Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Bernard. Bur-nerd or Bare-nard?

He shall drink from the stream by the wayside,
And therefore he shall lift up his head. - Psalm 110

How you say?

Bare-nard is how I say it - kinda - although I'll call you Bernie if you want.

Today is the feast of St. Bernard of Clairvaux.  I like St. Bernard.  He's not the same one the dogs are named after however - that is a different Bernard.  I like St. Bernard dogs too. 

Yep.  That's all I got.

So anyway...  something serious for the feast of St. Bernard...
The Sacred Heart of Jesus. 

A novice master once recommended that I have a carnal love for Christ - he said he was quoting St. Bernard of Clairvaux  I believe he was referencing Bernard's Treatise On the Love of God or his Commentary on the Song of Songs.  I think Father took the quote out of context, since Bernard discusses carnal love in a much different manner than what the monk was communicating to me.  I think I realized then, as I understand better today, that his idea of a carnal love would fit rather well with some of Chris West's confusing views on Theology of the Body.  One needs to be cautious when it comes to spiritual lust and spiritual directors who interpret mystical doctrines in a far too sensual manner.  In making use of the imagery contained within the Songs, Bernard always stressed the experiences were totally spiritual and produced by grace.  Referring to mystical union, the Saint writes: "Be careful to think of nothing corporal or sensible in this union of the Word with the soul. Let us call to mind here what the Apostle says: `He who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with him' (I Cor. 6:17).

One can witness the sensualization or sexualization, if you will, of the mystical experiences of St. Bernard in the manner by which they are sometimes depicted in art.  The images themselves are edifying and evocative of deep spirituality, ideally moving the soul to devotion, yet to the more sensual person, infected by contemporary culture's obsession with sexuality, or his own passions, the sacred images can be misinterpreted or misrepresented.  I dare say, often appealing - consciously or unconsciously - to a 'gay spirituality' of sorts.  This may sound prudish, but I think I speak from experience.  Sadly, that is one reason why Bernard is sometimes referred to as a 'gay saint'.  (Aelred and John of the Cross have been likewise misunderstood, and misrepresented.) 

However, devotion to the sacred Humanity of Christ is indispensable for the Christian, as all of the saints attest - perhaps none more than Teresa of Avila, who certainly understood the mysticism of St. Bernard.  The Sacred Humanity was Teresa's 'constant companion'.  Indeed, devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is the perfect devotion which encompasses a chaste 'carnal love' leading to the highest mystical love.  I mention this because not a few men with homosexual attraction long for an intimacy with Christ that can be corrupted by modern 'homsexualist' spiritual directors, who tend to emphasize sensuality in direct opposition to authentic spirituality. 

To avoid these errors, I believe devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is the proper antidote, as well as the source of healing for disordered passions, affections and especially movements to lust.  The Heart of Jesus attracts all the affections of our soul and purifies them in the burning furnace of charity that is His Heart.
Divine Love, A Gift of the Heart of Jesus.
The infusion of this divine charity also has its origin in the Heart of the Savior, 'in which are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.'  For this charity is the gift of Jesus Christ and of His spirit; for he is indeed the spirit of the Father and the Son from whom the origin of the Church and its marvelous extension is revealed to all the pagan races which have been defiled by idolatry, family hatred, corrupt morals, and violence.
Divine Love, the Source of All Graces.
This divine charity is the most precious gift of the Heart of Christ and of His Spirit:  It is this which imparted to the Apostles and martyrs that fortitude, by the strength of which they fought their battles like heroes till death in order to preach the truth of the Gospel and bear witness to it by the shedding of their blood.  [...]  This finally, moved the virgins to a free and joyful withdrawal from the pleasures of the senses and to the complete dedication of themselves to the love of their heavenly Spouse." - Pius XII: Haurietis Aquas

Art at top: Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione

Bonus trivia:  Did you know poodles were the first dogs to be used as rescue dogs before the invention of the St. Bernard?  The poodle proved to be unsuitable however, since the breed tends to be a bit too fond of luxury and alcohol.  To ward off the cold, poodles drank the brandy in the kegs around their necks, which was intended for the travelers they were supposed to rescue.   They were always drunk as well.



  1. +JMJ+

    Pope Benedict was such a cat person. =P

  2. I can just see a pack of poodles lounging around with their brandy snifters.


  3. A bit irrelevant in this particular case, but certainly relevant in terms of my particular scruples and obsessions :) ...

    Can't properly-oriented "carnal love", i.e. man/woman in or oriented towards marriage have a place in spirituality? Must it always be directly opposed to and detrimental to spirituality? This is where I don't understand these terms sometimes, and there are saints, many of them, who come right out and say that sexual love, even properly oriented, is a detriment to the spiritual life and to prayer. However, most devout and married Catholics I have ever met would say this is absurd.

    1. Merc - this post is a response to bullshit like this:


      As for husband and wife - the conjugal act is sacramental. When you are married, just do it.


  4. Mercury, you have to stop reading the saints that say that. You know that St. Therese's parents planned to live as brother and sister, right? And it was their confessor who advised them not to do so. Result? 9 kids, one of whom is a saint, another whose cause for canonization is open. Oh, and her parents themselves have been beatified. Here is your model.


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