Hi there, welcome to my blog! This is my first official post that is not a podcast transcript, so enjoy! I’m going to be talking about my favorite saint, St Bernard of Clairvaux. “Rest is in Him alone. Man knows no peace in the world; but he has no disturbance when he is with God.” (Bernard of Clairvaux, On Loving God). St Bernard of Clairvaux was born in 1090 AD near Dijon, France. He was a Cistercian monk and founded the abbey of Clairvaux, of which he was the abbot. Bernard was born into an aristocratic family, with five brothers and one sister. His imitation of virtue was modeled by his loving parents. The death of his mother, who influenced him much like St. Monica, began his conversion journey. Bernard sought to enter into an austere and ascetic life, under St. Benedict’s rule. He was appointed by Stephen Harding in 1115 to begin a monastery in Clairvaux. Bernard was known to have frequently declining health, so it became harder to keep up. However, Bernard saw opportunity in his sufferings, so he decided to embrace it and grow deeper in his spirituality. Bernard found time to serve as an essential pillar of the medieval church. His various writings inspired many and helped him cling to his beliefs. In 1830, he became a doctor of the church. His anthology, On Loving God, provides fresh new thoughts to the intellectual and spiritual mind.
I read “On Loving God” in my senior year of high school and St. Bernard provides many points of reflection for the soul. In the first chapter, he discusses why we should love God. God’s greatest gift to us was the giving of Himself. Often we question how the word “love” can be defined. God IS love. He loves us with His whole being, and He wants us to love Him the same way. Humans often wonder why we should love someone who is intangible. We find that when we give ourselves fully to the wrong person, we end up hurt and wishing we did not make that mistake. God would never do anything to hurt us, because He gives us His all-encompassing love.
God grants us the gifts of grace, wisdom, virtue, and dignity. However, where there is good, there is evil. We must be cautious to not let dignity and wisdom become prideful. Virtue helps us acknowledge the Supreme Author and Creator. Virtue also aids us in suppressing the vices that may come from possessing dignity and wisdom. It would be nearly impossible to live a life of grace and virtue without God. “There is no glory in having a gift without knowing it. But to know you have it, means self-glorying, not glorying in God”. God’s second most precious gift to us was our own life. We live in a culture of death where it is seen as shameful to appreciate life, in all forms. We abuse this privilege of life, as well as abusing our dignity.
As Christians, specifically Catholics, we have encouragement and hope for loving God. We know that when He sent His only Son, He promised us for hope for the Resurrection. “Our measure of love to God is to love immeasurably. For since our love toward God, who is infinite and immeasurable, how can we bound or limit the love we owe Him?” (On Loving God, p. 11). His love is infinite, and we should strive to return that love.
We look for things that give us comfort in the midst of pain and suffering. What we don’t realize is that the sole thing that will give us the comfort we are looking for is God. No material thing can envelop us in love like God does. “For God so loved the world that He sent His only Son, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life” (John 3:16). The hardships we endure, Christ suffered as well. Christ loved us so much He chose to witness to his humanity and connect with us on a deeper level. We owe Him “a thousand-fold” (On Loving God, p. 10). He also gave us life, which we should respect.
We must love God without reward. In our world today, doing something good is often un-rewarded. Over time, the level of expectation is raised, so much so that it becomes the standard. It may become difficult to differentiate between doing something genuinely or as an expectation of reward or honor. “It is natural for man to desire what he reckons better than what he has already” (On Loving God, p. 13). There’s only so much we can do without God’s help. Not even the hardest of hearts would not need the help of God at some point. We must praise God just because, rather than attempting to earn something from Him.
The four degrees of love detail how we should love God. The first degree is “wherein man loves God for self’s sake” (On Loving God, p. 17). Love is considered one of the four natural affections. It is only right to love the author of nature. If we are to love our neighbors, why not love the author of life Himself? Chapter VIII connects to the above paragraph, in which we choose to love God but expect reward. Love must be selfless, without reward. The second and third degrees of love include loving God because He has given us boundless gifts and grace. We shall love God with all our heart, mind, body, and soul, because He is love.
The fourth degree of love includes “wherein man does not even love self save for God’s sake” (On Loving God, p. 21). St. Bernard mentions that in this earthly sojourn we are on, it is nearly impossible to obey God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind. Earthly possessions get in the way of our loving God, which is why Bernard claims it is impossible to obey Him fully. Bernard also commented that we would achieve the fourth degree of love in a perfect world, when our body and soul fully glorify God.
