I am reading up on the history of the Benedictine movement in preparation for a new class I will be teaching at the Avila Institute starting in January. It is How St Benedict Changed the World. As a Benedictine oblate, I am biased, but the writings of the Benedictine masters of spirituality always have such beauty and balance.
Here is St Bernard of Clairvaux on the coming of the Lord. For you who don’t know, St Bernard was part of the renewal of the monastic movement around the eleventh century. A Cistercian, he was part of the great renewal that brought another surge of monasticism across Europe.
We know that the coming of the Lord is threefold: the third coming is between the other two and it is not visible in the way they are. At his first coming the Lord was seen on earth and lived among men, who saw him and hated him. At his last coming All flesh shall see the salvation of our God, and They shall look on him whom they have pierced.
In the middle, the hidden coming, only the chosen see him, and they see him within themselves; and so their souls are saved. The first coming was in flesh and weakness, the middle coming is in spirit and power, and the final coming will be in glory and majesty. This middle coming is like a road that leads from the first coming to the last. At the first, Christ was our redemption; at the last, he will become manifest as our life; but in this middle way he is our rest and our consolation.
If you think that I am inventing what I am saying about the middle coming, listen to the Lord himself: If anyone loves me, he will keep my words, and the Father will love him, and we shall come to him. Elsewhere I have read: Whoever fears the Lord does good things – but I think that what was said about whoever loves him was more important: that whoever loves him will keep his words. Where are these words to be kept? In the heart certainly, as the Prophet says I have hidden your sayings in my heart so that I do not sin against you.
Keep the word of God in that way: Blessed are those who keep it. Let it penetrate deep into the core of your soul and then flow out again in your feelings and the way you behave; because if you feed your soul well it will grow and rejoice. Do not forget to eat your bread, or your heart will dry up. Remember, and your soul will grow fat and sleek.
Such simple wisdom for Advent! Especially as the close of this calendar year has seen such turmoil and trouble. St Bernard says, “Be at peace. The coming of the Lord right now is a secret thing. Keep it safe. Keep it in your heart. It is a matter of faith.
This connects with what I wrote in the second half of my book Immortal Combat. The work of the Lord is always small. It is always secret. It is always sacramental–hidden away in the ordinary things of life.
The Way of St Benedict teaches us this.