Even though he was regularly summoned to leave the monastery by the needs of Church and State, Bernard was above all a monk, a man of deep prayer, communion and contemplation. It was that sincere devotion which made it possible for him to have wisdom to offer the Church in a critical time in her history. I believe we need Bernard's for our own time, a time with so many parallels to the turn of the Second Millennium. We need monks for the Third Millennium of Chriistianity. The ecclesial movement which we call western monasticism led to the birth and flourishing of the academy, the arts and the emergence of what later became known as Christendom. From its earliest appearance, the monastic movement was a lay movement. From the midst of the community men were chosen for ordination in order to serve the members and the broader mission as it participated in the overall mission of the Church.
Bernard, Monk, Abbot, Doctor of the Church, and Model of the Christian life and vocation. - Monasteries are a seedbed of the great renewals of the Catholic Church. Monks are prophetic seeds of the kingdom who always seem to be around right when we need them the most. We need Monks for the authentic renewal of the Church in this hour. Lord, send your Holy Spirit, send us monks for the renewal of your Church and the work of this new missionary age.
CHESAPEAKE, VA (Catholic Online) - On August 20th in the Liturgical Calendar of the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church we remember the great Monk, Abbot and Doctor of the Church named Bernard. He was born in 1090 to a devout Christian family, a seedbed which fostered several other saints now included in our memory in the family of the Universal Church.
In the garden of the domestic church of the Christian family, the young man who would come to choose the name Bernard at his profession of vows, was able to cultivate a heart within which to hear the Lords call to a special way of following Jesus, the Monastic Life.
He credited much of his early devotion to the witness of his holy mother. In 1112, he entered the Cistercian community at Citeaux, where he was later joined by thirty one of his friends, including four of his brothers and an uncle.
Bernard's love for the Lord, deep prayer life, sincere and contagious devotion and demonstrated leadership, became clear to the Abbott. He sent him to found a monastery in Champagne. In time, Bernard became the Abbot of the monastery of Clairvaux. That monastery became the motherhouse of 68 new monasteries by the time Bernard died on August 20, 1153.
Bernard lived an extraordinary life as a disciple of Jesus Christ and loyal son of the Church. His preaching and writings led to a renewal of the entire Church at a critical time in history. His prophetic counsel was sought by the leaders of both Church and State, as that times own version of militant Islam threatened to engulf the Holy Lands oof Christianity.
His ability to expose, oppose - and then correct - the creeping heresy within the Church of his hour, keeping her strong for her saving mission, was one of his greatest contributions to Church history. His beautiful insights on Mary, the Mother of the Lord, are still cherished - and form the foundation for so many people in their daily prayer and devotion. This man was clearly a contemplative and a mystic.
Even though he was regularly summoned to leave the monastery by the needs of Church and State, Bernard was above all a monk, a man of deep prayer, communion and contemplation. It was that sincere devotion which made it possible for him to have wisdom to offer the Church in a critical time in her history. I believe we need Bernard's for our own time, a time with so many parallels to the turn of the Second Millennium. We need monks for the Third Millennium of Chriistianity.
The ecclesial movement which we call western monasticism led to the birth and flourishing of the academy, the arts and the emergence of what later became known as Christendom. From its earliest appearance, the monastic movement was a lay movement. From the midst of the community men were chosen for ordination in order to serve the members and the broader mission as it participated in the overall mission of the Church.
In this sense, the early monastic movement bears similarities to the ecclesial movements of this millennium which Saint John Paul, Benedict and Francis promote with enthusiasm. Increasingly the members of these lay movements, and the clergy which have grown up in their midst to serve the mission, are becoming one of the key resources the Holy Spirit is using for the new missionary age of the Church.
Saint John Paul II gave an address in 1980, during the fifteenth centennial commemoration of the birth of St. Benedict, in which he affirmed the extraordinary contributions of the great father of western monasticism. He recalled St. Benedict's age as a time when "the Church, civil society and Christian culture itself were in great danger."
