Saint Bernardine of Siena, and the Power of the Name of Jesus
Bernardine of Siena was born on September 8, 1380, feast of the Nativity of Mary. He was a member of the Albizeschi family, one of the most renowned in the Republic of Siena. No one had any idea of the future glory of the child who, according to Saint Antoninus, was destined to become “a new star in the midst of the murky darkness of the earth; to shine with the brightness of Divine gifts; to beam far and wide the bright rays of his glorious life and teachings; to lead in the fear of God, by the holiness of his example, a people whose blindness had removed it from the straight path of the heavenly Homeland.” He was Baptized on the very day of his birth.
When it came time to choose a vocation, Bernardine directed his thoughts toward the religious life. But toward what Order was he to direct his feet? He went into retreat in a solitary house, redoubled his fervor and prayed without ceasing until Divine grace dissolved his incertitude. One day while he was kneeling at the foot of his crucifix as usual and beseeching God, he suddenly heard Jesus say to him:
“My son Bernardine, you see Me hanging on the Cross, in a state of total denudation. If you love Me and want to walk in My footsteps, fasten yourself also to the cross, divested of everything.”
These words made such an impression on him that he decided to follow them to the letter. On September 8, 1402, at the age of twenty-two, he was clothed in the habit of Saint Francis and entered the novitiate in the convent of Colombaio, not far from Siena. The new novice distinguished himself above all by his spirit of obedience. Understanding that this virtue was the pivotal point of the religious life, Bernardine became the model of the community. He had the joy of making his vows on the evening of another September 8, and to celebrate his first Mass one year later on the same date.
Bernardine’s superiors commanded him to devote himself in the preaching ministry. His voice had a natural defect that prevented him from being heard by anything more than a very limited group: the intercession of the Blessed Virgin delivered him from this difficulty in doing good.
The new apostle was thirty-eight years old when he began to be famous in the major cities of Italy. Until then he had divided his days into periods of prayer, study, and several brief meditations. Diligent in the reading of Holy Scripture, he had penetrated its various meanings and knew how to apply them on every occasion, according to the needs of his listeners.
The Name of Jesus was the usual theme of the holy apostle’s addresses. As a child he had been taught to venerate it in a special manner. Later, on reading the epistles of Saint Paul, he had found the Divine Name on almost every line. He had seen Saint Peter answer the leaders of the Synagogue that only in this Name could man be saved. So his decision was made, to adopt the Name of Jesus as his standard and his sole
Milan, Genoa, Tortona, Castel Nuovo, Florence, Volterra . . . all of them, one after another, heard Bernardine preach. At the end of his sermons, he would take a tablet with the Divine Name painted on it and show it to his listeners; then, having them kneel, he would invite them to beg the Savior of the world for mercy, promise to live in peace with God and men, implore the Heavenly Father, in virtue of that same Name which He had given to His only-begotten Son to have compassion on all Christians for eternity. Then, raising the tablet, he would bless just men and sinners alike, sending them off with their souls filled with generous resolutions for the future. Ordinarily, no one could resist this imposing ceremony.
Bernardine left the people of Volterra the little tablet on which he had personally painted the glorious Name of his beloved Savior, and which he had used during his sermons until then. It became a pledge of protection; in times of calamity it was carried in procession. If drought withered the earth, if rain threatened the harvest, if plague or war wreaked havoc, it was exposed for public veneration. And on many occasions, God was pleased to glorify the memory of His faithful servant. One year before his death, a church was erected in Volterra in honor of the Holy Name of Jesus and a pious association was established to guard the precious relic, which can still be venerated today.
On learning that there was a man possessed by the devil in the city of Alessandria in the Piedmont, where he was passing through, the holy preacher gave a child a piece of paper on which the glorious Name of the Savior was written, with orders to put it on the possessed person. The child had hardly done so when the unclean spirit took flight.
