Wednesday, May 20, 2020

A preacher of the Holy Name - S. Bernardine of Siena


Today we celebrate the work of God’s grace in Bernardino degli Albizzeschi, born near Siena in Tuscany, Italy, in 1380. Even in childhood he helped care for the sick during a time of pestilence in Siena. Then, in 1402, when he himself was severely ill, he joined the Franciscan Order and was assigned the task of an evangelist. His superiors told him that he had to preach, and although he suffered a severe throat affliction, he submitted. The Lord heard his cry for help, and he was miraculously healed.

From then on, Bernardine travelled the length and breadth of Italy preaching the Gospel and extolling the Name of Jesus. So powerful was his preaching that Pope Pius II called him ‘a second Paul.’ The thousands who flocked to hear him packed the piazzas of Italian cities. He explained the Good News of Jesus, often with stories and parables, sometimes with humour, but always in terms that gripped the people’s hearts. His preaching was often followed by outpourings of the Holy Spirit, with collective weeping, miraculous healings, and exorcisms. Bernardine was also noted for his work in bringing warring clans and family groups together in mutual forgiveness. Whenever he preached, as he got into the body of his sermon, he would hold up a placard with the sign of the name of Jesus, ‘IHS,’ written on it, urging the congregation to turn to the one symbolized by those letters. Many of his followers even had ‘IHS’ painted on their houses. He ushered in a period of genuine renewal and revival. 

Bernardine was sometimes criticised by more ‘settled’ interests in the Church, as is sometimes the case even today with those who have the kind of ministry he exercised. But each time he was eventually vindicated. In spite of this criticism, three times the Pope asked him to become a bishop, and he declined on the basis that his calling was evangelistic preaching.

He did, however, come to hold high office in the Franciscan Order. And, far from being a ‘mere’ popular preacher, he not only wrote serious theological works in both Latin and Italian; he founded two theological schools. He also assisted at the Council of Florence.

Bernardine died at Aquila in 1444in the middle of a preaching tour. His tomb there was said to be the site of many miracles. He was canonised within six years of his death.

S. Bernardine, pray for the Church in our time, that many more evangelists may be raised up to proclaim Jesus and the salvation he came to bring.

This is from S. Bernardines writings, translated into English, but originally Sermo 49, De glorioso Nomine Iesu Christi, cap 2: Opera omnia, 4. 505-506

‘The name of Jesus is the glory of preachers, because the shining splendor of that name causes his word to be proclaimed and heard. 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.

‘So this name must be proclaimed, that it may shine out and never be suppressed. But it must not be preached by someone with sullied mind or unclean lips, but stored up and poured out from a chosen vessel. That is why our Lord said of Saint Paul: He is a chosen instrument of mine, the vessel of my choice, to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel. In this chosen vessel there was to be a drink more pleasing than earth ever knew, offered to all mankind for a price they could pay, so that they would be drawn to taste of it. Poured into other chosen vessels, it would grow and radiate splendor. For our Lord said: He is to Carry my name.

‘When a fire is lit to clear a field, it burns off all the dry and useless weeds and thorns. When the sun rises and darkness is dispelled, robbers, night-prowlers and burglars hide away. So when Paul’s voice was raised to preach the Gospel to the nations, like a great clap of thunder in the sky, his preaching was a blazing fire carrying all before it. It was the sun rising in full glory. Infidelity was consumed by it, false beliefs fled away, and the truth appeared like a great candle lighting the whole world with its brilliant flame.

‘By word of mouth, by letters, by miracles and by the example of his own life, Saint Paul bore the name of Jesus wherever he went. He praised the name of Jesus at all times, but never more than when bearing witness to his faith. Moreover, the Apostle did indeed carry this name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel as a light to enlighten all nations. And this was his cry wherever he journeyed: The night is passing away, the day is at hand. Let us then cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us conduct ourselves honorably as in the day. Paul himself showed forth the burning and shining light set upon a candlestick, everywhere proclaiming Jesus, and him crucified.

‘And so the Church, the bride of Christ strengthened by his testimony, rejoices with the psalmist, singing: 0 God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds. The psalmist exhorts her to do this, as he says: Sing to the Lord, and bless his name, proclaim his salvation day after day. And this salvation is Jesus, her Saviour.’

O God, 
who gave the Priest Saint Bernardine of Siena 
a great love for the holy Name of Jesus, 
grant through his merits and prayers, 
that we may ever be set aflame 
with the spirit of your love. 
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, 
who lives and reigns with you 
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, 
for ever and ever. Amen.

One of the best hymns Charles Wesley (1707-1788) wrote is ‘Jesus, the Name high over all.’ S. Bernardine would have loved it: 

Jesus! the Name high over all,
In hell or earth or sky;
Angels and men before it fall,
And devils fear and fly.

Jesus! the Name to sinners dear,
The Name to sinners given;
It scatters all their guilty fear,
It turns their hell to heaven.

Jesus! the prisoner’s fetters breaks,
And bruises Satan’s head;
Power into strengthless souls it speaks,
And life into the dead.

O that the world might taste and see
The riches of his grace!
The arms of love that compass me
Would all the world embrace.

His only righteousness I show,
His saving grace proclaim;
’Tis all my business here below
To cry 'Behold the Lamb!'

Happy, if with my latest breath
I may but gasp his Name,
Preach him to all and cry in death,
'Behold, behold the Lamb!'


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