Lifelong CatechesisForming Catholic identity across generations
The sound of Alleluias fills the 50 days of Easter Sunday to Pentecost as we give thanks for the gift of our salvation. The Easter Triduum recalls the passion and resurrection of Christ in the sacred journey from Holy Thursday to Easter Vigil. "Dying he destroyed our death. Rising he restored our life."
Bernardine of Siena, Priest, 1380-1444
Bernardine degli Albizzeschi was the son of the governor of Massa Marittima, Italy. Orphaned at the age of seven, Bernardine was raised by an aunt. He chose to join the confraternity of Our Lady at seventeen and, by the age of twenty, was running a hospital in his home town of Siena for victims of the plague. After several months of this work, however, he was overcome by a lingering fever.
After his recovery, Bernardine spent another year caring for the aunt who had raised him. At her death, he began to fast and pray that God’s will would be made known to him. At the age of twenty-two, he entered the Franciscan Order. Ordained in 1404, Bernardine spent the next several years in solitary at the monastery.
A dynamic person, Bernardine began to preach in Milan in 1417 against the evils of paganism which was widespread at that time. He soon became known for his eloquence and attracted crowds of as many as 30,000 as he followed Saint Francis’ advice to preach about “vice and virtue, punishment and glory.” Bernardine traveled on foot throughout Italy, and might preach for several hours in one town before walking on to speak in another town.
Bernardine was attacked by enemies who found his preaching dangerous to their way of life. On three occasions, they sought to have the pope censure him, but his holiness and intelligence, as well as his piety, cleared him of any charges. Following these incidents, in 1427, Pope Martin V wished to make Bernardine the bishop of Siena. Bernardine declined this and, later, the sees of Ferrara and Urbino. He was elected the vicar general of a branch of the Franciscan order in 1430. Under his leadership, the order was reformed and regenerated, growing from about three hundred to over four thousand by his death.
In Europe at the time, the use of pagan symbols was wide-ranging. To counteract this, Bernardine devised a symbol for Christ that is still in use today. He took the first three letters of Jesus’ name in Greek—IHS—and superimposed them in Gothic letters on a blazing sun.
There is a story about Bernardine, who, while preaching against the evils of gambling in Bologna, lit a huge bonfire to destroy all the instruments of vice: playing cards, dice and other things. Seeing this, a manufacturer of playing cards complained that Bernardine was taking away his livelihood. The saint told him to start making medals which bore the symbol, IHS, instead of cards. The man did so and made more money than ever before.
St. Bernardine died on May 20, 1444, while on a mission trip. We celebrate his memorial on that date.
Bernardine's message today: Sometimes it takes a while for God’s call to take shape in our lives. While Bernardine learned fairly early in his life that he wanted to serve God, it was some years before he recognized his call to preach, as well as to lead his Franciscan order in reform.