Going along with Chapter X, which deals with the perfection of the fourth degree of love, Chapter XI reflects on the “attainment of this perfection of love only at the resurrection” (On Loving God, p. 23). The faithfully departed hope for heaven, and until death is destroyed, perfect love cannot be obtained. God designed humans to be the union of body and soul, so it only makes sense that “…the soul would not be perfected without the body, since she recognizes that in every condition it has been needful to her good” (On Loving God, p. 23).
God created everything good, and all that we have is the work of the Author’s hands. “Love is the eternal law whereby the universe was created and is ruled…So love though it did not create itself, does surely govern by its own decree” (On Loving God, p.25-26).
The last three chapters of St. Bernard’s On Loving God deal with the laws of self-will, the love of sons, and the blessed state of the heavenly fatherland. From Chapter XIII, the law of self-will and desire, of slaves and hirelings, Bernard tells us that these laws are of human origin. Christ mentions slaves and hirelings during his Parable of the Lost Sheep. The hirelings are simply there to do their jobs and earn money, rather than go the extra mile. Christ, as the Good Shepherd, would risk the other 99 sheep to save the one who strayed. Our free will pulls us away from God. When we cast aside our attempts to trudge along by ourselves, we no longer are slaves to humanity, but sons and daughters of God. God treats all people with the utmost respect and love, and expects us to do the same. Disrespecting the lives of other humans for self-benefit does not honor God nor yourself. We must give our love to each other, especially in this troubled world we live in.
“‘The law is not made for a righteous man’, that is, it is not imposed on rebels but freely given to those willingly obedient, by Him whose goodness established it” (On Loving God, p. 29). If you are strong enough to bear the call of God, accept it. God does not force anything on His children that He knows they cannot bear. If you can bear it, you may find rest in the one who “restores your soul” (Psalm 23:3).
“Perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). This Bible verse is the epitome of who God is. His love is so perfect that it blinds the devil and sends him running away in fear. Death will never have victory over God. Heaven will prevail as the heavenly fatherland, with all the angels and saints, complete with the perfect love of God. St. Bernard encompasses the human interpretation of Love and God in On Loving God. He provides deep reflection and meditation on what it means to live life while glorifying God. God made all things good, and He is Love.
While reading St. Bernard’s great work, many points of reflection inspired my thoughts. Cold is the absence of heat. Evil is the absence of Love. Even more, evil is the absence of God. The struggle between good and evil does not stem from God, but rather because we choose it. God doesn’t will us to struggle, it’s our free choice. In Colossians 8:24, it is stated that we should “Rejoice in [our] suffering.” Now, look at someone whose mother is dying of brain cancer. They may have a hard time rejoicing in the sufferings of their dying mother. What good can you make of a situation as drastic as that? Perhaps her daughter is so impacted by this that she starts a foundation to raise money for cancer research, or donates some of it to fund children who want to be educated while dealing with treatment. It may not occur to you in the moment, but the most life moments are after the thunderstorm. People become angry with God because He chose to call someone to Heaven. We don’t know why God allows death to conquer. Yet, through our sufferings we find God. Now, probably the most famous bible verse to describe love is 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. “Love is patient, love is kind, Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”
In my senior year of high school, I was chosen to lead a discussion about this bible verse. I remember asking my peers what they believe the definition of love is. We came up with a lot of answers. Love is so intangible, yet we know it when we see it. We know that God teaches us to recognize Him as the definition of love. Love is walking down the street and greeting people, helping your sister do homework, or crossing the street with an elderly woman. What about empathy? Empathy is perhaps the second greatest definition of love. There’s a difference between empathy and sympathy. Jesus perfected empathy by coming down as a newborn baby to die on the cross and save us all. He understood our pain – not just physically as He was nailed to the cross, but emotionally. Our sins hurt Him, but it was the greatness magnitude of His love for us. Love always wins. Heat will always melt ice even at the lowest temperature. Our hearts are restless until they rest in God, who will always conquer. What I read to you was a reflection essay I wrote in response to On Loving God. I loved reading this book, it drew me in and gave me great reflection during a hard time. I struggled with hearing what God has to say to me. Our humanity gets in the way and its hard to see our will. If you listened to my podcast episode, When Life Doesn’t Go as Planned, I talked about how I chose to leave a situation that would be potentially toxic or stressful. I prayed a lot, and wasn’t sure if I was going to let God take over or maybe my emotions were. We need to rejoice in our sufferings, and I think something positive will come out of this, and I can keep making content for my listeners. I created my podcast and blog as an outlet for me to create and share my heart with the world.
Thank you for reading this today. I hope you can know and trust that God is loving you everyday, and that you recognize you should love Him too. Prayers on your heart this week, friend.