St Bernard was born to a noble family in Burgundy, France, in 1090. As a young man, he sought admission to the nearby monastery of Cīteaux. He brought with him 30 other young nobles whom he persuaded to leave all and follow Christ.
Three years later, he headed a group of monks sent to Clairvaux. His fervour and holiness attracted many followers, eventually including his elderly father and his five brothers. As Clairvaux became too small for the number of applicants, groups were sent out to found new houses. In all, St Bernard founded over 160 new monasteries.
St Bernard revived the spiritual life in the monastic orders, inspired the clergy and the faithful. resolved schism in the Church, and defended the rights of the Church against kings and princes. His reforming influence was strengthened when one of his followers, Eugenius III, became Pope.
The martyrdom of the Virgin Mary, implicit in Simeon's prophecy, is put before us in the story of our Lord's passion. That venerable old man, Simeon, said of the infant Jesus: 'This child is set for a sign that will be contradicted'; and to Mary: 'A sword will pierce your soul.'
Blessed Mother, a sword did pierce your soul. For no sword could penetrate your Son's flesh without piercing your soul. After your own son Jesus gave up his life - he was yours in a special sense though he belongs to all - the cruel lance opened his side and would not spare him in death though it could do him no injury and could not touch his soul. But it pierced your soul. His soul was no longer there, but yours could not be set free, and it was pierced by a sword of sorrow. We rightly speak of you as more than a martyr, for the anguish of mind you suffered exceeded all bodily pain.
"Mother, behold your son". These words were more painful than a sword thrust for they pierced your soul and touched the quick where soul is divided from spirit. What an exchange! John was given to you in place of Jesus, a disciple in place of the Master, a son of Zebedee in place of the Son of God, a mere man in place of the true God. These words must have pierced your loving soul, since just to recall them breaks our hearts, hard and stony though they be. Do not marvel, brethren, that Mary is said to have endured martyrdom in her soul. Only he will marvel who forgets what Paul said of the Gentiles, that among their worst vices was that they were without compassion. Not so with Mary! May it never be so with those who venerate her.
Someone may say: "Did she not know in advance that her Son would die?" Without a doubt. "Did she not have sure hope in his immediate resurrection?" Full confidence indeed. "Did she then grieve when he was crucified?" Intensely. Who are you, brother, and what sort of judgment is yours that you marvel at the grief of Mary any more than that the Son of Mary should suffer? Could he die bodily and she not share his death in her heart? Charity it was that moved him to suffer death, charity greater than that of any man before or since: charity too moved Mary, the like of which no mother has ever known.
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