May 20, 2021: ST. BERNARDINE OF SIENA
May 20, 2021: ST. BERNARDINE OF SIENA, CONFESSOR
Thou comest to us, O Bernardin, in the midst of the Paschal glory of the Name of Jesus. This Name, for which thou didst so lovingly and zealously labour, gives thee to share in its immortal victory. Now, therefore, pour forth upon us, even more abundantly than when thou wast here on earth, the treasures of love, admiration and hope, of which this divine Name is the source, and cleanse the eyes of our soul, that we may, one day, be enabled to join thee in contemplating its beauty and magnificence.
O Lord Jesus, who didst pour forth into the heart of blessed Bernadine, thy Confessor, a more than ordinary love of thy most holy name; mercifully grant us, by his virtues and prayers, the spirit of thy love. Who livest and reignest God, World without end. Amen.
In that Season of the Liturgical Year, when we were loving and praying around the Crib of the Infant Jesus, one of its days was devoted to our celebrating the glory and sweetness of his Name. Holy Church was full of joy in pronouncing the dear Name chosen, from all eternity, by her heavenly Spouse; and mankind found consolation in the thought, that the great God, who might so justly have bid us call him the Just and the Avenger, willed us henceforth to call him the Saviour. The devout Bernardin of Sienna, whose feast we keep to-day, stood then before us, holding in his hands this ever blessed Name, surrounded with rays. He urged the whole earth to venerate, with love and confidence, the sacred Name which expresses the whole economy of our salvation. The Church, ever attentive to what is for the good of her Children, adopted the beautiful device. She encouraged them to receive it from the Saint, as a shield that would protect them against the darts of the evil spirit, and as an additional means for reminding us of the exceeding charity wherewith God has loved this world of ours. And finally, when the loveliness of the Holy Name of Jesus had won all Christian hearts, she instituted, in its honour, one of the most beautiful solemnities of Christmastide.
Bernardin, the worthy son of St. Francis of Assisi, returns to us on this twentieth day of May, and the sweet flower of the Holy Name is, of course, in his hand. But it is not now the prophetic appellation of the new-born Babe; it is not the endearing Name, respectfully and lovingly whispered by the Virgin-Mother over the Crib;—it is the Name, whose sound has gone through the whole creation, it is the trophy of the grandest of victories, it is the fulfilment of all that was prophesied. The Name of Jesus was a promise to mankind of a Saviour; Jesus has saved mankind, by dying and rising again; he is now Jesus in the full sense of the word. Go where you will, and you hear this Name,—the Name that has united men into the one great family of the Church.
The chief priests of the Synagogue strove to stifle the Name of Jesus, for it was even then winning men's hearts. They forbade the Apostles to teach in this Name; and it was on this occasion that Peter uttered the words, which embody the whole energy of the Church: We ought to obey God, rather than men (Acts, v. 28, 29). The Synagogue might as well have tried to stay the course of the sun. So too, when the mighty power of the Roman Empire set itself against the triumphant progress of this Name, and would annul the decree that every knee should bow at its sound (Philipp, ii. 10),—there was not merely a failure, but, at the end of three centuries, the Name of Jesus was heard and loved in every city and hamlet of the Empire.
Armed with this sacred motto, Bernardin traversed the towns of Italy, which, at that period, (the 15th century,) were at enmity with each other, and, not unfrequently, were torn with domestic strifes. The Name of Jesus, which he carried in his hand, became as a rainbow of reconciliation; and wheresoever he set it up, there every knee bowed down, every vindictive heart was appeased, and sinners hastened to the sacrament of pardon. The three letters (I H S), which represent this Name, became familiar to the Faithful; they were every where to be seen, carved, or engraven, or painted; and the Catholic world thus gained a new form, whereby to express its adoration and love of its Saviour.
Bernardin was a preacher, whose eloquence was of heaven's inspiring. He was also a distinguished master in the science of sacred things, as is proved by the Writings he has left us. We regret not being able, from want of space, to give our readers his words on the greatness of the Paschal mystery; but we cannot withhold from them what he says regarding Jesus’ appearing to his Blessed Mother, after the Resurrection. They will be rejoiced at finding unity of doctrine, on this interesting subject, existing between the Franciscan School, represented by St. Bernardin, and the School of St. Dominic, whose testimony we have already given, on the Feast of St. Vincent Ferrer.
