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Catholic Heroes . . . St. Bernardine Of Siena (1380-1444)

February 28, 2023 saints No Comments


The year Siena lost its famed St. Catherine, it gained a new future saint; St. Bernardine Albizeschi, later St. Bernardine of Siena, OFM, known as the “Apostle of Italy.” He was a great friar preacher who would win souls for God.
Being born in 1380 of a noble family did not protect him from heartache, but the prayers of his parents may well have; he was orphaned young, having lost both mother and father by the age of six or seven. Raised by a pious aunt, he grew up with a keen sense of purity and love of Our Lady. Someone who once thought to taunt him confronted the saint in the street, using off-color speech. St. Bernardine actually slapped the man’s face! When he was the young age of seventeen, the plague hit the city. Armed with a dozen men, he led them in taking over the care of the sick at a hospital for a quarter of a year.
At the end of the period, he was so exhausted he was ill — not from the plague, but rather from some other sickness. It took him months to recover. Afterward, he took charge of another sick relative for twelve months before she died. She was blind and bedridden in sickness, and could only say the Holy Name of Jesus in her last year. Because of this, he developed a special love for the Holy Name.
People knew that those exposed to the plague died. Therefore, those religious caring for the sick were as brave as soldiers riding into battle, but gentle as doves; they were driven by love.
Afterward, Bernardine went off to pray and discern, eventually joining the Franciscans of the Strict Observance in 1403:
“I was born on the day of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin and on the same day I was reborn, entering the Order of the Seraphic Father Francis; on this day I professed my vows in the Order, on this day I celebrated the first Mass and pronounced the first sermon to the people on the Blessed Virgin, by whose love and grace I hope on this day also to depart this life.”
Although his order was one of missionary preachers, his voice was hoarse and weaker, so for twelve years he remained at home. These years were ones of formation for him. Two years after he had joined, he was ordained and so he celebrated Mass, he prayed and learned as a Franciscan would, and became closer to God. He took joy in any little suffering, such as boys casting stones at him in the street. He also studied the life of Christ in prayer, often prostrate on the floor before a crucifix. Then one day in such position he felt he heard God say to him, “My son, behold me hanging on a cross: If thou lovest me, or art desirous to imitate me, be thou fastened naked to thy cross, and follow me.” Thereby he gained a huge zeal to save souls from damnation.
While still a young man, in 1408, he was in a crowd, hearing St. Vincent Ferrer speak. St. Vincent foresaw that it would be Bernardine who would one day fill his steps, and he suddenly interrupted a sermon to announce to them news of one among them who would one day take his place. He also allegedly told St. Bernardine at a future point that the younger man would one day be canonized before himself. (But only by five years.)
Then, one day Bernardine was in Milan and asked to speak. He preached, and suddenly his voice grew stronger, and what he preached so drew the people that they did not want him to stop preaching. They only let him leave on the condition he return. Thus began approximately thirty years of traveling all around Italy as a missionary priest. Pope Pius II called him a second St. Paul. He was a genius particularly at speaking to the people in a colloquial Italian that drew them in, and he once spoke in Siena for fifty days in succession in 1425. Some say that in 16-18 years, he did not pass a day without preaching somewhere.
One of the sensational bits he liked to use for his audience was a “bonfire of vanities.” This was theatrical and yet serious, as people came and would throw any sorts of vain objects into the fire to be burned, from women’s heeled shoes to men’s dice and cards or relics of any game of chance. One of the gamblers who was driven out of business by the saint took to sign-making at the saint’s prodding. Often while speaking, he would hold up a sign with the name of Christ written as “IHS,” and he urged the man to earn a new living by making the signs for him. It was he who devised the traditional “IHS” initials, which stand for Christ.
These are the first three letters of the name of “Jesus” in Greek — as well as the initials for Jesus, Savior of Mankind in Latin (Jesus Hominum Salvator). Indeed, he worked in tandem of sorts with another future saint, St. John of Capistrano, with both promoting a great love of the Holy Name of Jesus. Ironically, Bernardine was called to Rome to explain whether he was guilty of promoting some kind of idolatry, having been accused by an enemy whose beliefs the saint had preached against. Rome acquitted the saint of any improper doings and even invited Bernardine to preach in Rome. In future years, he would be invited three different times to be a bishop, each time refusing, though eventually accepting the post as vicar general of his order.
He preached until he was virtually on his deathbed, and then he began to lose his voice again. He passed away in Aquila on the eve of the Ascension, 1444, with his brothers chanting the Antiphon, “Father, I have manifested Thy Name to men.” His body was on view an amazing 26 days before burial in days before any means of preservation were available. His remains are kept inside a crystal shrine, encased in silver, at the motherhouse of his order.
St. Bernardine was canonized a mere six years after his death. The Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus was established in the year 1530, and extended to the entire Church in 1721 by Pope Innocent XIII.
“And how do you think such an immense, sudden, and dazzling light of faith came into the world, if not because Jesus was preached? Was it not through the brilliance and sweet savor of this name that God called us into His marvelous light? When we have been enlightened, and in that same light behold the light of Heaven, rightly may the Apostle Paul say to us: Once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light” — St. Bernardine, prepared by the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross,

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