Today we honour the memory of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, perhaps the most notable religious character of the 12th century. Bernard’s life and influence in the Church was more active than we can imagine possible today. His efforts at reconciliation between popes and princes produced far-reaching results. But he knew that his efforts would have achieved little without the many hours of prayer and contemplation that brought him strength and direction. His life was characterized by a deep devotion to the Blessed Mother. His sermons and books about Our Lady are still the standard of Marian theology today. Saint Bernard died at Clairvaux in 1153 and was canonised in 1174.
The scribes and Pharisees play a major role in the gospels. We think of them as the ‘bad guys’ that every good story needs. Yet the truth is that these scholars and religious leaders were ordinary people. They had their own strengths and weaknesses, just like us. And they too had their own hopes and desires. Many were probably good family men and very dedicated to their work for the sake of Israel. But, like all of us, they too faced temptations. The problem was that some of them gave in to these temptations and they used their power and influence to persuade Pontius Pilate to crucify the Son of God.
Performing acts of piety in order to be seen, seeking titles and places of honour, making one’s importance noticed and felt, dressing up in fine clothing; these are all marks of someone who has succumbed to pride. Does any of this perhaps sound familiar? Who among us hasn’t been tempted by one or another of these same issues?
The good news is that we don’t have to give in to these temptations. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we can say ‘no’ every time we are drawn into sin. And even if we do give in during a moment of weakness, we can be completely forgiven because of Our Lord’s sacrifice on the Cross. It may be hard to believe, but God has made it possible for us to live the same life of love and selfless service that Our Lord lived while he walked the earth.
This means that we can all live extraordinary lives. We can be transformed into spiritual men and women who are filled with the grace and power of the Holy Spirit. At the end of the day it’s the only way we can hope to rise above the weaknesses and scheming that were part of the Pharisees’ downfall.