St Berno

Abbot of Cluny (in central France) (entered heaven in 927)

Dear Bernie,

Your ambition to change the world for the better is commendable.  Indeed, I would expect nothing less from someone who has received so much (“much will be expected from him who has received much,” our Lord said).  I have a little bone to pick with your method, however. In that “plan for conquest” you sent me, there is a glaring void. You never once mention the role of spiritual devotion, the role of prayer, the role of holiness.  It is all well and good to infiltrate the global ruling elite, but once you hold the reins of power, what will you do with them? If you don’t have a deep and vibrant life of prayer and devotion to Jesus Christ, you and your accomplices will end up just as corrupt as those you’re ousting.  Don’t belittle the importance of the spiritual life when it comes to social action; learn from history. Today’s saint is an excellent example.

Back in the late ninth and tenth centuries, things were looking quite unpropitious for Christendom.  In Byzantium, Spain, and North Africa, the Church had fallen under the heavy thumb of Muslim conquerors.  And in Europe, the vitality of the Carolingian empire (that’s Charlemagne and his successors) had been steadily ebbing away.  Clergy throughout the continent were ignorant and worldly, the Pope was at the mercy of the iniquitous Roman aristocracy, and Norman barbarians (the Vikings and their friends) were pouring in from the north, ransacking every vestige of civilization that they could find (the Magyars were doing the same in the east).  It was a gloomy time.

Just then, a devout French nobleman by the name of William of Aquitaine had a bold idea.  He founded a new monastery that he wanted to return to a purer interpretation of the great Benedictine rule.  He chose a place called Cluny, right smack in the middle of the Frankish Kingdom (France nowadays), and he recruited the holy and experienced abbot, Berno, to head up the project (Berno had already been involved in reforming a couple of other monasteries).  Berno became the first of a long line of mighty saints who served as abbots of Cluny, which in turn became a virtual factory of holiness. It churned out humble, sincere, devoted clergy 24/7 for 200 years, and spawned hundreds of other foundations throughout Europe.  It was the remote origin of all that was great in the Catholic Middle Ages – the art and architecture, the mysticism, the scholarship, the evangelization… And what was it based on? Prayer and spiritual sacrifice.

So, my ambitious nephew, I suggest you scribble an addendum to your battle plans, adding prayer – personal and liturgical – to the otherwise promising program.  And in the meantime, don’t be afraid to get onto your knees yourself every once in a while.

Your affectionate uncle, Eddy

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