Memorial of St. Robert Bellarmine, Bishop and Doctor
Robert Bellarmine was the embodiment of the ideal of the Renaissance man: learned, well-spoken, a genuine man of letters. His broad cultivation of talents and knowledge was borne of that Christian humanism of his day which saw all disciplines as forming a coherent body of truth, and all truth as leading to God. It is because of his breadth of learning, rather than in spite of it, that he is the perfect illustration of living out St. Paul’s famed exhortation to love found in the first reading. He did not turn aside from learning, speaking, or any of the other gifts that Paul speaks of today, but knew they were not enough by themselves.
We do not celebrate Robert Bellarmine as a saint for his learning, but for his loving. Throughout his life he had a tender love for God and for the Church. As professor of theology and spiritual father at the Jesuit university in Rome, he watched over St. Aloysius Gonzaga as Aloysius tended to the plague victims. Eventually, he would give St. Aloysius last rites, and requested to be buried near St. Aloysius, a request that was honored. He spoke eloquently in human tongues, but was determined not to be a “clashing cymbal.” His speaking, his understanding, his various talents were all animated by love for God and neighbor, showing clearly the difference between a knowledgeable dilettante and a true saint.
Grace: An intimate knowledge of the many blessings received, that filled with gratitude for all, I may in all things love and serve the Divine Majesty.
Reflection: In the meditation upon sin, we made reference to Dante’s vision of hell, a cold, desolate place where the fire of love has been extinguished and all lies in a spiritual torpor. This is the perfect image of the heart grown cold to the stirrings of love which God places within it. At the opposite end of Dante’s journey lies a vision that perfectly encapsulates the final meditation of the Spiritual Exercises, the Contemplation to Attain Divine Love. From the lowest reaches of the spiritual universe, Dante ascends to the heights of heaven, where he views “the love that moves the sun and the other stars.” At the heart of the universe lives the Trinitarian God, whose perfect love draws all being into an ordered symphony of praise. Dante feels himself drawn into this harmonic vision through the enflaming of his passions and desires. No one with eyes to see can sit impassively at the vision of God’s love. From the disordered state in which Dante had fallen at the beginning of the poem, he becomes progressively cleansed of his disordered affections through the grace of God and the intercession of Beatrice until finally he is able to pass through the heavens and stand in the presence of God. But notice that Dante only sees God’s depths after he has been interiorly transformed.