Bernard of Clairvaux on the wounds and merits of Christ. 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. It makes clear that all merit is his, but is ours too since he shares it with the members of his body. 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.
His Wounds outweighs our Sin
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.
We Share in His Merits
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.
Nail as a Key to Unlock the Door
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.
The Secret of his Heart
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
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 post on the wounds and merits of Christ’s mercy is an excerpt from St. Bernard’s homilies on the Song of Songs (Sermo 61, 3-5: Opera omnia, 2, 150-1). It appears in the Roman Catholic office of readings for Wednesday in the 3rd week of ordinary time. The accompanying biblical reading is from Deuteronomy 29:1-28.
For more great resources on the Passion of Christ, see the Lent & Holy Week Library of the Crossroads Initiative.