May 20th in the month of Mary, the Franciscan Calendar celebrates the feast of St Bernardine of Siena. Being a great Franciscan himself St Bernardine could not help but follow in the footsteps of St Francis who loved the Name of Jesus, Our Lord and Saviour.
The earliest biographer of St Francis, Thomas of Celano, wrote this detail on the relationship between the Poverello and the Name of Jesus: More than any other feast, he celebrated Christmas with an indescribable joy. He said that this was the feast of feasts, for on this day God became a little child and sucked milk like all human children. Francis embraced with great tenderness and devotion the pictures of the child Jesus and stammered words of tenderness, full of compassion, in the way children do. On his lips, the name of Jesus was sweet as honey.
Such was the experience of St Bernardine’s preaching regarding the Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ. The more I read Sermon 49 which amply speaks about the Name of Jesus so much so that it is found in the Second Reading of the Office of Readings for this feast the more I realize how this great Franciscan saint was truly a great missionary and propagator of the Holy Name of Jesus. He wrote:
The name of Jesus is the crowning glory of preachers. It is due to him that their preaching and its reception are blessed with extraordinary enlightenment. How else in the world could the fervent light of faith be kindled so suddenly if not by the name of Jesus? It is not by the light of this name that God is said to have called us into his own glorious light? To the enlightened who see light in that light, Saint Paul says: “You were once all darkness; now you are all light in the Lord; walk then as children of the light.” It is not a name to be hidden; it is to be proclaimed for its light to shine. An unclean heart and a sordid mouth are no ﬁt way to speak this name. The preacher should be a choice vessel, holding and proffering this name.
That is how the Lord speaks of the Apostle: “This man is for me a vessel of election, to carry my name before nations and kings and the children of Israel.” He speaks of a chosen vessel ‐ one where the choicest drink is presented to tempt the appetite while it twinkles and sparkles in quality jars ‐ a vessel to carry my name.
You clean a ﬁeld by lighting a ﬁre, getting rid of weeds and thorns; when the sun is up, darkness vanishes and all the thieves and prowlers and housebreakers go to ground. That is how it was with Paul in his preaching. His was a tongue with a thunderclap ‐ like a forest ﬁre or a brilliant sunrise, weeding out inﬁdelity, exposing falsehood, letting the truth radiate, like candle‐wax liquefying in a strong ﬂame.
He carried the name of Jesus everywhere, in his preaching, his letters, his miracles, his example. He praised the name of Jesus continuously; its praise was always on his lips.
He carried the name before kings, nations and the house of Israel like a torch, and it was always the same message: “The night is passed, the day is at hand; let us therefore cast away the works of darkness and put on the armour of light.” Let us walk uprightly as in the daylight. He displayed to everyone a shining and burning light, proclaiming everywhere Jesus, and him cruciﬁed.
Therefore, the Church, the spouse of Christ, enlightened by his witness, rejoices in the words of the prophet: “Lord, you have instructed me from youth and I shall proclaim your wonders for ever.” And the prophet also exhorts us: “Sing to the Lord and bless his name; tell from day to day of his salvation”, that is, of Jesus our Saviour.
These Spirit-filled words by St Bernardine greatly show us the latter’s loving devotion to God which practically dumbfounded even the strictest brothers within the Franciscan movement. The effectiveness of St Bernardine’s preaching in Italy of the fourteenth and fifteenth century centred on the fact that love for the Name of Jesus meant moving his hearers to do away with a life full of vices and lovingly turn to God as well as reconcile with one another. For this great preacher the Name of Jesus was a simple and effective means of recalling God’s love at all times, something which were to be extraordinarily expounded in great theological and spiritual works, including of course the Diary of St Faustina.
According to St Bernardine, the Name of Jesus was, in itself, a rule for pastoral life. To the priests who usually asked him for advice he told them: In all your actions, seek in the first place the kingdom of God and his glory. Direct all you do purely to his honor. Persevere in brotherly charity, and practice first all that you desire to teach others. By this means, the Holy Spirit will be your master, and will give you such wisdom and such a tongue that no adversary will be able to stand against you. What an extraordinary the Name of Jesus has within the life and ministry of the priest!
The passion with which St Bernardine preached about the Name of Jesus wonderfully reminds me of the most popular praise song entitled What a beautiful Name. Its refrain lyrics say it all: What a beautiful Name it is/ What a beautiful Name it is/ The Name of Jesus Christ my King/ What a beautiful Name it is/ Nothing compares to this/ What a beautiful Name it is/ The Name of Jesus.
How right St Bernardine was when he exclaimed in his preaching: The name of Jesus is the splendor of preachers, because it causes His Word to be proclaimed and heard with glowing splendor. Whence, do you think, came the great, sudden, and shining light of faith that filled the world, if not from the preaching of Jesus? Was it not by the light and sweetness of this Name that God called us into His wonderful light? It is to us, on whom the light has shone and who in that light see light, that the apostle addresses these apt words: “Once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of the light.”…Hence this Name must be proclaimed so that it may shine; it must not be hidden.
Let us mention the Name of Jesus with the greatest love and devotion! Let us pray to the Father in Jesus’ Name so that our prayers are heard and rendered more powerful!
God our Father, you gave Saint Bernardine of Siena a most tender love of the Holy Name of Jesus. Grant, by his merits and prayers, that your Spirit of love may always inflame us. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.