“From the fact of there being no mention made in the Gospel of the visit wherewith Christ consoled his Mother, after his Resurrection, we are not to conclude, that this most merciful Jesus,—the source of all grace and consolation, who was so anxious to gladden his Disciples by his presence,—forgot his Mother, who he knew had drunk so deeply of the bitterness of his Passion. But it has pleased divine Providence that the Gospel should be silent on this subject; and this for three reasons.
“In the first place, because of the firmness of Mary's Faith. The confidence which the Virgin-Mother had of her Son's rising again, had never faltered, not even by the slightest doubt. This we can readily believe, if we reflect on the special grace wherewith she was filled, she the Mother of the Man-God, the Queen of Angels, and the Mistress of the world. To a truly enlightened mind, the silence of the Scripture, on this subject, says more than any affirmation could have done. We have learned to know something of Mary by the visit she received from the Angel, when the Holy Ghost overshadowed her. We met her again at the foot of the Cross, where she, the Mother of Sorrows, stood nigh her dying Son. If then the Apostle could say: As ye are partakers of the sufferings, so shall ye be also of the consolation (II Cor, i. 7).—what share must not the Virgin-Mother have had in the joys of the Resurrection? We should hold it as a certain truth, that her most sweet Jesus, after his Resurrection, consoled her first of all. The holy Roman Church would seem to express this, by celebrating at Saint Mary Major's the Station of Easter Sunday. Moreover, if, from the silence of the Evangelists, you would conclude that our Risen Lord did not appear to her first,—you must go farther, and say that he did not appear to her at all, inasmuch as these same Evangelists, when relating the several apparitions, do not mention a single one as made to her. Now, such a conclusion as this would savour of impiety.
“In the second place, the silence of the Gospel is explained by the incredulity of men. The object of the Holy Spirit, when dictating the Gospels, was to describe such Apparations as would remove all doubt, from carnal-minded men, with regard to the Resurrection of Christ. The fact of Mary's being his Mother would have weakened her testimony, at least in their eyes. For this reason, she was not brought forward as a witness, though, most assuredly, there never was or will be any creature, (the humanity of her Son alone excepted,) whose assertion better deserved the confidence of every truly pious soul. But the text of the Gospel was not to adduce any testimonies, save such as might be offered to the whole world. As to Jesus' Apparition to his Mother, the Holy Ghost has left it to be believed by those that are enlightened by his light.
“In the third place, this silence is explained by the sublime nature of the Apparition itself. The Gospel says nothing regarding the Mother of Christ, after the Resurrection; and the reason is, that her interviews with her Son were so sublime and ineffable, that no words could have described them. There are two sorts of visions: one is merely corporal, and feeble in proportion; the other is mainly in the soul, and is granted only to such as have been transformed. Say, if you will, that Magdalene was the first to have the merely corporal vision, provided that you admit that the Blessed Virgin saw, previously to Magdalene, and in a far sublimer way, her Risen Jesus, that she recognised him, and enjoyed his sweet embraces in her soul, more even than in her body.” (Sermo. lii.)
Let us now read the Life of our Saint, as given, though too briefly, in the Lessons of to-day's Office.
Bernardin Albizeschi, whose parents were of a noble family of Sienna, gave evident marks of sanctity from his earliest years. He was well brought up by his pious parents. When studying the first rudiments of grammar, he despised the favourite pastimes of children, and applied himself to works of piety, especially fasting, prayer, and devotion to the Blessed Virgin. His charity to the poor was extraordinary. In order the better to practise these virtues, he, later on, entered the Confraternity, which gave to the Church so many saintly men, and was attached to the hospital of our Lady of Scala, in Sienna. It was there that, whilst leading a most mortified life himself, he, with incredible charity, took care of the sick, during the time when a terrible pestilence was raging in the city. Amongst his other virtues, he was preeminent for chastity, although he had many dangers to encounter, owing to the beauty of his person. Such was the respect he inspired, that no one, however lost to shame, ever dared to say an improper word in his presence.
