Lent, Day 12, a side trip on St. Bernard…

I didn’t get a chance to read St. Bernard on grace today, but did manage to get a look at a very short book that Thomas Merton wrote on the occasion of Pope Pius XII’s encyclical, Doctor Mellifluus, on the 800th anniversary of Bernard’s canonization.  Merton was himself a Trappist, which group is a subset of the Cistercians, the monastic order to which Bernard belonged.  I did take some time to read a little from it, and thought I’d reflect on what I read in this work today.

In his brief biographical entry on Bernard, Merton refers to the “enigma of sanctity.”  He also says “Sanctity is born of conflict — of contradictories resolved into union,” an idea he repeats later.  So, for him, sainthood is born from a conflict within a person and between the person and his time or society, and that bridging that split is key into achieving sanctity.  He also emphasizes that though we can talk about the events of Bernard’s life, and his actions, it is the invisible element, the mystery of the man, that is the essential element.

Of what I read, I was a bit taken aback by Merton’s statement that the invisible is the important, or more essential element.  I think we can learn a lot through physical signs and outward shows.  Admittedly, there is more at work than simply what we can see, but I think we do have an entree into mystery through the senses, and not simply through contemplation.

One especially flowery passage noted that “the thoughts and acts and virtues of a saint are not wonderful in themselves, but they are meant to be deeply significant flashes sent forth from the dark bosom of the mystery of God.  For the saint does not represent himself, or his time, or his nation: he is a sign of God for his own generation and for all generations to come.”

I agree that a sainted person (and I think I’d include most people in this category, at least in potential) radiate something in their actions, or their words, or by their very presence.  I’m not sure I’m one to speak of the “dark bosom of the mystery of God.”  If there is no personal God, this does not hold up.  But I think that there is something within us that we demonstrate every day that speaks to something greater.  There is a flash within us that will shine forth, and does.  Merton says that “saints not only have life, but they give it,” and I think we all have the potential to do this, and do inspire others and help them in their works and lives.

And that something special within might be seen as grace, whether coming from beyond, radiating from God, or from the world, and from each of us as part of the world.  As the hymn goes, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.”  Even if grace is something special and beyond our individual capabilities, other than to accept it and reflect it, there is something of grace within us.  But we have to say yes to grace in the world, and yes to the grace within ourselves.

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