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St Bernardino of Siena
Priest and religions (entered heaven this day in 1444)
I daresay that the frustration and anxiety that you wrote about in your last note are completely unnecessary. The problem – I would bet my life’s savings on it, if my captors had not confiscated my life’s savings, that is – comes not from the circumstances that surround you on the outside (over-commitment, distractions, difficulties), but from carelessness on the inside. You have the secret weapon for conquering peace of mind and stability of life right inside you. It’s called your conscience. Do you really listen to your conscience, do you know how to tell when your conscience is speaking, do you build up your conscience by reviewing your catechism about the Ten Commandments? God never stops coaching you, guiding you, nudging you, giving you advice – he is always interested in every part of your life and always talking to you about it, and your conscience is the receiver, the loudspeaker that he built into your heart so you could always hear him. But every time you ignore or disobey your conscience, it’s like turning down the volume on the loudspeakers: the next time it will be harder to hear it.
If today’s saint had not been a man of conscience, the thousands of souls he brought back to God might have died in their sins. St Bernardino of Siena spent 30 years walking from town to town and city to city all over the Italian peninsula (actually, in his later years he was so weak that he reluctantly agreed to ride a donkey on his longer trips), bringing entire metropolitan areas to repentance and renewed zeal for the Kingdom of Christ. He did it by preaching. He would preach for 3 or 4 hours at a time, 3 or 4 times a day. He had to preach outside because the churches were too small to hold the crowds. He resolved violent feuds, uprooted social vices, and inspired thousands of young men to enter the religious life. And it all started because as a young man he was faithful to his conscience.
He was of a noble Sienese family and had all the privileges and comforts of nobility. What’s more, he was blessed with a remarkably affable and winning disposition, as well as natural good looks. When he was still in school as a young man, he caught the eye of a man of high position, who repeatedly invited Bernardino to enter into his elite circle – one that was influential, wealthy, affording all the most alluring pleasures, and riddled with sin. From the perspective of an ambitious youth, it was the opportunity of a lifetime, a chance to enter into the fast lane of Italian high society. But would it be worth it if he had to muffle his conscience? Bernardino thought not. He preferred to gather a few friends and take over the local hospital during a horrible plague, and then tend his sick and dying aunt, and finally discover his vocation to become the greatest Franciscan priest of the 15th century and lead countless souls into Christ’s eternal embrace.
Therefore, my dear nephew, don’t try to bring peace into your soul from the outside, but let the peace of a clean and robust conscience flow out from within. Count on my prayers.
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