After a serious illness of four months, which he bore with the greatest patience, he began to think of entering the religious life. As a preparation for such a step, he hired, in the farthest outskirts of the city, a little hut, in which he hid himself, leading a most austere life, and assiduously beseeching God to make known to him the path he was to follow. A divine inspiration led him to prefer to all other Orders, that of St. Francis. Accordingly, he entered, and soon began to excel in humility, patience, and the other virtues of a Religious man. The Guardian of the Convent perceiving this, and having previously known that Bernardin was well versed in the sacred sciences, he imposed the duty of preaching upon him. The Saint most humbly accepted the office, though he was aware that the weakness and hoarseness of his voice unfitted him for it: but he sought God's help, and was miraculously freed from these impediments.
Italy was, at that time, overrun with vice and crime; and, in consequence of deadly factions, all laws, both divine and human, were disregarded. It was then that Bernardin went through the towns and villages, preaching the Name of Jesus, which was ever on his lips and heart. Such was the effect of his words and example, that piety and morals were, in great measure, restored. Several important cities, that had witnessed his zeal, petitioned the Pope to allow them to have Bernardin for their Bishop; but the Saint's humility was not to be overcome, and he rejected every offer. At length, after going through countless labours in God's service, after many and great miracles, after writing several pious and learned books, he died a happy death, at the age of sixty-six, in a town of the Abruzzi, called Aquila. New miracles were daily being wrought through his intercession; and, at length, in the sixth year after his death, he was canonised by Pope Nicholas V.
Apostle of peace! Italy, whose factions were so often quelled by thee, may well number thee among her protectors. Behold her now a prey to the enemies of Jesus, rebellious against the Church of God, and abandoned to her fate. Oh! forget not, that she is thy native land, that she was obedient to thy preaching, and that thy memory was long most dear to her. Intercede in her favour; deliver her from her oppressors; and show, that when earthly armies fail, the hosts of heaven can always save both cities and countries.
Illustrious son of the great Patriarch of Assisi! the seraphic Order venerates thee as one of its main supports. Thou didst re-animate it to its primitive observance; continue, now from heaven, to [recommence and] protect the work thou commencedst here on earth. The Order of St. Francis is one of the grandest consolations of holy Mother Church; make this Order for ever flourish, protect it in its trials, give it increase in proportion to the necessities of the Faithful; for thou art the second Father of this venerable family, and thy prayers are powerful with the Redeemer, whose glorious Name thou confessedst upon earth.
Another account of St. Bernardine of Siena.
St. Bernardin, a true disciple of St. Francis, and an admirable preacher of the word of God, inflamed with the most ardent love of our divine Redeemer, was made by God an instrument to kindle the same holy fire in innumerable souls, and to inspire them with his spirit of humility and meekness. He was born at Massa in 1380, of the noble family of Albizeschi, in the republic of Sienna. He lost his mother when he was but three years old, and his father, who was chief magistrate of Massa, before he was seven. The care of his education devolved on a virtuous aunt called Diana, who infused into his tender soul ardent sentiments of piety towards God, and a tender devotion to his blessed Mother. This aunt always loved him as if he had been her own son; and indeed his towardly dispositions won him exceedingly the affections of all who ever had the care of him. He was modest, humble, and devout; and took great delight in prayer, visiting churches, serving at mass, and hearing sermons, which he would repeat again to his companions with an admirable memory, and gracefulness of action. In that tender age he had a great compassion for the poor. One day it happened that his aunt sent away a poor person from the door without an alms, because there was but one loaf in the house for the dinner of the family. Bernardin was much troubled to see the beggar go away unrelieved, and said to his aunt; “For God's sake, let us give something to this poor man; otherwise I will neither dine nor sup this day. I had rather the poor should have a dinner than myself.” This wonderfully comforted his good aunt, who never ceased to incite him to all virtues, and according to his strength to accustom himself by degrees to fasting. Young as he was, he fasted every Saturday in honour of the Blessed Virgin; which pious custom he always continued. At eleven years of age he was called to Sienna by his uncles, and put to school under the ablest masters, who all admired the quickness of his parts, and the solidity of his judgment; but much more his docility, modesty, and virtue. If he chanced to hear any word the least unbecoming, he by blushing testified what confusion it gave him, and how much it wounded his very heart; and though he was otherwise most condescending, civil and respectful to all, he could never bear with patience any indecent discourse. For a single word of that kind he so severely reprimanded a man of quality, that it was to him a warning during the remainder of his life to govern his tongue; and many years after, bearing Bernardin preach, he was so moved, that he seemed to be drowned in tears. The modesty of the virtuous youth was a check to the most impudent, and kept them in awe in his presence: in whatever company, if