Astonishing Joy

From “Second Sermon for the Feast of St. Andrew,” 1, 3, 5 (ca. 1150) 

What did St. Andrew say when he saw the cross that had been put up for him? “O cross,” he said, “long desired and now offered to my soul’s desires! I come to you full of joy and assurance. Receive me then with gladness, for I am the disciple of him who hung from your arms.” 

Whence then came to that man such astonishing joy and exultation? Where did he, so frail a creature, get so much constancy? Where did he get so spiritual a soul, so fervent a charity, and so strong a will? Let us not imagine that he got that great courage from himself. It was the perfect gift issued from the Father of lights, from him who alone produces marvels. It was the Holy Spirit who came to help his weakness and filled his soul with the charity strong as death, and even stronger than death. 

May it please God to make us share in that Spirit! For if now the effort of conversion is painful to us, and if we are vexed by watchings, the only reason is our spiritual indigence. If the Spirit were present to us, he surely would come to help us in our weakness. What he has done for St. Andrew when he faced the cross and death, he would do also for us: removing from the labor of our conversion its painful character, he would render it desirable and even delicious. “My Spirit,” says the Lord, “is sweeter than honey,” so much so that the most bitter death could not lessen its sweetness. 

We must take up our cross with St. Andrew, or rather with him whom he himself has followed, the Lord, our Savior. The cause of his joy and exultation was that he died not only with him, but like him, and that he was so intimately united to his death and to his sufferings that he also would reign with him. 

St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) was one of the most influential preachers and spiritual writers of the Middle Ages. An important leader in the Cistercian reform, he was abbot at Clairvaux and an important advisor to other church leaders. This sermon was preached to members of his community at Clairvaux, and the translation is from J. Robert Wright ed. Readings for the Daily Office from the Early Church. New York: Church Hymnal Corp., 1991. St. Bernard’s feast day is August 20. 

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