Memorial of St. Bernard, abbot and doctor of the Church
(Judges 11:29-39a; Matthew 22:1-14)
The first reading is so shocking that we cannot help but consider it. There are at least two noteworthy issues here: human sacrifice and virginity. We should comment that God does not suggest human sacrifice in this case; indeed, the Law expressly forbids it. Jephthah seems too proud to admit that he made a foolish vow. We can say as well that Christ has liberated women from the shame that Jephthah’s daughter feels for remaining a virgin, that is, for never giving birth. Since Jesus, a woman’s role in life goes far beyond child-bearing but includes discipleship for the sake of the kingdom.
Other than Jesus himself, no one exemplifies virginity for the sake of the kingdom better than Mary, his mother. When Jesus tells the woman who would bless his mother for having given him birth, he turns the blessing around and praises his mother for having heard the word of God and putting it into practice.
Today we celebrate a great proponent of Marian devotion, Bernard of Clairvaux. He once wrote, “In dangers, in doubts, in difficulties, think of Mary, call upon Mary....And to more surely obtain the assistance of her prayer, neglect not to walk in her footsteps.”