He noted of the saint that "Through his sanctity and singular accomplishments, St. Benedict gave testimony of the perennial youth of the Church. He and his followers drew the barbarians from paganism toward a civilized and truly enhanced way of life. The Benedictines guided them in building a peaceful, virtuous and productive society."
The contemporary West has rejected its Christian roots and embraced a new secularist form of neo-paganism. What Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI called the "Dictatorship of Relativism" is the bad fruit of a rejection of the very existence of any objective truth at all. Without the acknowledgement of the existence of truth, there can be no true freedom.
Given the current state of our moral decline, we need to view the West as mission territory. Over the years of Pope Emeritus Benedict's service, he regularly spoke of monks and their essential contribution to the Church. In an address given in 2007, he zeroed in on the monastic life as a gift needed for the whole church.
As a revert to the Church, one who returned after wandering away as a very young man, I spent 21 months in a Benedictine monastery shortly after coming home. There, I began what has become a lifelong journey of prayer and found my insatiable hunger for theology.
I also studied the early fathers of the Church. I was taught by a wonderful monk. He was the first of several monks who have graced my life with their gift of holy presence, making Christ so palpable by their interior life - one which overflows in a genuine transfigured humanity.
From my encounters with monks, living immersed as they do in their unique and vital vocation, I learned that no matter how much formal theological study they have, it is their depth of prayer which makes them the best of theologians.
So it should be with all theologians - one cannot give away what one does not truly have.
It is out of the storehouse of grace that monks and theologians are able to help the faithful in their pursuit of the longing of every human heart, communion and intimacy with the God who has revealed Himself. We find, in the words of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, the "human face of God" in Jesus Christ. What is necessary is to encounter Him, contemplate that beauty and be transformed by the encounter.
A part of monastic life and spirituality is also labor, immersed in prayer. Monks support themselves through hard work, dedicated to God and caught up in the ongoing redemptive work of Jesus Christ in and through His Church. They follow a Rule, a Way of Life. Yet, even in that, they peel back the deeper mystery and remind us that all work done in the Lord participates in His ongoing work of redemption. Too often, people mistakenly believe that the monk retreats from the world because of its "corruption".
In fact, the monk retreats (in differing ways in accordance with their particular monastic response) precisely in order to transform the world by his prophetic witness and powerful prayer. The dedicated monk is an essential part of the Lord's plan for the Church.
The Church is what the early Fathers called the New World, being recreated in Christ. We who have been baptized never again leave the Church. We actually live in the Church and go into the world to bring all men and women home.
Monasticism in the first millennium gave us the fountain of theological wisdom which still inspires the Church. Those who went into the desert became the great teachers, fathers, confessors and prophets. Their prayer and witness kept the Church in the Divine embrace so that she could effectively continue the redemptive mission of the Lord. In the second millennium, their work and witness continued.
Sadly, the Church had been torn in two with the first split, East and West. In the East, the Monks continued to be a resource for the kind of theology which brings heaven to earth and earth to heaven. From their ranks the great Bishops of the Church were chosen and the Church was continually renewed.
In the West, the great Monasteries of Europe became the beating heart of the emergence of Christendom. The extraordinary intellect exhibited in the emerging theological tradition birthed in the monasteries enabled the Church to contend with daunting challenges, welcome them without fear, contend for the faith and offer the claims of Truth Incarnate.
Monasteries are a seedbed of the great renewals of the Catholic Church. Monks are prophetic seeds of the kingdom who always seem to be around right when we need them the most. We need Monks for the authentic renewal of the Church in this hour. Lord, send your Holy Spirit, send us monks for the renewal of your Church and the work of this new missionary age.
Deacon Keith Fournier is Founder and Chairman of Common Good Foundation and Common Good Alliance. A married Roman Catholic Deacon of the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia, he and his wife Laurine have five grown children and six grandchildren, He serves as the Director of Adult Faith Formation at St. Stephen, Martyr Parish in Chesapeake, VA. He is also a human rights lawyer and public policy advocate.
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