It was also Saint Bernardine who set up a hospital, known since then by the name of Old Lazaret, on the Isle of Santa Maria de Nazaret. He had the Name of Jesus engraved in various places; even today, the Divine Name engraved on the facade of the church reminds posterity of the Saint’s touching preoccupation during the exercise of his apostolic preaching.
He had truly wondrous success in Bellune, a city in the Republic of Venice. The pulpit was set up in the city’s largest square. There, after having won the sympathy of the townsfolk, our Saint drew a striking sketch of the woes of Bellune. Reminding them of what he had said elsewhere about the cruelties of various factions, the excess of ferocity with which they defiled themselves and the atrocious crimes of which they were guilty, he pointed out the painted signs of rival factions set above the doors of peoples’ homes. Then, raising a tablet upon which he had written the Name of Jesus, he presented that adorable Name as the only one worthy of being engraved in hearts, on the doors and walls of homes, and on the facades of churches, citadels and public monuments: the Saint won a total victory. Never had a more striking triumph crowned his words.
The throng spread through the streets; paintings representing the insignia of rival factions vanished everywhere at once; even their slightest vestige was blotted out. The Name of Jesus was engraved on walls. Some people had it painted on their doors and inside their homes, surrounded with rays of light, whereas others used sculpture to immortalize the remembrance of that great day.
In Bologna, Bernardine put a halt to games of chance. One worker’s exclusive occupation was painting playing cards. He had found this work sufficient to provide for his family needs, but now he was threatened with falling into need as a result of the reforms introduced by the Saint in his city. He came to speak of his worries to the very one who was causing them. Bernardine welcomed him with kindness and asked him if he really did not know any other trade.
“None, Father,” answered the worker.
“Well then, will you try one that I will suggest to you? You will make enough for yourself and your family, I promise you.”
“Gladly,” said he, “I will do it at once.”
Taking a compass, the Saint drew a circle on a board, then sketched the adorable Name of Jesus in the middle of it, drawing bright rays of light all around it. He showed the sketch to the worker and said to him:
“There, my friend, make similar paintings based on this model, and you will make an income great enough to meet your needs.” The painter followed his advice, and soon people were thronging to his workshop; within a few short days, he had been largely compensated for abandoning his former industry.
One of our Saint’s diligent listeners in Siena was Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini, who later became pope under the name of Pius II. In his notes, the latter tells of the impulsion produced by Bernardine’s addresses: “One day, as he was preaching in the square in Siena, a thick cloud formed and threatened rain. Everyone wanted to run off. ‘Friends, remain in peace,’ exclaimed the orator. He knelt down and prayed, ordering the cloud, by virtue of the Name of Jesus, to go away. Scarcely had he spoken when the cloud scattered without a drop of rain, and the weather turned as fair as it had been before.”
To conclude his mission in that city, the Saint went to the pulpit holding the tablet with the Name of Jesus painted on it. Presenting the Divine Name to the crowd as the hope of nations and the joy of the elect, he delivered a warm address on the subject and then invited his listeners to kneel and make honorable amends and ask forgiveness for past sins. The moving voice of the preacher and the sight of that adorable Name, without which there is no salvation for the world, brought on tears and sobs. And this was no passing emotion, it was a public act that engaged them for the future, a new consecration in the Lord’s service; it was the cry of the Prophet, repeated by thousands of voices: “I have sworn, and I do resolve to keep Your just ordinances.” [Psalm 118: 106] Before dismissing the crowd, the missionary announced a procession on the following day in honor of the glorious Name he had just exalted.
At the hour he had set, an immense multitude pressed into Siena’s great public square. Bernardine offered the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and the procession unfurled through the city streets. Amid the lines of people was carried the sacred tablet representing the Name of Jesus, followed by one of the nails that had fastened the Savior to the cross, a relic religiously kept in the La Scala treasury. Never had a more majestic sight been offered to the citizens of Siena: fervor was at its height. Thus, as in Florence, the blessed preacher was able to crown his work by having the people publicly burn objects of vanity and games which men and women hastened to present.
