St. Bernard's new year sermon: "Jesus: a Medicine in all Afflictions"
I can't say my devotional life is in terribly good shape these days. My ability to remain consistent comes and goes, and certain seasons of life are easier to manage than others. It seems that the past couple of years have been harder than most to find a rhythm--a pattern of sleep, a timely passage to work, a regular time for lunch and dinner, an ability to carve out time to pray and read Scripture and listen for a moment before the day's work begins properly, which is another way of saying, an ability to keep at bay the torrent of pressures, to-do lists, emails, phone calls, and the feeling of always being slightly behind, all of which sounds louder in my mind than the still small voice of God.
It's for that reason that in seasons like this I need a few extra helps. I need jump-starter material to get me going again. I need friends who can pray payers that I can adopt as my own and show me again how to read the Bible (for all it's worth). Thankfully I received just such a companion for Christmas. Phaedra gave me a four-volume series titled, The Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers. It includes sermons that were preached by St. Basil the Great and Alcuin Albinus, and by Bede the Venerable as well as St. Athansius and St. Theophylactus and Symeon Metaphrastes. It's a wonderful collection, full of language that is perfectly strange to my own and therefore able to help me re-hear the words of Holy Scripture.
One of the sermons I read today is by St. Bernard of Clairvaux: "The Name of Jesus a Medicine in all Afflictions." It's as good of a sermon as any to set my mind straight as I head into a new year, with the hope, as always, of finding my footing in the way of Jesus and a more peaceful, centered sense of self. My hope is to read one sermon each morning. Thankfully, and as anybody who has ever read the early church fathers knows, the sermons are full of Scripture, often un-cited, and marked by a prayerful spirit, so perhaps I'll find my own spirit of prayer rekindled after not too long.
The following is an excerpt from the latter part of Bernard's sermon. It's not actually a sermon for the new year. It's a sermon for the Sunday Outside the Octave of Christmas, and the Feast of the Holy Name. But since the two dates coincide in my case, it'll do double duty and I'll be none the worse for it. A happy new year to one and all, and may the Lord have mercy on those who require mercy, give justice to them that need justice, and grant peace to the minds and hope to the hearts that lack it but desperately desire it.
"The Name of Jesus a Medicine in all Afflictions" (translated by M. F. Toal)
The Name of Jesus is not light alone, it is also food.
Are you not strengthened as often as you recall it? What so fills the heart of him who meditates upon it? What so refreshes the tired senses, strengthens virtue, nourishes good and worthy habits, fosters pure affections? Dry indeed is all food of the soul, if it be not dipped in this oil; tasteless, if unseasoned by this salt. If you write anything, that which you write has for me no flavor unless I perceive there the Name of Jesus. Should there be discussion, or if we converse together, for me it is again without flavor, unless I hear there the Name of Jesus.
Jesus is sweet upon the tongue, melody to the ear and joy in the heart. But it is also a healing medicine. Is one among us sorrowful? Let Jesus come into his heart, and rise thence to his lips. And behold, at the risen light of Thy Name, every cloud is scattered, and calm returns. Has anyone fallen into sin? More, does anyone run despairing into a noose of death? If he calls upon the Name of Jesus, shall he not breathe again in life?
Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me (Ps. xlix. 15).
Nothing so restrains the violence of anger, eases the swellings of pride, heals the wounds of spite, checks the flow of sensuality, extinguishes the flame of lust, restricts the thirst of greed, and puts to flight the craving for whatever is unbecoming. Since when I name the Name of Jesus, I place before my mind a Man, who is meek and humble of heart, kindly, calm, chaste, merciful, and conspicuous in every virtue and grace, and the Same is the Omnipotent God, Who heals me by His example, and strengthens me by His aid.
All this speaks to me, when I speak the Name of Jesus.
Keep then as a medicinal lozenge, O my Soul, that which is hidden in the tiny capsule of this word that is Jesus, which is truly salutary; nor is there any infirmity against which it has been known to fail. Let it be ever in your bosom, ever in your mind; and by means of it all your thoughts and actions will be directed unto Jesus. You have here truly the means whereby you are helped in the heart and hand.
You have, I say, in the Name of Jesus, that by which you can correct your evil ways, improve those that are less perfect. You have that whereby you may defend your heart, lest it be corrupted; and should it be corrupted, that whereby you may restore it, through Jesus Christ Our Lord.