Say “Saint Bernard” and most of us think of a large breed dog sent on a mission of rescue for an Alpine traveler. Twilight falls and the wolves draw near, and the faithful dog on his merciful mission arrives just at the last possible moment. Around the dog’s neck is a large cask containing spirits for medicinal use, upon which the perishing traveler seizes with the last ounce of remaining strength, until the rescue party arrives.
It may come as a surprise to you that Saint Bernard was also a real person, the founder and abbot of the monastery Clairvaux in Northeastern France. While I do not think that he is known as the patron of the sleep deprived, Saint Bernard was known for functioning in a state of sleep deprivation as he labored long into each night. He was a prolific writer, teacher, poet and teacher; in him the grace of God in the power of the Holy Spirit was a flame that could not be extinguished.
One of the things that Bernard emphasized was the practice of Lectio Divina. “Lectio Divina” literally is Latin for “Divine Reading.” Practiced to this day, it is a prayerful and contemplative way to read Holy Scripture. Generally the person reads the passage aloud to one’s self, and keeps re-reading it while contemplating the various ways in which the passage might be understood, or the various ways in which it might be applied to one’s life. I suppose that most of us are too impatient to be practitioners of Lectio Divina, and that is sadly to the impoverishment of our spiritual lives, for it is a wonderful way of spending time with God and practicing the peace of God. One simply keeps re-reading the passage aloud until one comes to an understanding of the passage. Well, you can’t reduce everything to five seconds!
Many of Bernard’s writing are still extant, including some of the hymns that we familiarly sing. Among them are “O sacred head sore wounded” and “Jesus the very thought of Thee.”
Saint Bernard’s life reminds us of the importance of integrating our lives of faith with the rest of our lives. In addition to his writings and teachings, his positive contribution included working towards reconciliation of the painful schism in the Church in his day.