Memorial of Blessed Guerric of Igny
Scripture Readings: Ez 34:1-11; Mt 20:1-16
What encouragement or wisdom can we find in today’s celebration of Blessed Guerric of Igny? This second abbot of Igny, was a disciple of St. Bernard, a late vocation who entered Clairvaux at age 45. Thirteen years later he became a replacement for the first abbot of Igny who said, “I’m quitting!”, packed his bags and returned to Clairvaux. Bernard had no choice but to find a substitute, so he sent dependable old Guerric who couldn’t understand why this office was thrust upon him. He didn’t want to be an abbot because, “In his house there is no bread.” He had nothing to give. But the 54 sermons that have come down to us merit calling him one of the four evangelists of Citeaux along with St. Bernard, St. Aelred, and William of St. Thierry.
One thing saddened Guerric, and caused him deep humiliation. Because of illness and old age he was forced to keep to his bed, and to be almost continuously absent from the brothers when they were assembled in community for prayer or work. But that didn’t prevent him from teaching others to be faithful to the practices of our way of life. He writes, “I think it is most important not quickly to let restlessness or a slight indisposition keep us away from the divine office, private prayer, holy reading, our everyday tasks, or the rule of silence.”
In his Christmas Sermons Guerric writes about the spirit of sadness, a certain pessimism and self-pity that fills one with resentment and gloom. He writes that the root of this sin is a conviction that God has not been good to us, that one has a right to be dejected. Sadness leads to infidelity and despair. The ungrateful person hardens the heart and refuses to see God’s love and mercy. He or she doesn’t want to see them. The cure for this dejection is to be nourished by the Bread of life in the Eucharist and the Word of God, hoping not in one’s self, but in God’s loving kindness. Guerric doesn’t flash out with thunder and lightning against the slothful and negligent. Instead, he uses irony when he addresses those who would make the spiritual life easy. He writes, “…thanks be to God for giving us victory without a battle, pardon without repentance, righteousness without right conduct, holiness without striving, for letting us wallow in the delights of the flesh and of the spirit at the same time.” Then he adds, “But in you, brethren, we look with confidence for something better and more conducive to your salvation.”
Abbot Robert Barnes sums up Guerric’s life in these words: “He is a monk we may claim as a model, who obeyed what he was told to do and who did it faithfully, a good man, a wise abbot, an encouragement to us all.”