Saint Bernard Teaches: Do Not Take Your Eyes Off Our Lady

We do well to read some advice from Saint Bernard about devotion to Our Lady. The advice is as follows:

“Oh, whosoever thou art that perceiveth thyself during this mortal existence to be rather drifting in treacherous waters, at the mercy of the winds and the waves, than walking on firm ground, turn not away thine eyes from the splendour of this guiding star, unless thou wish to be submerged by the storm!”

Passages like this are often found referring to Our Lady. Such texts represent what we might call a profoundly anti-Hollywoodian vision of life.

This modern, optimistic and wrong view creates the illusion that this life can be a phase of our existence in which we can find true happiness. Earthly life is presented to us as a rose garden, in which misfortune only happens to people by chance or bad luck. Some people might also make a few unfortunate missteps, thus falling, hurting themselves, or collapsing definitively. However, if we manage to work around our problems, this earthly existence can be entirely happy.

On the contrary, all great texts on devotion to Our Lady present life as a valley of tears, a place where we are all atoning for Original Sin and our present sins. We are taught that man has a lot to suffer in life. This premise is the basis of the advice from Saint Bernard.

He considers life to be a collection of whirlwinds and storms, rather than a joyous walk and race after pleasure. Amid this dramatic life full of storms, he advises people to be sure to set their eyes on the star that is Our Lady. We must be like sailors who set their eyes on the North Star to find their way. If not, the waves will drag us down to where we do not want to go.

Therefore, his first piece of advice implicitly acknowledges that life is a valley of tears and a battlefield. Militia est vita hominis super terram, says the Scriptures (Job, 7:1), which means man’s life on earth is a warfare, albeit dignified. However, in this struggle and uncertain sailing, we must keep our eyes on Our Lady.

He continues:

“If the winds of temptation arise; if you are driven upon the rocks of tribulation look to the star, call on Mary.”

We see here how he presents the spiritual life as a series of tribulations like rocks insidiously waiting in the navigator’s path. Life is filled with whirlwinds of temptations that can solicit and drag us to evil. If that happens, invoke Mary, the star of sailors and the Star of the Sea.

“When buffeted by the billows of pride, or ambition, or hatred, or jealousy, look at the star, call upon Mary.”

We face the prospect of being sinners collapsing into the worst of sins, which is the cause and main root of all sins—pride, which manifests itself in selfishness, the desire to have no one above us, or the wish to be the first of the first.

These are the dangers we face. Saint Bernard gives us the solution.

The preceding article is taken from an informal lecture Professor Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira gave on 24 September 1966. It has been translated and adapted for publication without his revision. —Ed.

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