April 17 -- St. Stephen Harding
Stephen Harding was born in the 11th century into a noble English family. At an early age, he pursued the monastic life at the Abbey of Sherbonne in Dorsetshire.
A short time later, he was sent to France to study philosophy and theology. Having attained a high degree of competence in these studies , he then went to the French Abbey of Molesme which was under the direction of St. Robert and Blessed Alberic.
Unfortunately, the influence of this highly religious trio was rejected by the monks who fell into a miserable decline.
Together with St. Stephen, the two saints and 18 faithful monks left the community and formed a new abbey in Citeaux (Cister) which became known as the origin of the famous Cistercians. With the death of Blessed Alberic, St. Stephen became the new abbot.
Although he fought to maintain strict observance, very few new novices asked to be received. With this dire situation, St. Stephen began to doubt that the new institution was pleasing to God. He prayed fervently for enlightenment to know exactly what God wanted of his small community.
Shortly later, a noble youth and his 30 companions asked admission to the monastery. This youth was the future St. Bernard, who, with the blessing of St. Stephen, became the Abbott of the Abbey of Clairvaux, from which 800 future abbeys were born. St. Stephen, founder of the Cistercian branch of the Benedictine Order, died in 1134.
The lives of the saints give us a perfect means to meditate on the ways of God in history and to apply those ways in guiding our own journey here on earth. St. Stephen was only interested in pleasing God and doing His will on earth.
When his new venture seemed to be a failure , he petitioned God to show him exactly how to proceed. In a marvelous way, God brought more glory out of the pseudo-failure of the new monastery, by answering the saint's prayer with the coming of St. Bernard and the eventual increase of 800 new abbeys.
Let us ask Our Lady to teach us how to confide with confidence in the plans of Divine Providence, knowing that if we trust in her, all appearances of failure will turn to brilliant successes.