Saint Bernard of Clairvaux – Commentary on Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 15:1-6; Ps 118; John 17:20-26
The Gospel reading is from the long discourse of Jesus at the Last Supper which we find in John’s gospel. It is from chapter 17, the last part of the discourse which consists of a long prayer of Jesus. In today’s reading Jesus prays for those believers who will come after his own disciples.
After a prayer for his disciples’ fidelity to his word and his mission, Jesus goes on to pray that those who come after them will be marked by their unity. “May they all be one, Father, may they be one in us, as you are in me and I am in you, so that the world may believe that is was you who sent me.” That will be the most effective sign of the truth of Jesus’ message – his followers living in the unity of that love which was the central commandment he left them both by his teaching and by his own example.
Again he says, “May they be so completely one that the world will realise that it was you who sent me and that I have loved them as much as you loved me.”
Unfortunately, Jesus’ followers have not succeeded in maintaining that level of unity. Over the centuries and down to our own day there have been deep divisions, even to the point of violence and war. Not surprisingly, it has been a source of disedification and disillusionment for outsiders.
Bernard worked very hard for unity within the Christian community. He was a major agent in putting an end to a schism caused by more than one claimant to the papal throne. In our day, too, the unity of the Church needs to be a top priority. It is the most effective proof that our lives are guided by that universal and unconditional love which should mark every disciple of Jesus.
The First Reading is from the Book of Sirach (also known as the Book of Ecclesiasticus). It speaks of the gift of wisdom to the one “who fears the Lord”. She will come to him “like a mother” and will receive him “like a virgin bride”. “She will give him the bread of understanding to eat and the water of wisdom to drink.”
“She will raise him high above his neighbours and in full assembly she will open his mouth.
He will find happiness and a crown of joy, he will inherit an everlasting name.”
All this was true of Bernard. In addition to being an effective administrator in reforming monastic life and being active in Church politics, he was also a person of deep spirituality who wrote works which are still regarded as classics in our own day. It is not often that one sees such disparate gifts united in one person.
While our own gifts are likely to be far more limited, let us pray that we may recognise the particular gifts that God has given to each one of us that we may use them for the good of the Church and for all our brothers and sisters wherever they are.