FEBRUARY 12, 2007- BL. HUMBELINE: MARK 8:11-13

"WHY DOES THIS AGE SEEK A SIGN? I ASSURE YOU, NO SUCH SIGN WILL BE GIVEN IT." This saying of Jesus is immediately followed by the statement that "Then he left them". While Jesus presented himself to his followers to be imitated in his meekness and humility, yet as the representative sent by the Father our Lord could be blunt and brusque when he judged that those with whom he spoke were ill disposed. He made it clear that he could be approached only on his terms. These were plain and clear: his petitioners must be truly seeking God in a humble spirit, that is to say, they must accept him as speaking with the authority of Godís envoy. To put faith in him is to recognize Godís dignity and sovereignty. This fundamental attitude is displayed by Jesus throughout his ministry. He never compromises in this demand. His meekness and humility give way to this absolute demand for a humble respect for his Fatherís honor manifested by faith in his own mission in that he reflected the dignity and honor of the heavenly Father. One does not approach God with demands, but only with acceptance of his justice and holiness. True devotion to the Lord Jesus recognizes not only his gentle meekness but also his unyielding firmness of demand for humble faith and submission.

Learning to practice consistently these attitudes does not come easily to anyone. Each of us encounters situations that present fresh challenges to faith in Godís loving Providence. Whether from physical trials arising from sickness, or social suffering such as loss of some preferred job or position, the failure of some personal goal, the neglect or indifference of associates, the harsh criticism of some real fault, we all know how difficult it can be to trust that a loving Providence is concerned with our own person. We are inclined to demand what amounts to a sign from heaven that God is leading and supporting us before we fully accept such painful and humiliating experiences with a willing, trust in his bringing us to Himself through them. To accept the reality of life in light of faith in Godís plan for us requires a fresh commitment to humility before Godís loving plan.

Bl. Humbeline illustrates this truth dramatically in her conversion to a fuller spiritual life. Since she is not well-known, let us review the salient facts of her life. The only daughter in her family, she had six brothers, all but Bernard being formed to be leaders in the army. For the parents were aristocrat and her father a prominent knight whose advice and character were much appreciated. Both parents were dedicated Christians. Humbeline was especially close to Bernard. Like him she was endowed with beauty of person and ready intelligence. She became proficient in Latin, a skill quite unusual for women in her time; she also displayed a gift for music, having a beautiful voice. While all the men in the family became Cistercian monks, including eventually her widowed father, she married a rich nobleman and increasingly gave herself over to the show and pleasures her station made possible. After a couple years she took it in mind to visit her brothers at the monastery where Bernard was abbot. When she was announced to Bernard by her brother Andrew, who was porter, he explained that she was richly attired and accompanied by an impressive retinue. Bernard refused to see her, sending her word that as far as he was concerned she was just dressed-up corruption, and unworthy of her saintly mother. He refused to allow any of her brothers, who were by then monks in the same monastery, to meet with her. Bernard knew how to imitate our Lordís brusque bluntness as well as his humility when occasion called for it. Humbeline, quite naturally, was shocked by such a welcome. However, rather than resent such a harsh rejection she recognized the truth in her brotherís words and suddenly began to see herself and her life more objectively. She decided to take his rebuke as an invitation to conversion. She sent Bernard a further message telling him he should show concern for her soul and assist her to begin a better life. With that he agreed to see her and advised her on a manner of life acceptable to the Lord. She faithfully put his words into practice and after a couple of years she and her husband agreed to separate so that she might enter the Benedictine convent of July. After a few years there she became the superior; it was not long before she founded the convent of Tart which was the first community of women to live according to the observances of Citeaux. Thus began the feminine tradition of our Order. Bernardís gruff and uncompromising words echoed those of our Lord in todayís Gospel. But in contrast with the Pharisees Bl. Humbeline received them as a message from heaven, and followed up with a life dedicated to the single-minded search for union with the Lord. She achieved her goal by fidelity to the way of life that we have received from the same men whose advice and example she embraced. May we follow her example of humble and ardent desire to be transformed by the grace offered us by our Lordís words and this holy Eucharist.

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

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