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St. Bernardino of Siena

by May 20, 2022Friar Reflection

Today is the feast day of the Franciscan Bernardino of Siena, OFM, (sometimes Bernardine). He was an Italian priest, missionary, and a Catholic saint most noted for his preaching and evangelizing the people of Italy during the 15th century. He is sometimes called “the Apostle of Italy” for his efforts to revive the country’s Catholic faith. His great oratorical skills and persuasiveness are the reason he is the patron saint of advertisers and advertising. Fr. George’s blog has a summary of the life of the saint if you would like to know more.

The readings for the memorial are well chosen given Bernardino’s itinerant life and fervent evangelical efforts. His ministry of preaching coincided with a time when the Catholic Church was responding actively to movements that it regarded as heretical, and which were gaining popularity in southern France and northern Italy. For more than 30 years, Bernardino preached all over Italy and played a great part in the religious revival of the early fifteenth century. All his journeys were on foot. “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests” nor apparently did Bernardino.

In the first reading, Peter is on trial before the Sanhedrin. Similarly, Bernardino was tried for heresy before religious authorities for his unapologetic preaching which often upset the Italian city family-political factions. His promotion of the IHS (Holy Name of Jesus) became a rallying cry. As the devotion spread the symbol began to displace family crests in churches, homes, and public buildings. Bernardino was always found innocent – and like Peter returned to his preaching.

Bernardino preached against the excess of luxury and immodest apparel. In a 50-day stretch of sermons in Siena (April 1425), he held “Bonfires of the Vanities” at his sermon sites, where people threw mirrors, high-heeled shoes, perfumes, locks of false hair, cards, dice, chessmen, and other frivolities to be burned.

And yet, Bernardino was also an expert in economics writing an entire work devoted to private property, the ethics of trade, the determination of value and price, the usury question and the need for the entrepreneur as someone endowed by God with a combination of gifts needed by society.

Like us, he was not perfect, had his distractors, preached against usury which led to later accusations of his anti-semitism. But when I think of him, I think of Revelation’s letter to the city of Laodicea. When the angel of the Lord tells them – how I wish you were hot or cold, but you are lukewarm and so I spit you from my mouth.

Bernardine was a man on fire for God. Nothing lukewarm about him. What about you?



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