The rich young man in today’s Gospel went away sad. The pull of his many possessions proved stronger than his yearning for “something more.” In contrast, today’s saint came to the monastery as one of a band of thirty rich young men whom he had persuaded to renounce their possessions to follow the austere life of the Cistercian Order. Bernard anticipated a hidden, penitential life. He found it. Paradoxically, however, he also found himself deeply involved with the major issues of his day.
Popes and bishops discovered Bernard’s talents and virtues. He was constantly called upon as negotiator and peacemaker. The role brought him both acclaim and recrimination. When commissioned by Pope Eugenius III to preach the Second Crusade, Bernard approached the task with idealism and enthusiasm. Thousands responded eagerly to the call. How the subsequent inglorious collapse of the Crusade must have caused him to suffer!
Meanwhile, Bernard was living and promoting his Cistercian life. By the time of his death he had founded 143 monasteries throughout Europe. He left to future generations the legacy of profound sermons and spiritual treatises that led Pope Pius VIII to declare him a Doctor of the Church.
A rich life awaited Bernard as a result of that crucial decision to renounce his material riches. He certainly experienced the hundred-fold—but with persecution—that Jesus promised those who leave all to follow Him. The rich young man in the Gospel missed out on all that, but may we be inspired by Bernard’s example and aided by his intercession to respond generously to whatever challenge Jesus presents to us at a given moment.
- Sr. Mary O’Brien, C.P. is a member of the Passionist Sisters’ community in Union City, NJ.