the conversation was too free, it was dropped when he appeared, and the very loosest rakes would say: “Hush! here comes Bernardin:” as, the presence of Cato among the Romans, restrained the lewd libertinism of a festival. Nor did the saint behave on these occasions in such a manner as might render virtue the subject of ridicule, but with a surprising dignity. Nevertheless, an impure monster had once the insolence to make an attempt upon his virginal purity, and to solicit him to sin. But the saint, not content to testify his scorn and indignation, excited the whole troop of his little innocent play - fellows against the lewd villain, who pelted him with clods and stones, and made him ashamed any more to shew his face. Bernardin was exceeding comely and beautiful: but his known virtue secured him from any farther assaults; and he never ceased to beg of God the grace of purity, particularly through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary. When he had completed the course of his philosophy, he applied himself to the study of civil and canon law, and afterward to that of the holy scriptures, with such ardour that he could never from that time relish any other study.
At seventeen years of age he enrolled himself in the confraternity of our Lady in the hospital of Scala to serve the sick. Here he began with new vigour to tame his flesh by severe fasts, watchings, hair-shirts, disciplines, and other austerities; but he applied himself more to the interior mortification of his will, which rendered him always most mild, sweet, patient, and affable to every one. He had served this hospital four years, when in 1400, a dreadful pestilence which had already made great havock in several other parts of Italy, and was increased by the concourse of pilgrims to the jubilee, reached Sienna; insomuch that twelve, eighteen, or twenty persons died every day in this hospital, and among others were carried off almost all the priests, apothecaries, and servants that belonged to the place. Bernardin therefore persuaded twelve young men to bear him company in the service of the hospital, expecting heaven for their speedy recompense; and they all strove which should come up the nearest to Bernardin in cheerfulness, humility and assiduity, in performing the most abject offices, and in exerting themselves in the service of the sick. The saint was entrusted in a manner with the whole care of the hospital, which, in the space of four months, he put into excellent order. It is hardly credible how many lives he saved, or with what charity and pains he night and day attended the patients, and furnished them with every comfort and succour which it was in his power to afford them. God preserved him from the contagion during these four months, at the end of which the pestilence ceased. He then returned home, but sick of a fever which he had contracted by his fatigues, which obliged him to keep his bed four months; during which time he edified the city, no less by his resignation and patience, than he had done by his charity. He was scarce well recovered, when he returned to the like works of charity, and with incredible patience attending a dying aunt for fourteen months, named Bartholomæa, a woman of great piety, who was blind and bed-ridden. When God had called her to himself, Bernardin retired to a house at some distance from the city, making the walls of his garden the bounds of his inclosure. Here in solitude, fasting and prayer, he endeavoured to learn the will of God in the choice of a state of life. After some time, he took the habit of the Order of St Francis, among the fathers of the Strict Observance, at Colombiere, a solitary convent, a few miles from Sienna; and after the year of his noviciate, made his profession on the eighth of September 1404. Having been born on the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin, out of devotion to her, he chose the same day for the principal actions of his life: on it he took the religious habit, made his vows, said his first mass, and preached his first sermon. His fervour increased daily; and whilst some sought interpretations to mollify the severity of the rule, he was always studying to add to it greater austerities and heroic practices of virtue, the more perfectly to crucify in himself the old man. He was pleased with insults and humiliations, and whatever could be agreeable to the most ardent spirit of humility and self-denial. When he went through the streets in a thread-bare short habit, the boys sometimes cast stones at him, with injurious language: in which contempt the saint found a singular joy and satisfaction. He shewed the same sentiments, when a near kinsman with bitter invectives reproached him, as disgracing his friends by the mean and contemptible manner of life he had embraced. These and all other virtues he learned in the living book of Christ crucified, which he studied night and day, often prostrate before a crucifix, from which he seemed one day to hear our Lord speak thus to him: “My son, behold me hanging upon a cross: if thou lovest me, or art desirous to imitate me, be thou also fastened naked to thy cross, and follow me; thus thou wilt assuredly find me.” In the same school he learned an insatiable zeal for the salvation of souls, redeemed by the blood of Christ. Having in retirement prepared himself for the office of preaching, his superiors ordered him to employ his talent that way for the benefit of others. He laboured under a natural impediment from weakness and hoarseness of voice: the removal of which obstacle he obtained by addressing himself to his glorious patroness the mother of God. For fourteen years his labours were confined to his own country; but when the reputation of his virtue was spread abroad, he shone as a bright light to the whole church.
