Saint Bernard the Wonderworker : The Labors of St Bernard in Milan
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The ancient Church of Milan deserved the reproaches addressed to one of the Seven Churches in the Apocalypse. She was dead; for she had broken the sacred bond which united her to the mother Church, the centre of living unity. By the suggestions of her proud archbishop had rendered her indocile; and, not content with the illustrious rank she had always held in the Catholic world, she aimed at independence, and coveted the primacy — sacrificing the holiest laws of the Christian world to satisfy her ambition. Her first error had been in refusing to acknowledge the lawful Pope ; and by this fatal schism, which degraded her in proportion as it inflated her pride, she became engaged in the interests of human policy, subject to all its complications.
The Archbishop Anselm had taken no notice of the excommunication which two Popes had pronounced against him. The schismatics were successively disappointed when they heard of the triumph of the German troops, the coronation of Lotharius, the submission of Conrad, and, above all, of the peace which St. Bernard had established in the neighboring cities, they turned against Archbishop Anselm, and reproached him as the cause of the evils which threatened them. The unfaithful archbishop sought to escape from the resentment of his clergy by resigning his jurisdiction into the hands of the metropolitan bishop; and the Metropolitan took advantage of this state of the people’s mind to prepare the way for St. Bernard.
At this favorable moment the holy monk arrived in Lombardy, accompanied by two cardinals and the venerable Bishop of Chartres. “They had hardly descended the Apenines,” write the authors of that time, “when all Milan went forth to meet the man of God — ^nobles and citizens — the former on horseback, the latter on foot ; and rich and poor left their houses as if they had deserted the town. They went out in crowds, with inconceivable reverence, to meet the servant of Christ, and, transported with joy on beholding him, they esteemed themselves happy in hearing the sound of his voice. They kissed his feet ; and, although he did his utmost to prevent it, he could not hinder them from throwing themselves at his feet, and prostrating themselves before him; they tore the threads out of his garments to serve as remedies for their diseases, in the persuasion that whatever had touched him was holy, and would contribute to their sanctification. The multitudes who preceded and followed him filled the air with cries of joy and continued acclamations, until he entered the city, where he was detained for a long time by the immense crowd before he could reach the honorable lodging which had been prepared for him.
But when they came to discuss in pubhc the affair which had brought the servant of God and the cardinals to Milan, the whole city, forgetting its animosities and former pretensions, submitted completely to the holy abbot. “Peace was soon restored, the parties in the Church’ reconciled, and concord re-established among the dissenting parties by a solemn treaty. But when these matters were Arranged, there arose others of a different kind”.
The devil exercised his fury in some possessed persons. The standard of Jesus Christ was opposed to him; and, at the command of the man of God, the evil spirits, affrighted and trembling, fled from the abodes they had made for themselves, being driven out by a superior power. This was a new employment for this holy legate, who had received no orders from the Roman Court on this subject ; but, according to the Divine law and the rule of the faith, he produced, as a proof of his mission, letters written with the blood of Christ, and sealed with the seal of the cross, before whom form and character all the powers of earth and hell must bow.
We have never heard, in the present day, of a faith like that of this great people, or a virtue to be compared to that of this great saint. An humble and religious strife arose between them. The saint attributed the glory of these miracles to the lively faith of the people, and the people referred all the glory to the eminent sanctity of the servant of God ; all, however, were firmly persuaded that he obtained whatever he asked from God
With this assurance they brought to him, amongst others, a woman well known to all, who had been tormented by an impure spirit for seven years. They entreated him to deliver the unfortunate woman, and to command the devil to leave her body. The holy man began to pray; he received power from heaven, and commanded the evil one, in the name of Christ; the woman was immediately cured, and restored to peace and tranquillity.
Another time, a very aged lady, of high rank, waa brought to him, in the church of St. Ambrose, in the presence of a great number of persons. The devil, which had long possessed her, had suffocated her to such an extent that she had lost sight, hearing, and speech ; and gnashing her teeth, and stretching out her tongue like an elephant’s trunk, she resembled a monster rather than a woman. Her hideous and fearful countenance, and her horrible breath, bore witness to the impurity of the spirit which possessed her body.
When the servant of God beheld her, he knew that the devil was closely bound to, and, as it were, incarnate in ker, and that it would not be easy to dislodge him from an abode where he had so long been master.
Therefore, turning towards the people, who had flocked in crowds to the church, he recommended them to pray fervently to God; and, surrounded by the priests and religious who were near him, at the foot of the altar, he ordered that the woman should be brought before him, and firmly held. The miserable creature resisted; and, animated by a diabolical and superhuman power, she struggled, in horrible convulsions, amidst those who held her, striking them, and kicking the servant of God himself, who remained calm and unmoved, without being disturbed by the audacity of the demon. He humbly ascended the altar, and began the celebration of the holy sacrifice.
But every time that he made the sign of the cross on the sacred host, he turned towards the woman, and applied the virtue of the same sign to her ; the devil, at these times, testified that he felt the power of this mighty sign, by redoubling his fury, and manifesting fresh rage and anguish.
After the ‘ Pater Noster,’ the saint descended the steps of the altar, to come to close combat with the enemy of God. He held in his venerable hands the chalice, and the paten on which was the sacred host ; then, elevating them over the woman’s head, he spoke as follows :
“Evil spirit, behold thy Judge; behold the Almighty. Resist now, if thou canst ; if thou darest to resist Him, who, when about to die for our salvation, spoke these words — “The time is come, when the prince of this world shall be cast out” Behold that sacred body which was formed in the womb of a Virgin, which hung upon the wood of the cross, was laid in the sepulchre, rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven in the sight of his disciples I By the dread power of this adorable Majesty, I command thee, infernal spirit, to go out of the body of this servant of God, and never to re-enter it!”
The devil being forced, in spite of himself, to obey, and let go his hold, displayed all the violence of his fury during the few moments that remained to him, and tormented his victim with redoubled atrocity. The holy abbot, returning to the altar, proceeded to the fraction of the saving host, and gave the pax to the deacon, that he might transmit it to the people ; and, at the same moment, the woman was restored to peace and health. Thus did Satan bear witness, not by his free testimony, but by his forced flight, to the virtue and efficacy of the divine mysteries!
The woman, who had recovered the use of her reason and her senses, returned thanks publicly to God, and threw herself at the feet of the holy abbot, whom she regarded as her deliverer. The church resounded with acclamations ; the faithful, of every age and sex, expressed their admiration by cries of joy and hymns of gladness. The bells were rang; the Lord was blessed with one unanimous voice ; and the whole city, transported with love for St. Bernard, rendered him an honor, if we may be permitted to say it, beyond what was due to a mortal man.
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Saint Bernard the wonder worker, excerpts from the Life and Times of Saint Bernard by Abbot Theodore Ratisbonne and Heroic Virtue: A Portion of the Treatise of Benedict XIV on the Beatification and Canonization of the Servants of God Volume III.
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