Mary as guide to Jesus

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This is to share two gems that I have discovered resp. rediscovered recently. Both text are on Mary and both have to do with St. Bernard of Clairvaux whom the Church commemorates today.

Bernard of Clairvaux (1090 – 20 August 1153)  was born to the French nobility and joined together with four of his brothers and 25 friends the Benedictine abbey of Citeaux at the age of 22; his father and another brother joined soon after. Imagine the eyes of the abbot when 30 young and not so young men came and asked to be admitted as monks. It surely was an incredible moment!
He founded and led the monastery of Clairvaux which soon had over 700 monks and eventually 160 daughter houses. He served as adviser to the French kings, he attended the Second Lateran Council and fought the Albigensian sect (a Gnostic sect). He preached in France, Italy, and Germany. He was the spiritual adviser to Pope Eugene III, who had originally been one of his monks. He was canonized in 1174, and proclaimed a Doctor of the Church by Pope Pius VIII. The two greatest loves of his life were Jesus and Mary.

Here is the text:

In dangers, in doubts, in difficulties, think of Mary, call upon Mary. Let not her name depart from your lips, never suffer it to leave your heart. And that you may obtain the assistance of her prayer, neglect not to walk in her footsteps. With her for guide, you shall never go astray; while invoking her, you shall never lose heart; so long as she is in your mind, you are safe from deception; while she holds your hand, you cannot fall; under her protection you have nothing to fear; if she walks before you, you shall not grow weary; if she shows you favor, you shall reach the goal. [1]

Around hundred years later, Dante Alighieri would write his “Divine Comedy”. In the last Canto (Paradiso, Canto 33), Dante, led by Beatrice (representing theology), through the celestial Spheres, finally arrives at the highest of heaven. And here St. Bernard comes into play: He asks the Blessed Virgin Mary to obtain from the Trinity the grace for Dante to contemplate the brightness of the Divine Majesty. Here is the text (in the translation by Allen Mandelbaum):

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Mary and the Trinity [3]

Virgin mother, daughter of your Son,
more humble and sublime than any creature,fixed goal decreed from all eternity,
you are the one who gave to human nature
so much nobility that its Creator
did not disdain His being made its creature.That love whose warmth allowed this flower to bloom
within the everlasting peace—was love
rekindled in your womb; for us above,

you are the noonday torch of charity,
and there below, on earth, among the mortals,
you are a living spring of hope.

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Our Lady in Seckau [4]

Lady, you are so high, you can so intercede,
that he who would have grace but does not seek
your aid, may long to fly but has no wings.Your loving—kindness does not only answer
the one who asks, but it is often ready
to answer freely long before the asking.In you compassion is, in you is pity,
in you is generosity, in you
is every goodness found in any creature.

This man—who from the deepest hollow in
the universe, up to this height, has seen
the lives of spirits, one by one—now pleads

with you, through grace, to grant him so much virtue
that he may lift his vision higher still—
may lift it toward the ultimate salvation.

And I, who never burned for my own vision
more than I burn for his, do offer you
all of my prayers—and pray that they may not

fall short—that, with your prayers, you may disperse
all of the clouds of his mortality
so that the Highest Joy be his to see.

This, too, o Queen, who can do what you would,
I ask of you: that after such a vision,
his sentiments preserve their perseverance.

May your protection curb his mortal passions.
See Beatrice—how many saints with her!
They join my prayers! They clasp their hands to you! [2]

And her intercession was successful for Dante. It will also be successful for us.

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[1] St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Homily II on the text “Missus est”

[2] Dante Alighieri, Paradiso Canto 33, 1-45 on Digital Dante

[3] Siegel, Jane. “Illustrations from Early Printed Editions of the Commedia.” Digital Dante.New York, NY: Columbia University Libraries, 2017.

[4] The picture of Our Lady is in the Benedictine Abbey in Seckau, Upper Styria, Austria. It is very small, made from alabaster and dates back to 1200. The frame is made by one of the monks in the second half of the the 20th century.

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John Henry Newman’s Prayer for the Church – that only exists in German

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Hint: It was falsely attributed to him

Some years ago, in troubled times, I found this prayer by Bl. John Henry Newman:

O Gott,
die Zeit ist voller Bedrängnis,
die Sache Christi liegt wie im Todeskampf.
Und doch –  nie schritt Christus mächtiger durch diese Erdenzeit,
nie war sein Kommen deutlicher,
nie seine Nähe spürbarer,
nie sein Dienst köstlicher als jetzt.Darum lasst uns in diesen Augenblicken des Ewigen,
zwischen Sturm und Sturm,
in der Erdenzeit zu Dir beten:O Gott,
Du kannst das Dunkel erleuchten,
Du kannst es allein!

(Kardinal John Henry Newman)

O God,
the time is full of distress,
the cause of Christ is like in agony.
And yet – never did Christ walk more powerfully through this time on earth,
Never was His coming clearer
never His proximity more noticeable,
never His service more precious than now.
Let us then in these moments of the Eternal,
between storms,
in this time on Earth pray to you:
O God,
You can illuminate the darkness,
You can do it alone!(Cardinal John Henry Newman)
[translation mine]

It gave me a lot of peace, and took me on a path of discovery, since a friend had already suggested that I read his autobiography “Apologia pro vita sua”. Within, I learned to know a personality who in the depths of his heart was always reaching for the truth. He was someone with a profound piety, the gift of friendship and pastoral care, apostolic zeal, and a high intellectual capacity. He started out as an Anglican clergyman, where he wrote the wonderful poem known to Anglicans and Catholics alike entitled, “Lead, kindly light”, when feeling lonely on his way back to England from Rome. Upon his return from this Continue reading

The Hidden God: He Knows How to play the Game

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[Written in October 2013, returning from a short trip to Iceland]

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Church in Reykjahlid from 1962, built at the place of the previous church

In 1729, the lava masses from the nearby volcano Krafla had already destroyed all the houses in the village Reykjahlid, in the Northeastern part of Iceland. People took refuge in the church, and together with their pastor, prayed day and night that the lava flow would not reach them. And God heard them: the lava just stopped outside the surrounding wall of the church. A clear sign of divine intervention.

But let’s play devil’s advocate for a second: why do we know it has been divine intervention? Maybe there was an obstacle or a crevice that hindered the lava to follow the path straight to the village’s last building? Continue reading