Bernard was born in 1090 in the castle at Fontaines, near Dijon. Learning came easily to this intelligent and handsome young man from a well-to-do family. A distinguished future seemed to lie ahead, but, while drawn to prayer in a time of uncertainty, he made the decision to surrender his life to the service of Jesus. He persuaded 30 companions, including several of his brothers, to join him. In 1112 they entered the nearby abbey at Cîteaux, which was in a state of utter poverty. Benedictine monasticism had been reformed in the tenth century, but Bernard wanted to go further. As a novice he demanded austerities of himself "beyond what was human", and his health broke down. Nevertheless, under Bernard's influence, Cîteaux became well known as a model monastery.
In 1115 Bernard was sent with 12 monks to establish a new monastery. He chose a site in the valley of the river Aube, which he renamed Clairvaux (Valley of Light), where he became abbot. At first, times were very hard, but by the time of his death it had become one of the chief centres of the Cistercian Order, with 700 monks.A further 320 abbeys had been founded all over Europe, including Britain.
As an abbot, Bernard was very able, with remarkable qualities of leadership. A spiritual pioneer, writer and organiser, with a capacity to mould the mind of a generation, he was a powerful force in the Europe of his day. Although the Cistercian Order was theoretically a closed order based on withdrawal from the world, Bernard exercised an enormous influence on the church in Europe. Many from all walks of life came to him for counsel and support. He would fearlessly rebuke people on moral issues. In particular he attacked unorthodox theology and lack of monastic discipline.
Bernard’s attacks on other theologians and religious orders were by no means always fair. This was especially true of his treatment of Abelard. Nevertheless, he helped to gain recognition for the new Order of Templars as a body of Christian knights to serve the church during the crusades. He supported the crusade against the Albigensians. His powerful eloquence as a preacher was used most successfully to launch the Second Crusade in 1147. It was a disaster, and Bernard was blamed by some. Bernard’s involvement in politics has been criticised, but many other contemporary church leaders were engaged in plots and intrigues.
To Bernard, a deep knowledge of the Bible, loyalty to the church, and a passionate personal devotion to Christ and his mother Mary were the vital basis of one’s communion with God. He brought the monks to discover through prayer that deep, intimate relationship with Christ which he himself experienced. He inculcated a nobility of spirit won by rigour and self-discipline, yet also with great passion. A clue to this is seen in his monumental exposition of the Song of Solomon, with its invitation to mystic love, the very experience of the love of God.
Through his influence, the Cistercian Order became the most important in Europe. The enormous growth of the order was helped by the desire of many lay people to find security and a sense of purpose in a well-ordered community against the surrounding social confusion, but that does not detract from Bernard’s outstanding contribution.
Bernard died on 20 August 1153.
Holy and merciful God,
through your Son, the world’s true light,
you called Bernard to a passionate zeal for your truth;
enable us to use our gifts for the good of all,
and fire us with a spirit of love and discipline;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Brother Roger was born in Provence in Switzerland in 1915 and baptised Roger Louis Schütz-Marsauche. He was the ninth and youngest child of a Protestant minister’s family. He studied theology at Strasbourg and Lausanne. In 1940 he left Switzerland for his mother’s native France. He was already exploring the possibility of establishing a community of reconciliation. He went to Taizé, which at that time was on the edge of German occupied France. There for two years he ran a safe house for those escaping the occupied territories, especially Jews. He was eventually forced to leave Taizé, but returned in 1944 to found a community, intending it to be semi-monastic community of men living by vows of poverty and celibacy.
After the war Brother Roger was joined by others, and on Easter Day 1949 the community was formally established. What was most unusual about this development was that he, as a Protestant should establish such a community that engaged fully with communion with the Roman Catholic Church, but without in any way denying or repudiating his Protestant heritage. He was deeply committed to the task of reconciliation.
The focus of his work of reconciliation came to be especially among the young. A pattern developed in which members of the Taizé community would lead large gatherings in a European city at the end of each year. These meetings are part of a “pilgrimage of trust on earth”. The thrust of this is that those who have visited Taizé should return to their own community and there seek to live out the insights and deeper spiritual awareness they have gained from their visit to the community. Brother Roger would write a letter or message each year for these large gatherings and this would be translated into many other languages.
Throughout his life Brother Roger maintained his emphasis on engaging with the suffering of the time. This took him to various places where poverty was endemic. His intention was to be with people, and if, as sometimes happened, he was not allowed to speak publicly, then, as he said, “I will be silent with you.” He did not like formal preaching and sought always to keep a low profile, refusing any efforts to idolise him or make him the centre of attention.
Taizé itself became synonymous with the theme of reconciliation and a place of pilgrimage for many people of all ages, but especially the young, who would come and share the life of the community for a week. The community consists of about 100 members from several backgrounds, both Catholic and Protestant and various nations, a living testament to the theme of reconciliation. A key feature of the life of the community at Taizé is its worship and above all its music, which has found a warm welcome in many places around the world. Brother Roger was a classically trained musician and understood the power of music to shape religious experience. It was he who introduced the meditative and reflective chants that are so much associated with the Taizé style of worship and that have had such an impact on contemporary spirituality.
Brother Roger remained a significant figure at Taizé and prior of the community, even when age and ill-health meant he often had to use a wheelchair. He was awarded the UNESCO prize for peace education in 1988 and wrote extensively on issues of spirituality and justice. During the evening service at Taizé on 16 August 2005, he was attacked and stabbed to death by a mentally disturbed woman.
God of mercy,
you reconciled us to yourself in Christ;
and of that good news
your servant Brother Roger was a passionate witness
in and through the community at Taizé;
help us to follow his example
of renewing trust in one another and in you,
that together we may join in harmony to sing your praises;
through Jesus Christ our Redeemer.