In vain doth the minister of God confide in the weak resources of mere human eloquence and pomp of words, by which he rather debases the dignity and majesty of the sacred oracles. Whilst he pleases the ear, and gains the applause of his audience, he leaves their hearts dry. The great apostle of Andalusia, the venerable holy John D’Avila, being desired to lay down some rules for the art of preaching, answered, he knew no other art than the most ardent love of God and zeal for his honour. He used to say to young clergymen, that one word spoken by a man of prayer would do more good, and have a more powerful influence, than all the most eloquent discourses: for it is only the language of the heart that speaks to the heart: and a life of mortification and prayer not only draws down the dew of the divine benediction upon the labours of the preacher, but it replenishes his soul with a sincere spirit of humility, compunction and all virtues, and with an experimental knowledge and feeling sense of the great truths which he delivers. Zealous ministers, who are filled with the spirit of God, are a great blessing to the people among whom they labour: and this reflection unfolds the secret, how saints possess so extraordinary a grace of converting souls to God. This was the excellent talent of Benardin. They who heard him preach, felt their souls to melt in sentiments of compunction, divine love, humility, and the contempt of the world, and returned home new men, striking their breasts, and bathed in tears. The word of God was in his mouth as a fire, and as a hammer breaking the hardest rocks. Another eminent preacher of his Order being asked the reason why his sermons did not produce equal fruit with those of Bernardin, answered: “Brother Bernardin is a fiery glowing coal. What is only warm hath not the power of kindling a fire in others like the burning coal.” The saint himself being consulted what was the way to preach with profit, gave this rule: “In all your actions seek in the first place the kingdom of God and his glory, direct all you do purely to his honour; persevere in brotherly charity, and practise first all that you desire to teach others. By this means the Holy Ghost will be your master, and will give you such wisdom and such a tongue, that no adversary will be able to stand against you.” This he faithfully practised, and from his assiduous communication with God he imbibed that eminent spirit of virtue which gave him the most powerful ascendant over the hearts of men. Among the great truths of religion, he principally laboured to inculcate a sincere contempt of the vanity of the world, and an ardent love of our Blessed Redeemer. He wished he could cry out with a trumpet which could be heard over the whole earth, that he might sound aloud in the ears of all men that great oracle of the Holy Ghost: O ye sons of men, how long will you be dull of heart? Why do you love vanity, and seek after lying? (Ps, iv. 3) O children, how long will you love childishness? (Prov, i. 22) And he never ceased with the thunder of his voice to raise men from groveling always on this earth, to the important consideration of the things which belong to their eternal welfare, and to the love of Jesus Christ. So much was he affected with the mysteries of the incarnation and sufferings of the Son of God, that he could never pronounce his sacred name without appearing in transports of love and adoration. Often at the end of his sermon he shewed to the people the sacred name of Jesus curiously cut on a board with gold letters, inviting them to adore Christ with him on their knees, reciting a pious doxology. This was misconstrued by some who also cavilled at certain expressions which he had used. Upon their complaints, pope Martin V. summoned him to appear, and commanded him silence for a while. The humble saint meekly acquiesced without making any reply. But his Holiness, after a full examination of his doctrine and conduct, dismissed him with his benediction, high commendations, and ample leave to preach every where. The same pope pressed him to accept the bishopric of Sienna in 1427; but he declined that dignity, alleging for his excuse, that if he were confined to one church he could no longer employ himself in the service of so many souls. In 1431 he no less resolutely refused that of Ferrara, which Eugenius III. earnestly desired to confer upon him, and again that of Urbino in 1435. When the saint preached first at Milan, the haughty duke Philip Mary Visconti took offence at certain things which he had said in his sermons, and threatened him with death if he should presume to speak any more on such subjects; but the saint declared, that no greater happiness could befall him than to die for the truth. The duke to try him, sent him a present of one hundred ducats of gold in a golden bowl. The saint excused himself from receiving the money to two different messengers; but being compelled by a third to accept it, he took the messenger with him to the prisons, and laid it all out in his presence in releasing debtors. This disinterestedness turned the duke's aversion into the greatest veneration for the saint ever after.
