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Abbot of Clairvaux, Doctor of the Church (entered heaven this day in 1153)
I empathize with your eagerness to enter the seminary sooner rather than later; now that God has made clear his call, delay is necessarily a cross. But your reasons for finishing off college seem prudent, both naturally and supernaturally, and your spiritual director confirms them. So you can be morally certain that in your case, waiting another year is part of God’s plan. As I read your note this morning, it occurred to me that God may be hoping you’ll follow in the footsteps of your namesake.
St Bernard (the “Honey-sweet Doctor” of the Church, as he is called) was prodigious on many counts. He founded the famous monastery at Clairvaux, which in turn fathered 68 other Cistercian monasteries. He gave spiritual (and political) guidance to Popes and Emperors, Kings and Barons, Abbots and saints. He resolved wars and schisms by the force of his wisdom and tact. He defended Catholic scholarship against secularism (the infamous rationalist Peter Abelard was his contemporary), rallied all of Europe in an effort to defend fellow Christians in the Holy Land (under the banner of the doomed ”Second Crusade”), and left a wake of miracles in his path as he trekked back and forth across the continent in defense of God’s honor. True, all he really wanted was to retire from the world and devote himself to prayer and solitude, but he willingly embraced the cross God fashioned for him – much to the world’s benefit.
His most remarkable deed, to my mind, was his first. And that’s what came to mind when I read your note. Bernard was of noble birth, and he showed extraordinary social and intellectual talent and skill from a very young age. By the time he finished his education (he was 22), all that the luxurious world of the Middle Ages (for nobles, anyway) had to offer was within his grasp. But he felt God calling him to forsake it all for a higher Kingdom. He struggled at first, but asked the Lord for strength and clarity, and he received both. And then came the amazing thing. Instead of just marching off on his own to join the newly reformed monastic community at Citeaux, he started talking to friends and family members about his decision. He spoke so powerfully about the merits of putting one’s life wholly at God’s service that he convinced one after another of them to accompany him. By the time he set out, he had gathered about him 31 young noblemen. They all showed up together on Citaeux’s doorstep to offer themselves for the Lord’s service, much to the surprised delight of the Abbot, St Stephen Harding, who had not received a new novice for several years. Nothing like it has ever occurred in the history of the Church.
The moral of the story, my young nephew, is that God has work for you to do before you enter the seminary, and that’s the reason behind the delay. Perhaps there is a throng of young men like yourself whom God is also calling to the priesthood, and he wants you to help them hear his voice.