Mary has had a place of honour in the church from the beginning. She is the central figure in two other major commemorations in the Calendar: The Annunciation (25 March), and The Visitation (31 May). Her birth also is commemorated separately (8 September).
She was living in Nazareth at the time of the annunciation and seems to have been a devout Jewess. Her kinship to Elizabeth would perhaps suggest a Levitical family, but later tradition ascribes Davidic descent to Mary as well as to Joseph, whose genealogy is given in different versions in Matthew and Luke. Also at the time of the annunciation, Mary was betrothed to Joseph, which in accordance with Jewish custom meant virtual marriage apart from living in the groom’s house.
Both Matthew and Luke attest the virgin birth of Jesus from Mary in Bethlehem. Later developments in the early church were to assert that Mary was a perpetual virgin and that in consequence the other children mentioned in the New Testament were Joseph’s by a previous marriage, or cousins of Jesus. The New Testament offers no evidence to support or deny these developments, which were often informed by dogmatic and doctrinal considerations.
After the birth of Jesus, Mary fulfilled the requirements of the Law for her purification, the offering made (a pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons) suggesting a family of slender means (Luke 2:24; cf. Leviticus 12:6-8). Mary went with Joseph to Jerusalem for Passover each year (Luke 2:41), and they took Jesus with them when he was twelve. Although Jesus returned with Mary and Joseph to Nazareth, he had marked an independent path of obedience to God.
During Jesus’ public ministry, Mary and Jesus’ brothers and sisters seem to have kept somewhat aloof from him. Joseph is not mentioned again, and may have died by this time. Jesus’ family tried to take him in hand because “he has gone out of his mind” (Mark 3:21), and they, including Mary, are rejected as family in favour of those who do what God wants (Mark 3:31-35). At the wedding in Cana (John 2:1-12), Jesus again sets himself apart from his mother. When Jesus was rejected in Nazareth (Mark 6:1-6), the crowd knew Jesus’ family, but none of them was a disciple; and Mary is not among the women who travelled with Jesus on his jour-neys and assisted him.
Nevertheless, Mary was present at the crucifixion (John 19:25-27), and was given into the care of the beloved disciple. Mary and other members of the family were also part of the early church (Acts 1:14), having found a new understanding of Jesus after the resurrection. The New Testament gives no further details about Mary. Later traditions embellished the details of Mary’s life, especially her birth and death, but these have no historical value.
who looked upon the lowliness of the Blessed Virgin Mary
and chose her to be the mother of your only Son:
grant that we who are redeemed by his blood
may share with her in the glory of your eternal kingdom;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Daily Office SSF
Maximilian Kolbe was born Rajmund Kolbe in January 1894 in a village near Lodz, Poland. His parents were devout Catholics, and he received some of his education at a Franciscan minor seminary. At the age of 16 he entered the novitiate, taking the name Maksymilian. After further education in Cracow and Rome he made his solemn profession on All Saints’ Day 1914. After further studies in Rome he was ordained priest in 1918. Although suffering from tuberculosis, Maximilian did not let that hinder his dreams of a spiritual militia to combat the evils of the day. The Militia Immaculatae was given papal approval in March 1919.
Poland had been the main battleground of the eastern campaigns of the war, and in 1919 Maximilian returned to Poland to become professor of church history at the Cracow seminary. He established a press to keep members of the Militia informed, and the publishing venture became a huge success. By 1927 the presses had moved to Warsaw, and the friary grew. In 1929 a minor teaching seminary was opened as well. The Militia and the publishing work expanded to Nagasaki in Japan in 1936, where Maximilian spent some time. He was recalled to Poland in 1936 to head what was now one of the largest friaries in the world, with over 700 friars.
In 1939 Germany invaded Poland. As far as possible Maximilian dispersed the friary for safety reasons. They took in refugees. The German army closed the friary in September 1939 and detained some of the friars. They were released in December and engaged in helping the numerous refugees and the sick from the fall of Warsaw. The refugees included Poles and Jews.
Maximilian began publishing again, and, given that some of the material published was critical of the Third Reich, it came as no surprise when he was arrested in February 1941. He was taken first to Pawiak in Warsaw. He ministered to his fellow prisoners and suffered abuse at the hands of his guards. In May he was taken in a group of 300 to Auschwitz. Maximilian again ministered to the other prisoners, always sharing his rations, and offered himself to be beaten in the place of others.
At the end of July 1941 a prisoner escaped from Auschwitz. The camp commandant instituted the usual reprisal: ten prisoners were to be starved to death in an underground bunker. One of the selected victims was Franciszek Gajowniczek. At that moment, Maximilian stepped forward and said, “I am a Catholic priest. I wish to die for that man; I am old; he has a wife and children.” Surprisingly, the German officer accepted the exchange, and Gajowniczek eventually survived to be present at the Vatican in 1982 when Kolbe was canonised. Maximilian Kolbe was one of the last of the ten to die, being finally despatched with an injection by a camp doctor on 14 August 1941. In his last days, by prayer and psalms, he prepared the others for death, turning degradation into celebration.
your gift to us is life eternal
through your Son’s willing sacrifice of himself;
may the example of Maximilian Kolbe
strengthen us to spend ourselves in your service
and bear the burdens of others even to death;
for the sake of Jesus Christ our Saviour.
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August 21 - 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 20 - St Bernard of Clairvaux
August 20 - Daily Office - Evening
August 20 - Daily Office - Morning
August 16 - Brother Roger of Taizé
August 15 - The Blessed Virgin Mary
August 14 - St Maximilian Kolbe
August 14 - 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time
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