St. Bernardin preached several times through the greatest part of Italy; some day also in Spain; but this seems uncertain. Nothing was more spoken of over all Italy than the wonderful fruit of his sermons, miraculous conversions, restitution of ill-gotten goods, reparations of injuries, and heroic examples of virtue. The factions of the Guelfs and Gibellins then horribly divided many cities of Italy, and gave frequent employment to the saint. Hearing once of a great dissension at Perugia, he hastened thither from the marquisate of Ancona, and entering the city, thus addressed the inhabitants: “God, who is highly offended at this division among you, hath sent me as his angel to proclaim peace to men of good will upon earth.” After preaching four sermons to persuade them to a mutual forgiveness of all injuries, and a general amnesty, at the end of the last he bade all those who forgave each other and desired to live in peace, to pass to the right-hand. All present did so except one young nobleman who staid on the left, muttering something between his teeth. The saint, after a severe reproach, foretold him his sudden death, which happened soon after, and without the benefit of the sacraments. In 1433 he accompanied the emperor Sigismund to his coronation at Rome; after which he retired for a short time to Sienna, where he put the finishing hand to his works.
Amidst the greatest applause and honours the most sincere humility always appeared in his words and actions; and he ever studied to conceal the talents with which God had enriched him. How great his esteem of humility was, he testified when a brother of his Order asked him the means by which he might speedily arrive at perfection. The saint, instead of giving him any answer by words, threw himself at his feet; shewing at the same time his own great affection to humility, and also that this virtue raises the soul to divine love and every grace, God, however, was pleased to honour his servant before men. Besides several predictions, and miraculous cures of many lepers, and other sick persons, the saint is recorded to have raised four dead to life. He was appointed vicar-general of his Order of the Strict Observance in Italy, in 1438, in which he settled a rigorous reformation; but after five years obtained a discharge from his office: and in his old age continued the function of preaching through Romania, Ferrara and Lombardy. He returned to Sienna in 1444, preached a most pathetic farewell sermon at Massa on concord and unity, and being taken ill of a malignant fever on the road, still preached as usual till he arrived at Aquila in Abruzzo. There, being confined to his bed, he prepared himself for his passage out of this life by the rites of the church. When he was speechless, he made a sign to be taken off his bed, and laid upon the floor; where, lifting up his eyes to heaven, he surrendered his pure soul into the hands of his Creator, on the 20th of May, 1444, after a life of 63 years, 8 months, and 13 days. His tomb was rendered illustrious by many miracles, and he was canonized by Nicholas V. in 1450. His body is kept in a crystal shrine, enclosed in one of silver, in the church of his Order at Aquila.
The Liturgical Year - The Paschal Time, Vol. II, Dublin, Edition 1871;
The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints, Vol. V, 1821; and
The Divine Office for the use of the Laity, Volume II, 1806.
St. Bernardine of Siena, pray for us.