all over the continent… For 40 years, Clairvauxit was the spiritual centre of Europe, and a one-time Bernard had amongst his ex-monks the Pope, the Archbishop of York and cardinals and bishops and plenty.

For Bernard in his lifetime was regarded and marked by the same sanctity wisdom held by Anselm. A important foundational force in the establishment of the Order of the Knights of the Temple (aka the Templars), controversial perhaps in today’s highs for his writings in defense of a military monastic force and the Crusades. Yet within the historical context of this time this is not an issue as demonstrated by Bernard’s unique position as the mental of popes and kings. Yet Bernard’s power did not stem simply from the influential connections: in a world where so many preached but so few practice the Christian virtues, his piety and asceticism qualified him to act as the conscience of Christendom, constantly chastising the rich and powerful and champing the poor and the weak. To some modern historians, living in a period when most are indifferent to what awaits them after death, Bernard comes across as a self-righteous celibate, someone who saw the world with the eyes of a fanatic and had a disquieting tendency to take it for granted that his contemporaries were evildoers who needed to repent. However, to Bernard, surrounded by secular brutality in clerical corruption, and utterly convinced of the reality of hell, it was impossible to do too much to save an imperiled soul.

The glamour of evil, in his perception, lay not just in the obvious the of wealth and worldly power, but in the subtler and ultimately more pernicious attraction of false ideas. Besides his party, Bernard was renowned for his outstanding intellect which he demonstrated in his sermons on Grace, free will and the book of the old Testament, the Song of songs. He was quick to recognise heretical ideas and implacable in his pursuit of those who taught them.


In his life Bernard was involved in establishing the Templar’s, helping to end the schism within the Catholic Church, combating heresy and preaching the Second Crusade. Yet the last years of Bernard’s life was saddened by the failure of the second Crusade, which the entire responsibility was thrown upon him. He died aged 63, 40 years spent in the cloister.


The Collect for the Day:

Merciful redeemer,
who, by the life and preaching of your servant Bernard,
rekindled the radiant light of your Church:
grant us, in our generation,
to be inflamed with the same spirit of discipline and love
and ever to walk before you as children of light;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.



Lectionary Commemoration (14/08) – Maximilian Kolbe

14 Aug

Saint (Fr.) Maximilian Maria Kolbe

Today in the Anglican church is the commemoration of Fr. Maximilian Kolbe, a saint in the Roman Catholic church who gave his life in a concentration camp that another might live. Maximilian was a characteristic figure of Polish religion: his energy, poverty and patriotism, culminating in his death as a martyr to charity, made him an example of unsung heroism among detainees in concentration camps and other prisons.


A Franciscan priest, he was born (1894) near Lodz to devout Catholic parents. In 1907 he joined a junior seminary and then in 1910 entered the Franciscan Order. Interestingly his parents separated at this point where each joined a religious order: his mother first a Benedictine and then a Felician lay sister, his father Franciscan. Though his father later left the movement and ended up fighting the Russians as a Polish freedom fighter but was wounded and later hanged in 1914 as a traitor.

After his ordination in 191 in Rome he contracted tuberculosis and returned to Poland to teach in a seminary.  Alongside this he developed a religious magazine focusing on apologetics which was a great success, founding various Franciscan communities both in Poland and Japan.


With the arrival of World War Two and the German invasion, Kolbe used the monastery as a refugee camp whilst continuing to publish his papers which now took on a more patriotic line, critical of the Third Reich. This naturally led to a clash with the occupying forces and in May 1941 Kolbe was sent to Auschwitz, then both a labour and death camp.

At this camp, names were exchange that tattooed numbers; the heavy work of moving loads of logs of double weight at double speed was enforced by kicks and lashes. Kolbe also removed the bodies of the tortured. He continued his priestly ministry, hearing confessions in unlikely places and smuggling in bread and wine for the Eucharist. He was conspicuous for sympathy and compassion towards those even more unfortunate than itself.


When a prisoner escaped from the camp, the Nazis selected 10 others to be killed by starvation in reprisal for the escape. On July 31, 1941, in reprisal for one prisoner’s escape, ten men were chosen to die. One of the 10 selected to die, Franciszek Gajowniczek, began to cry: My wife! My children! I will never see them again! At this Father Kolbe offered himself in place of a young husband and father. And he was the last to die, enduring two weeks of starvation, thirst, and neglect. He was injected with phenol and died on 14th August, aged 47.


He was beatified by Pope Paul VI in 197 and canonized by Pope Paul II in 1982. this ultimate self-sacrifice of his life as a result of heroic Christian charity. when canonized Pope Paul used Kolbe to make the point that the systematic hatred of (whole categories of) humanity propagated by the Nazi regime was in itself inherently an act of hatred of religious (Christian) faith, meaning Kolbe’s death equated to martyrdom.


The Roman Catholic collect for Maximilian Kolbe:

‘Most loving Father, whose Son Jesus Christ came to give his life as a ransom for many: Grant to us the grace, as thou didst grant to thy servant Maximilian Kolbe, to be always ready to come to the aid of those in need or distress, not counting the cost; that so we may follow in the footsteps of the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, now and for ever. ‘