30 December 2009

O Truly Incarnate Wisdom!

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, in this homily extracted from a Christmas sermon, speaks of things that might surprise you at first. He says, “Let the mouths of others praise you” when we have been taught not to seek the praises of men. Saint Bernard tells us to “hide the gifts and graces” we have received when we have been taught to let our light shine. The great saint is not suggesting that we ignore what we have been taught, but instead is laying out for us the message and example of Jesus as an Infant. It’s an interesting piece of his sermon – I hope you like it.

Christ is born in a stable, and lies in a manger. Yet is He not the same that said, "The earth is mine and the fullness thereof?" Why, then, did He choose a stable? Plainly that He might reprove the glory of the world, that He might condemn its empty pride. The Infant Jesus is silent. He does not extol Himself; He does not proclaim His own power and greatness, and behold, an angel announces His birth, a multitude of the heavenly host praise and glorify the new-born King.

You that would follow Christ do in like manner imitate His example. Hide the gifts and graces you have received. Love to be unknown. Let the mouths of others praise you, but keep your own lips closed. His Tongue has not spoken, and, behold, every where He is proclaimed, preached, made known. These infantine members will not be silent; they have another kind of language: in all of them the judgment of the world is reproved, subverted, and set at naught.

What man with intelligence, being free to choose, would not prefer a full-grown, robust body rather than that of an infant? O Divine Wisdom! You are manifested by Your preference for what was hidden and abject. O truly Incarnate Wisdom, veiled in the flesh! This is nevertheless what was long ago prophesied by Isaiah: "The child will know how to refuse evil and choose good." The pleasures of the body are the evil which He refuses; affliction is the good He selects. And assuredly, He that makes His choice is a wise Child, a wise Infant. He is the eternal Word of God, for the Word was made flesh, infirm flesh, tender flesh, the feeble, helpless flesh of an Infant, incapable of its own nature of any good work, feeling a repugnance to labor and hardships. Truly the Word was made flesh, and in flesh dwelt amongst us.

When in the beginning the Word was with God, He dwelt in light inaccessible, and there was none that could bear that light. For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who hath been His counselor? The carnal man of His own nature perceives not those things which are of the Spirit of God; but now he can perceive them though still carnal, for the Word was made flesh. Since man, on account of the flesh, could understand nothing but what was of the flesh, behold, the Word was made flesh that man might be able even by the flesh to hear and understand the things of the Spirit. O man, behold that wisdom which was heretofore hidden is shown forth to you! It is now drawn forth from its hiding place, and is laid open to you, and it penetrates into the very perceptions of your nature.