Wounds of Christ – St. Bernard

This piece by St. Bernard of Clairvaux on the wounds of Christ is very fitting to be used in Lent and especially during Holy Week as we meditate on the Passion of the Lord Jesus and his infinite mercy.  St. Bernard, perhaps the greatest preacher of the middle ages, delivered this sermon around the year 1130 AD.

Where can the weak find a place of firm security and peace, except in the wounds of the Savior?  Indeed, the more secure is my place there the more he can do to help me.  The world rages, the flesh is heavy, and the devil lays his snares, but I do not fall, for my feet are planted on firm rock.  I may have sinned gravely.  My conscience would be distressed, but it would not be in turmoil, for I would recall the wounds of the the Lord: He was wounded for our iniquities.  What sin is there so deadly that it cannot be pardoned by the death of Christ?  And so if I bear in mind this strong, effective remedy, I can never again be terrified by the malignancy of sin.

Surely the man who said: My sin is too great to merit pardon, was wrong. He was speaking as though he were not a member of Christ and had no share in his merits, so that he could claim them as his own, as a member of the body can claim what belongs to the head. As for me, what can I appropriate that I lack from the heart of the Lord who abounds in mercy? They pierced his hands and feet and opened his side with a spear. Through the openings of these wounds I may drink honey from the rock and oil from the hardest stone: that is, I may taste and see that the Lord is sweet.

bernard of clairvaux - wounds of christ

He was thinking thoughts of peace, and I did not know it, for who knows the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? But the piercing nail has become a key to unlock the door, that I may see the good will of the Lord. And what can I see as I look through the hole? Both the nail and the wound cry out that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. The sword pierced his soul and came close to his heart, so that he might be able to feel compassion for me in my weaknesses.

Through these sacred wounds we can see the secret of his heart, the great mystery of love, the sincerity of his mercy with which he visited us from on high. Where have your love, your mercy, your compassion shone out more luminously that in your wounds, sweet, gentle Lord of mercy? More mercy than this no one has than that he lay down his life for those who are doomed to death.

My merit comes from his mercy; for I do not lack merit so long as he does not lack pity. And if the Lord’s mercies are many, then I am rich in merits. For even if I am aware of many sins, what does it matter? Where sin abounded grace has overflowed. And if the Lord’s mercies are from all ages for ever, I too will sing of the mercies of the Lord for ever. Will I not sing of my own righteousness? No, Lord, I shall be mindful only of your justice. Yet that too is my own; for God has made you my righteousness.

 

This excerpt from St. Bernard’s homilies on the Song of Songs (Sermo 61, 3-5: Opera omnia, 2, 150-1) appears in the Roman Catholic office of readings for Wednesday in the 3rd week of ordinary time.

Tags:
Bernard of Clairvaux, St.

St. Bernard of Clairvaux is clearly one of the greatest preachers of all time. Born to a noble family near Dijon France in 1090 AD, St. Bernard was inspired by the example of a new religious congregation, the Cistercians, who had abandoned the relative ease and security of Benedictine monasticism of that day to live according to the primitive pattern of St. Benedict through hard manual labor, solitude, and rigorous prayer. When St. Bernard decided to abandon the privilege of noble life to enter the monastery, he brought over 30 noble relatives with him. Once professed, he was very soon made abbot and went on to found over 40 monasteries in his lifetime. St. Bernard’s magnetic preaching and exemplary character changed the lives of thousands and his writing continues today to inspire Christians everywhere. His words were so sweet that he came to be known as the Melifluous (“full of honey”) Doctor. St. Bernard died in 1153 and was later proclaimed a saint and a Doctor of the Church. His feast day in the Roman Calendar is August 20.