Learning from a Saint Who Learned From an Ass
Today we continue our regular series here at The Thin Veil called "Learning from the Saints". Our guide is saint-expert Bert Ghezzi, a dear friend of mine and the author of numerous books including Voices of the Saints, Saints at Heart, and Adventures In Daily Prayer.
His newest book is Discover Christ: Developing a Personal Relationship with Jesus.
Today, Bert explores the life of St. Bernardine of Siena, today's saint and the patron of advertisers, PR folk, gambling addicts, and those with chest problems. Read below and discover how this fifteenth-century preacher is still a model today.
At the age of 23, St. Bernardine completed a classical education and capped it with a degree in canon law. In 1403, he joined the Friars of the Strict Observance, a new branch of the Franciscans.
For more than a dozen years he lived quietly and unremarkably in Fiesole. But in 1417, a novice prophesied three times to Bernardine. “Brother Bernardine,” he exclaimed, “Stop hiding your gifts. Go to Lombardy where all await you!” The saint went obediently to Milan not knowing what to do. But he soon discovered that his vocation was preaching when his eloquence began to draw huge congregations.
Thousands came to hear this entertaining friar who used his personable humor and wisdom to penetrate their souls with truth. For nearly a quarter of a century he crisscrossed Italy on foot, calling people to repentance in exhortations like this:
"A sinner who repents learns to be prudent. He is like an ass that, once he has fallen in a spot, afterwards looks more carefully where he sets his foot. For fear of punishment he takes care not to fall into those sins again, or into any others.
"O great idiot who keeps on sinning! Why don’t you consider what the ass teaches you about saving your soul? The ass doesn’t fall again, but you always do. If you would only turn to God with love, you would learn much about prudence.
"O children, don’t you know that when you are learning to write with a pen you make blots? And you who want to ride a horse, don’t you know you will never learn unless you fall sometimes?
"Now I want to ask older people about this. Old man and old woman, are you there?
"Tell me, have you fallen into sin over and over again?
"Well, have you returned to God?
"See, you would never have learned what sin is unless you had tried it. In antiquis est prudentia. In the old is prudence, and do you know why? Because they have experience. They have fallen often, and so they walk more gingerly. They think about how they had better set their feet. As they see death approaching, they thank God that they have had time to turn to him. And they do not trust themselves not to fall, but always ask God to help them not to fall again."
Bernardine also popularized devotion to the name of Jesus. At the end of every sermon he blessed the crowd, holding a placard marked “IHS,” an acronym for “Jesus.”
And everyone wanted a copy of the sign. A maker of playing cards, whose business Bernardine had ruined by denouncing gambling, made more money than ever by manufacturing the placard.
In 1437, the Observants elected Bernardine as their general. In six years he reformed the order, sending friars from their enclosures to service in the world. Overcoming the traditional Franciscan fear of learning, he required his men to study theology and canon law.
During his period of leadership, he attracted so many new recruits that membership increased tenfold. He resigned in 1443 to return to preaching. But he died in 1444 shortly after delivering at his hometown a series of 50 sermons in as many days.
"God has two arms--an arm of love and an arm of fear. With both arms he embraces the sinner who desires to return to him. If you want to be loved by him, love him and he will prosper you. And if you fear him, he will protect you from every danger."
- St. Bernardine
Read more from Bert at his website www.BertGhezzi.com, or check out his many books on Amazon.