The Italian priest St. Bernardine of Siena (1380-1444) was known for his preaching and his popularity with ordinary people. As a young man, he cared for an elderly woman on her deathbed; she constantly pronounced the name “Jesus” with great devotion. Bernardine was profoundly affected, and decided to make the name of Jesus the theme of his own life.
When Siena was struck by a plague, Bernardine nursed the sick until he himself became ill. After recovering, he became a Franciscan monk, and was ordained a priest in 1404. Bernardine spent a dozen years in solitude and prayer, and was then sent forth as a preacher. For many years he traveled on foot throughout Italy, preaching to crowds as large as 30,000 — accomplishing all this with a weak and hoarse voice (though, according to legend, it later miraculously improved because of his devotion to Mary).
Bernardine was especially known for his devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus, and he devised a symbol — IHS (the first three letters of the name Jesus in Greek) — to represent it. As this devotion spread, the symbol began to replace the superstitious signs and symbols of the day. When a manufacturer of playing cards complained that the saint’s preaching against gambling was depriving him of his livelihood, Bernardine told him to start making medallions with the symbol IHS. The man took this advice — and ended up making more money than ever.
Some of Bernardine’s teachings were criticized, and three attempts were made to have the pope discipline him, but the saint’s obvious faith and holiness overcame all opposition. St. Bernardine helped strengthen the Franciscan Order, and he contributed to a great increase of piety among the laity. He died soon after attending the Council of Florence in 1444, and was canonized only six years later.
1. As St. Paul stated, “God bestowed upon Jesus the Name that is above every other name” (Philippians 2:9). As St. Bernardine realized, honoring the Holy Name of Jesus is the sign of a true Christian.
2. God will provide for those who, even at financial cost to themselves, seek to do what’s right; St. Bernardine helped the maker of gambling equipment find a better and holier way to make a living.
3. Bernardine followed the advice of St. Francis of Assisi to preach about “vice and virtue, punishment and glory.” His success shows that many people are willing to listen to the proclamation of the truth.