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Humility and Authority
August 20th Readings Reflection: Memorial of Saint Bernard
Today’s Gospel reading is about hypocrisy. Jesus used the example of the scribes and Pharisees, who pompously instructed the Jewish people without following their own advice. Our Lord said that the scribes and Pharisees did everything “to be seen” — not by God, but by their fellow men — in order that they might receive their respect and admiration.
Earlier in St. Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus told His disciples: “[W]hen thou shalt pray, enter into thy chamber, and having shut the door, pray to thy Father in secret: and thy Father [W]ho seeth in secret will repay thee” (Mt 6:6 DRB). As human beings, pride tries to be at the root of everything that we do. Sometimes even without realizing it, we seek the attention and praise of others, becoming disappointed if we do not receive it.
Today, we celebrate the feast of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, a Doctor of the Church. While St. Bernard was born into a wealthy noble family in France, he desired to escape the temptations of the world and entered the very austere Cistercian Order. He founded the Abbey of Clairvaux and wrote many great works; his advice was so highly respected that even popes sought St. Bernard’s advice.
St. Bernard was the opposite of the scribes and Pharisees about which we hear in the Gospel. Rather than allowing the influence he held to make him complacent or prideful, he remained extremely humble. He would have preferred to remain in his monastery, living the life of a cloistered monk until he died; however, he travelled, wrote, and preached out of obedience to his superiors and the pope.
Thus, we can find in St. Bernard a beautiful example of how to live out Christ’s call to humility in today’s Gospel. Despite being placed in a position of spiritual authority over others, St. Bernard recognized that his authority came from God, and that he was merely God’s instrument. The scribes and Pharisees lost sight of this, and consequently sought merely to assert their authority over the Jewish people and enjoy their high social status. May we strive to imitate St. Bernard of Clairvaux and remember that any authority or power we might have in this world comes from God, and therefore strive to exercise it humbly in accordance with His Will.
St. Bernard, ora pro nobis!