St. Bernardine of Siena
Bernardine of Siena, O.F.M. 8 September 1380 – 20 May 1444
Bernadine known as “The Apostle of Italy” for his efforts to revive the country’s Catholic faith during the 15th century. His preaching was frequently directed against gambling, witchcraft, sodomy and usury – particularly as practiced by Jews.
On sodomy (including male to male copulation), he keenly pointed out the reputation of the Italians beyond their own borders. He particularly decried Florentine lenience; in Verona, he told his hearers, a man was quartered and his limbs hung from the city gates; in Genoa, men were regularly burned; and in Venice a sodomite had been tied to a column along with a barrel of pitch and brushwood and set to fire. He advised the people of Siena to do the same. In 1424 he dedicated three consecutive sermons in Florence to the subject, in the course of a Lenten sermon preached in Santa Croce, he admonished his hearers:
Whenever you hear sodomy mentioned, each and every one of you spit on the ground and clean your mouth out as well. If they don’t want to change their ways by any other means, maybe they will change when they’re made fools of. Spit hard! Maybe the water of your spit will extinguish their fire.
In Siena he preached a full sermon against sodomy in 1425 and then 1427. Over time, it is argued, his teachings might have helped mold public sentiment and dispel indifference over controlling sodomy more vigorously. Everything unpredictable or calamitous in human experience he attributed to sodomy, including floods and the plague. As well as linking sodomy to local population declines.
Especially known for his devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus, previously associated with John of Vercelli and the Dominican order, Bernardino devised a symbol—IHS—the first three letters of the name of Jesus in Greek, in Gothic letters on a blazing sun.
This was to displace the insignia of factions (for example, Guelphs and Ghibellines). The devotion spread, and the symbol began to appear in churches, homes and public buildings. Opponents thought it a dangerous innovation. Nonetheless, Bernardino used the devotion to calm strife-torn cities, reconciling feuds and factionalism by his counsel and performing miracles.
In 1427 Bernardino was summoned to Rome to stand trial on charges of heresy himself for his promotion of this devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus. Theologians including Paulus Venetus gave their opinions. Bernardino was found innocent of heresy, and he impressed Pope Martin V sufficiently that Martin requested he preach in Rome. He thereupon preached every day for 80 days. Bernardino’s zeal was such that he would prepare up to four drafts of a sermon before starting to speak. That same year, he was offered the bishopric of Siena, but declined in order to maintain his monastic and evangelical activities. In 1431, he toured Tuscany, Lombardy, Romagna, and Ancona before returning to Siena to prevent a war against Florence. Also in 1431, he declined the bishopric of Ferrara, and in 1435 he declined the bishopric of Urbino.
John Capistran was his friend, and James of the Marches was his disciple during these years. Cardinals urged both Pope Martin V and Pope Eugene IV to condemn Bernardino, but both almost instantly acquitted him. A trial at the Council of Basel also ended with an acquittal. Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund sought Bernardino’s counsel and intercession and Bernardino accompanied him to Rome in 1433 for his coronation.
Being Vicar General inevitably cut back his opportunities to preach, but he continued to speak to the public when he could. Having in 1442 persuaded the pope to finally accept his resignation as vicar-general so that he might give himself more undivided to preaching, Bernardino again resumed his missionary work. In 1444, notwithstanding his increasing infirmities, Bernardino, desirous that there should be no part of Italy which had not heard his voice, set out to the Kingdom of Naples.
He died that year at L’Aquila, in the Abruzzi. According to tradition, his grave continued to leak blood until two factions of the city achieved reconciliation.
FROM THE LITURGICAL YEAR
SAINT BERNARDINO OF SIENA, CONFESSOR
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 Savior. The devout Bernardine 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 honor, one of the most beautiful solemnities of Christmas tide.
Bernardino, 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 fulfillment of all that was prophesied. The Name of Jesus was a promise to mankind of a Savior; 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. 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, 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, Bernardino 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 everywhere to be seen, carved, or engraved, or painted; and the Catholic world thus gained a new form, whereby to express its adoration and love of its Savior. Bernardino 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. Bernardine, 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. 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, Condoled 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 savor 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 Apparitions 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 accepted,) 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 in effable, 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 sublime way, her Risen Jesus, that she recognized him, and enjoyed his sweet embraces in her soul, more even than in her body.
How beautiful, O Bernardine, are the rays that form the aureola round the Name of Jesus! How soft their light on that eighth day after his birth, when he received this Name! But, how dazzling, now that this Jesus achieves our salvation, not only by humiliation and suffering, but by the triumph of his Resurrection! Thou comest to us, O Bernardine, in the midst of the Paschal glory of the Name of Jesus. This Name, for which thou didst so lovingly and zealously labor, 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. 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 favor; 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 protect the work thou commenced 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 confessed upon earth. Ven. Dom Gueranger
EPISTLE – Ecclesiasticus 31: 8-11
Blessed is the man that is found without blemish, and that hath not gone after gold, nor put his trust in money nor in treasures. Who is he, and we will praise him? For he hath done wonderful things in his life. Who hath been tried thereby, and made perfect, he shall have glory everlasting: he that could have transgressed, and hath not transgressed: and could do evil things, and hath not done them: therefore are his goods established in the Lord, and all the Church of the Saints shall declare his alms.
GOSPEL Matthew 19: 27-29
At that time, Peter said to Jesus: Behold we have left all things and have followed Thee: what therefore shall we have? And Jesus said to them: Amen I say to you, that you, who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit on the seat of His majesty, you also shall sit on twelve seats, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And every one that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for My Name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold and shall possess life everlasting.