Wanting to immortalize the remembrance of the Heavenly graces received on this occasion, the municipality had the glorious Name of Jesus painted on the facade of the palace of the republic and surrounded by rays of gold. The tablet carried in procession was given to the Franciscans in the city; the pulpit that had been set up in the square was brought back to the cathedral, where it has remained to this day.
The Name of Jesus in the hands of the holy apostle became the rainbow of peace; every knee bent, appeased, every sinner hastened to the wellsprings of pardon, wherever Bernardine set up that mighty symbol. The three letters [JHS] which represented that Name forever blessed became familiar to all the faithful; they were sculpted, engraved and painted everywhere; thus did the Catholic people acquire a new expression of their religion and their love toward the Savior of men.
We have seen Saint Bernardine of Siena at work, now let us listen to him speaking on the adorable Name of Jesus . . .
The Name of Jesus is the refuge of the penitent sinner, a refuge full of meekness in which majesty effaces itself, tenderness becomes sweeter, Divine mercy appears in Its grandeur. The Name of God is awesome; in it is found the ardor of the flame which consumes, the wrath which chastises, the weight which crushes; but all these things have been tempered in the wellspring of mercy by Jesus Christ Who was smitten with love for us in the womb of the Virgin Mary. There, that ardor has lost its violence, that wrath has become forbearance, that overwhelming weight has become light . . . “O my God,” exclaims the Prophet, “say to my soul: I am thy salvation.” [Psalm 34: 3] May Thy Name be heard by my ears; Thy voice is full of sweetness and Thy face full of beauty.
The Name of Jesus is the banner of combatants . . . We have three kinds of enemies: the world, the flesh and the devil. If the devil rises up against you, do not be afraid, but lift the banner of salvation against him by invoking Jesus. “In My Name,” He says, “cast out devils.” [Mark 16: 17] The Prophet says, “Holy and awesome is His Name.” [Psalm 110: 9] Holy for the Angels, awesome for the devils and the godless. The flesh makes you feel its attacks? Well, in sorrow, may the Name of Jesus find place in your heart, may it rise from there to your lips, and by the light of that Name, every cloud shall scatter, serenity shall reappear. You have fallen into crime? Despair gets hold of you? Who, then, shall invoke that Name of life without breathing at once? Who, then, in the presence of that saving Name has not felt hardness of heart, dullness and laziness of soul disappear? Who, then, seeing his tears dry up, has not shed more abundant ones, wept sweeter ones, after invoking that Name? Nothing can halt the transport of wrath, nothing can contain the puffing up of pride, nothing can heal the wound of envy, nothing can resist the surge of sensuality, nothing can extinguish the flame of pleasure, nothing can temper the thirst of avarice, nothing can consume the rust of every dishonor like the Name of Jesus . . . The world declares itself against you; by a secret judgment of God, you are shipwrecked in the middle of the sea; you are exposed to its dangers; upon your path you find overflowing rivers, threatening enemies, ably hatched betrayals, thunder and lightning, ruination, accidents, unexpected fires? Invoke the Name of salvation, and may your heart and your mouth both call upon Jesus, hope in the help of the Most High. He Himself has said, “He shall call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in distress.” [Psalm 90: 15] “I will deliver him; I will set him on high because he acknowledges My Name.” [Psalm 90: 14] Indeed, “the Name of the Lord is a strong tower; the just man runs to it and is safe.”
