May 13, 2011

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Wisdom of the saints: St. Bernardine of Siena

John F. FinkWhen a pope compares a man to St. Paul, you know that he was important.

That is what happened to St. Bernardine of Siena, whose feast is observed on May 20.

He lived at the end of the 14th century and the first half of the 15th century, and was considered the greatest preacher of his day as he walked all over Italy.

He was a Franciscan and eventually became general of the Friars of the Strict Observance. There were 300 friars in the community when he became general, and about 4,000 friars when he died.

Bernardine is known especially for his love of the name of Jesus. He created a symbol using the first three letters of Jesus’ name in Greek—IHS—in Gothic letters on a blazing sun. The symbol eventually appeared in churches, homes and some public buildings.

In one of his sermons, Bernardine said, “The name of Jesus is the glory of preachers because the shining splendor of that name causes his word to be proclaimed and heard.”

He said the “immense, sudden and dazzling light of faith” came into the world because “the brilliance and sweet savor” of the name of Jesus was preached. It was through that name, he said, that God called us into his marvelous light. In that light, he said, the Apostle Paul can say to us, “Once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light” (Eph 5:8).

Jesus’ name must be proclaimed, Bernardine continued, but “it must not be preached by someone with sullied mind or unclean lips, but stored up and poured out from a chosen vessel.”

In that sermon, Bernardine also spoke about St. Paul and the way that Paul carried the name of Jesus to the Gentiles. Paul was God’s chosen vessel, he said. “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.”

When Paul’s voice was raised to preach the Gospel to the nations, Bernardine said, it was “like a 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.”

St. Paul bore the name of Jesus at all times and wherever he went, Bernardine said, but especially when he was bearing witness to his faith.

Paul’s message, wherever he journeyed, Bernardine said, was, “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” (Rom 13:12-13).

Bernardine was obviously following in Paul’s footsteps as he continued to preach the name of Jesus and him crucified. We, too, must always honor that name. †

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