St. Bernardin of Sienna

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St. Bernardin of Sienna, Confessor

St. Bernardin, of whom the Roman Martyrology says that he was a light to all Italy, by his teachings and his holy example, was born at Massa, in the republic of Sienna, in the year 1380. He became an orphan early in life and a pious aunt took charge of him and educated him in the fear of the Lord. His only pleasure in boyhood consisted in praying, studying and going to Church. He used to repeat to other boys the sermons that he had heard with so much ability that he even astonished older people. All his words and actions evinced great inclination to retirement and a truly angelic purity. No indecent word was ever heard to pass his lips, and he was so well known for his modesty, that when his school-mates conversed in too unrestraineded a manner and only saw Bernardin far off, they immediately interrupted their conversation, saying: “Hush hush! Bernardin is coming.” A grown man, who was not ashamed to speak indecently, he slapped in the face. Against another, who persisted in indecent discourse, he assembled all his young companions and pelted him with dirt until he was obliged to flee from the town. Diana, his aunt, had a very pious daughter, named Tobia, whom Bernardin sometimes visited in order to receive religious instructions. One day, he told her he had fallen deeply in love with a most bealitiful virgin, and that he had no peace day or night, unless he had paid her a daily visit. The pious Tobia, not a little shocked at this speech, said nothing, but followed him when he left the house, to ascertain who this virgin was, and where she lived. She soon saw, to her great comfort, that it was no other than the Virgin Mother, of whom an exceedingly beautiful image stood on one of the city gates. To her Bernardin went daily to say his prayers on bended knees. He confessed also, later, to Tobia, that it was she, the Blessed Virgin, to whom he was thus devoted and whom he daily requested to guard him from all danger and keep him spotless and pure. To this end he also fasted every Saturday and did other good works. 

When he had reached his twentieth year, he nursed, during four months, in the hospital, persons who were infected with a frightful pestilence, and also persuaded others fearlessly to follow his example. Two years later, he distributed his fortune among the poor, and entered the Seraphic order of St. Francis, to which he was called in a vision. Two years after he had taken the vows, his superior appointed him preacher, which duty he discharged almost to his death. He generally preached daily, sometimes oftener, and always with such zeal and fervor that he was called the Apostle of Italy. Everywhere the people desired to hear him, and he had to go from one town to another. The number of those who came to listen to his sermons was often so large, the churches could not contain them, and he had to preach in the open air. He spoke fearlessly and with great success against public abuses and vices. In a certain town he represented so energetically the evils which arose from the use of dice and immoderate card-playing, that no one could be found in the whole city who would touch either dice or cards. A tradesman, who had earned his living by making such articles, complained to the Saint that he had thus lost his livelihood. Bernardin, admonishing him to trust in God, advised him to paint, or represent in some other manner, the holy Name of Jesus and put it up for sale as the Saint, in many of his sermons recommended, his hearers to honor and invoke this holy Name, which he himself always carried with him upon a tablet. The tradesman followed the advice, and afterwards said that he had gained more by it than formerly by his dice and cards. Besides his sermons, St. Bernardin did much good in the cloisters. He restored among their occupants the first rules of the Seraphic founder and wonderfully increased the number of the members.

To relate all the virtues of this Saint would fill volumes. Among them shone most brilliantly, his humility, his patience and purity. Three important bishoprics were offered to him: one of them even by the Pope: he, however, firmly refused these dignities, saying, that he believed he could do more good by preaching. More than once he was accused of heresy to the authorities and even to the Pope. Those, whose vices he attacked in his sermons, slandered and persecuted him most violently, but without being able to disturb him or make him impatient. He refuted the false accusations and left the rest to God. The first time he walked in the streets of Sienna with his beggar’s bag, some boys ran after him and his companion, deriding them and pelting them with mud and stones. His companion began to murmur, but the Saint said: “Brother, let the children enjoy themselves; they assist us thus in earning by patience the kingdom of God.” When he was gathering alms at Sienna, a noble lady called him into her house. The Saint, of course, supposed that she [would bestow upon him a rich alms, but was soon convinced that he had been mistaken. The impudent woman dared to make shameless advances to the chaste man, threatening him that in case he refused to comply with her wishes, she would call loudly for help and say that he wished to do violence to her. Bernardin became pale with fear, and not knowing how to-escape the danger, he raised his eyes to heaven and begged for help. Suddenly he drew out a sharp scourge, which he carried with him and applied it so well upon the indecently clothed woman, that she quickly changed her mind. In this manner he saved his purity.

We pass in silence many other examples of his virtues, as obedience, mortification, love of God and his neighbor, fervor in prayers, and devotion to the Virgin Mother. We will only say a few words of his happy end. He was on his way to Naples, where he was going to preach. Not far from the town of Aquila, a serious illness seized him. St. Celestine, the Guardian Saint of the town, appeared to him and informed him that his last hour was approaching. Bernardin was rejoiced at this message, and after having received the Holy Sacraments with great devotion, he requested to be laid on the floor which was strewn with ashes. Raising his eyes to heaven, with a cheerful countenance, he gave his soul into the hands of Him whom he had so constantly served upon earth, and whom he had so zealously endeavored to make known. He was canonized six years after his death, on account of the many miracles which God wrought by his intercession.

Practical Considerations

I. St. Bernardin was an enemy of indecent discourse. Therefore not only did he never utter an immodest word, but he prevented others from so doing. He endeavored earnestly to work out his own salvation. If you are as earnest, follow his example. In our time nothing is more common than to speak without shame or restraint of what is impure. Hence it is that works of iniquity become so prevalent that hell will be filled with those who perpetrate them. St. Gregory, who compares unchaste discourse with pestilence, was right in saying, that most people who go to eternal destruction, are brought to it by the vice of impurity. This he verifies by the words of the Gospel: “And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on his left” (Math, xxv.). Why, asked the holy Father, are all the damned called by the name of goats? For no other ‘reason than to show that most people are damned for the vice of lust, of which that animal is the type. Whoever earnestly desires to be placed “on His right hand,” must shun this vice. And that he may be able to shun it, he must guard himself against every indecent word; for evil words lead to evil works, besides being in themselves sinful. Licentious young men discontinued their conversations as soon as they saw St. Bernardin. Should not the thought of the presence of the Most High, of Him who has the power to send you to eternal destruction, produce the same effect upon you?

II. St. Bernardin preached most energetically against gaming with dice and cards. The holy Fathers have done the same. St. Cyprian maintained that gambling was an invention of the devil, and said: “Thou, who playest with dice, callest thyself a Christian, which however, thou art not. Thou canst not be a friend of Christ, when thou hast contracted friendship with His enemy.” It is true, that, in itself, playing with dice and cards is no sin; but it is also true that we commit sin when we play immoderately, or with evil intentions, or are led to neglect the duties of our station. It is also true that such gambling gives opportunities for other sins, as lying, defrauding, stealing, quarreling, cursing and blaspheming, as experience unhappily teaches. And who dares to say that one can waste so much valuable time in gambling, without committing sin, or without being obliged to render one day an account of it before the judgment-seat of the Almighty? St. Anthony says, “Oh how will they render an account of their time, who have been occupied whole days and even whole nights in gambling: not only losing their own time, but being instrumental to the loss of it which others sustain?” Happy they, who on their deathbed can exclaim with, the holy Sara: “Never have I joined myself with them that play (Job iii.).

Lives of the Saints: Compiled from Authentic Sources with a Practical Instruction on the Life of Each Saint, for Every Day in the Year by Rev. F. X. Weninger. Permissu Superiorum. New York: P. O’Shea, Publisher, 67 Barclay Street and 42 Park Place. 1876.

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