[Proverbs 18: 10]
The Name of Jesus is a remedy for our infirmities; it gave sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, nimbleness to the lame, speech to the mute, life to the dead . . . When you feel some suffering, you or yours, without neglecting natural remedies, have recourse to the Name of Jesus . . . I have learned from witnesses worthy of faith that in our days, many have laid their hands on the sick, according to the divine precept, and have invoked the Name of Jesus, and those illnesses were healed. As the Prophet says, “He saved them for His Name’s sake, to make known His power.” [Psalm 105: 7-8]
The Name of Jesus is the comfort of those who suffer. God does not let His servants fall in temptation, yet He exposes them to the pains of life. But then, far be it from us to despair! Let us not forget the sweet Name of Jesus, let us invoke it especially then. Saint Augustine says, “The Name of Jesus, written in the heart of the just, gives them an astonishing boldness to counter the blows of every woe.” Before her judge Saint Agatha exclaimed, “If you threaten me with ferocious beasts, they will become tame at the Name of Jesus; if you use fire against me, at that Name the Angels will surround me with life-giving dew.” By virtue of that Name, the Martyrs overcame every torment: “Through Your Name we trampled down Your adversaries; our help is in the Name of the Lord.” [Psalm 143: 6; 123:8]
The Name of Jesus is the glory of those who believe. The main base of the Faith is the Name of Jesus; that Name upholds the edifice; upon it the pillars rise; upon it the summit of the monument rests, and that summit is Heavenly beatitude. The Catholic Faith resides in the knowledge of Jesus Christ; He is the light of the soul, the gateway to life, the foundation of eternal salvation.
The Name of Jesus is the torch of the word of God. Saint Bernard says, “How can you believe that a light so great, so sudden, so bright, would have shone in the whole world, if not by the preaching of the Name of Jesus ?” When wheat is taken from a field and the fire is lit, dry grass, useless brambles and thorns are soon consumed; when the sun casts its bright rays upon rising and the darkness has disappeared, thieves and nighttime prowlers go and hide. Thus when the tongue of Paul, like a thunderclap, like the sun at its brightest, made itself heard by the nations, infidelity was consumed, falsehood vanished, the truth cast forth its splendor, the world was like wax exposed to the heat of a violent fire. Then the Apostle, by his writings, words, miracles and examples, made the Name of Jesus penetrate everywhere; he bore it in the presence of kings, of nations and of the children of Israel as a torch, and with it he lit up all the lands of the world . . .
The Name of Jesus is the help of the weary soul. Saint Bernard says, “Each time you remember the Name of Jesus, do you not feel your strength reborn?” Who restores our mind like this remembrance? Who repairs our weary senses, reconfirms our virtues, vitalizes our good and honest actions, gives warmth back to our pure affections as much as He?. . . May the Name of Jesus be always placed in your soul, always borne in your hands: in Him you will find a remedy for your indolence, a remedy to correct your evil acts and lift up those that are imperfect, a remedy to keep your senses from corruption and heal them if they become corrupted . . .
The Name of Jesus is the glory of the blessed in Heaven. Those who have loved that Name will enjoy in their mind, as the reward of their faith, the perfect vision of the truth manifested in all its splendor; in their memory, as a fruit of their hope, they will have the eternal possession of the Supreme Majesty, and in their will as a reward for their love, the enjoyment of the most ineffable good. “Thou art the joy of those who love Thy Name.” [Psalm 5: 12] Because of that Name of Jesus, the soul entirely shall live, entirely shall be endowed, entirely happy, entirely in its three powers made like unto God, Trinity and Unity, entirely united to Him, entirely enlightened, entirely plunged in peace. . .
O Name of Jesus lifted up above every name, triumphal Name, joy of the Angels, joy of the just, dread of Hell, in Thee lies all hope of forgiveness, all hope of grace, all hope of glory.
O most meek Name, from Thee we received forgiveness of sin, renewal of life; Thou fillest our souls with Divine delights, Thou takest away their vain imaginings.
O Name full of grace, by Thee the depths of miracles are disclosed to our sight; our hearts burn with Heavenly love, become strong in combat, escape every danger.
O glorious Name, delectable Name, admirable Name, Name worthy of our veneration, Name full of sweetness of Jesus our King, Thou doth transports above this earth by the abundance of grace, Thou ravisheth, in a way, the souls of Thy faithful even to Divine heights; may all who are devoted to Thee find salvation and glory in Thy virtue . . .
Whenever you hear His Holy Name pronounced, bow your head; do so likewise every time you say His Sacred Name.