Thursday, May 20, 2010

St. Bernardine of Siena - Evangelizing Movements in the Church


The liturgy allows the optional memorial today of St. Bernardine of Siena, whose tomb I visited several years ago when I made a journey to L'Aquila, the city struck by a great earthquake last year.

The letters favoured by Bernardine's preaching, IHS (the first two and last letters of the Greek name for Jesus, though often reinterpreted as Latin [Iesus Hominum Salvator: Jesus, Savior of Men] or English [I Have Suffered; In His Service, etc] are often surmounted by a cross, sometimes with the three nails underneath.

When superimposed on a blazing sun, they reflect the Paschal Mystery: the Passion of the Cross and nails taken up into the glory of the resurrection. This is how they are often depicted on iconography of the Society of Jesus, which is why you will find them on the right hand side of my coat of arms (to the top and right of this post).

Making Jesus known has taken many forms over the centuries. New evangelizing movements, which are meeting at the Diocesan Centre these days, at the invitation of CCO in the context of Montee Jeunesse/Youth Summit. I met briefly with these new movements (Face-to-Face Ministries, Ministry of the Redeemer, Emmanuel Community, Renewal Ministries, Famille Marie-Jeunesse, etc) yesterday, then presided at a concelebrated Eucharist in the Archbishop's Chapel and shared a meal with them. What energy, what joy, what zeal! Let us hope and pray that it will flourish and spread.

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St. Bernardine of Siena was said to be the greatest preacher of his time, journeying across Italy, calming strife-torn cities, attacking the paganism he found rampant, attracting crowds of 30,000, following St. Francis’s admonition to preach about “vice and virtue, punishment and glory.”

Compared with St. Paul by the pope, Bernardine had a keen intuition of the needs of the time, along with solid holiness and boundless energy and joy. He accomplished all this despite having a very weak and hoarse voice, miraculously improved later because of his devotion to Mary.

When he was 20, the plague was at its height in his hometown, Siena. Sometimes as many as 20 people died in one day at the hospital. Bernardine offered to run the hospital and, with the help of other young men, nursed patients there for four months. He escaped the plague but was so exhausted that a fever confined him for several months. He spent another year caring for a beloved aunt (her parents had died when he was a child) and at her death began to fast and pray to know God’s will for him.

At 22, he entered the Franciscan Order and was ordained two years later. For almost a dozen years he lived in solitude and prayer, but his gifts ultimately caused him to be sent to preach. He always traveled on foot, sometimes speaking for hours in one place, then doing the same in another town.

Especially known for his devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus, Bernardine devised a symbol—IHS, the first three letters of the name of Jesus in Greek, in Gothic letters on a blazing sun. This was to displace the superstitious symbols of the day, as well as the insignia of factions (for example, Guelphs and Ghibellines).

The devotion spread, and the symbol began to appear in churches, homes and public buildings. Opposition arose from those who thought it a dangerous innovation. Three attempts were made to have the pope take action against him, but Bernardine’s holiness, orthodoxy and intelligence were evidence of his faithfulness.

General of a branch of the Franciscan Order, the Friars of the Strict Observance, he strongly emphasized scholarship and further study of theology and canon law. When he started there were 300 friars in the community; when he died there were 4,000. He returned to preaching the last two years of his life, dying while traveling.

He is the patron saint of: advertizing, compulsive gambling, public relations, Italy.

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Behind the Scenes of Montee Jeunesse/Youth Summit

The lead volunteers pause for a photo amid the last minute crunch

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