Friday, May 20, 2016

St. Bernardine of Siena and the Holy Name of Jesus

May 20 is the Feast of Bernardine of Siena, a great preacher and teacher of prayer. We could sure use another St. Bernardine today!

Bernardine of Siena came from the noble Sienese family of the Albizeschi. He was born at Massa Marttima, where his father was governor, on September 8th, 1380. He was left an orphan at age six and was brought up by his aunts. At school in Siena he was remarkable for intelligence and a general popularity. He was known for his outstanding goodness and purity. When he was seventeen, he joined a Marian confraternity at the La Scala hospital and began a secluded religious life. In the year 1400 he willingly emerged to become the successful organizer of the hospital services during a severe outbreak of the plague. Although he escaped infection, he fell ill through exhaustion and never entirely recovered.

In 1402 he joined the Franciscans, throwing in his lot with the 'Observant' reform-party. Their spectacular growth during this period owes much to his influence. He was for twelve years their vicar general. His ordination in 1404 was followed by a dozen years of hidden life, but the rest of his career is a record of tireless preaching journeys, usually on foot, all over Italy. He was the greatest popular preacher of his time, a worthy successor to St. Vincent Ferrer, a true 'apostle of Italy.'

His regular topics were the need for penance and denunciation of prevalent vices, especially civil and political strife, usury, gambling and 'vanity' in dress and social behavior. He treated these worn themes in a fresh manner, using stories and illustrations, holding vast crowds for hours and bringing about incredible conversions.

Bernardine will be remembered for his promotion of the devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus, of Mary as dispenser of the graces merited by her divine Son, and of St. Joseph. He was accustomed to preach holding a board on which were the first three letters of the Savior's name in its Greek form--'IHS'--surrounded by rays, and he persuaded people to copy these plaques and erect them over their dwellings and public buildings. His last sermons--on Inspirations--show him to have been a profound psychologist on the mystical way and a great teacher of contemplative prayer.

He died, worn out from missionary work, on May 20th, 1444, at Aquila in the Abruzzi, and was buried there. The miracles at his tomb induced Nicholas V to canonize him only six years later. The preaching of St. Bernardine, especially the verbatim versions of his popular sermons in Italian, still deserves attention in an age no longer much addicted to preaching. Modern readers will at least admire his direct approach and the earthiness of his style. They will applaud his social awareness and the eminently practical methods he adopted to drive his lessons home and make them permanent. Let's pray for more great saints like Bernardine for our own time!

Learn more about him here.

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