6th Saturday of Easter

Memorial of St. Bernardine of Siena

Acts 18:23-28; John 16:23b-28

I once attended a concert by a master guitarist. I don’t remember any particular piece he played, but I do remember two things. First, he was somehow able to communicate the truth and beauty of the music. When the tune was happy, the guitar laughed; when it was solemn, it contemplated; when it was sad, it wept. Second was his joy. This guitarist really enjoyed what he did, and his joy was infectious; he inspired me to want to make music, too. Of course, when I got home and tried, it didn’t sound anything like his.

I think this is what masters in any art or science are able to do: communicate the beauty of the truth they’ve worked so hard to find, and inspire others with the joy of that truth, which motivates them to go deeper and learn more for themselves.

Today we celebrate two masters of the faith. The reading from Acts gives us the first, Apollos. We hear of his eloquence, authority, boldness, and passion, and I don’t think it’s going too far to say that the truth and beauty of his words brought many to Christ or that his joy inspired many more.

The calendar of the Church gives us the second, for today is the feast day of the tireless preacher, St. Bernardine of Siena. He was one of those people who always seems to be on the go. While he may not have known what to do with all that energy, God did: The hospital in his home town of Siena, where every day dozens of people were dying from the plague. Months later, getting word that his aunt was ill, Bernardine went and cared for her. Then, after praying for God’s guidance, he joined the Franciscans, where, after some years, his gift for preaching emerged. He was ordered to travel Italy and preach, which he did with every ounce of energy he had, until his death around 40 years later.

We can learn a lot about mastery by considering the life of St. Bernardine. Obviously, he didn’t begin life as a master; he got there the way everyone else does: prayer and work. First, he prayed. As Jesus said in the gospel, whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you (16:23). We don’t know if the answer Bernardine received was what he wanted or expected, but it was given, as Christ said, that his joy may be complete (16:24). The same goes for us. If we don’t know what our gifts are, or how to use them, then we need to ask. But then, get busy. Bernardine didn’t just sit around and wait for the answer; he got to work and looked for it. He tried the Franciscans, found it good, and kept going deeper. That’s the other part; he never did anything halfway. Whether it was theology, teaching, devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus (he created the symbol ‘IHS’ which is used to this day), or traveling and preaching to thousands, he gave himself totally – where he was and with whom he was – and did that until the day he died. Again, the same is true for us. If we don’t know where to go or what to do, be like St. Bernardine: Look around, see what the needs are. Then, choose something, put yourself totally into it, and get busy.

I said earlier that masters of any discipline are able to do two things: Communicate the beauty of the truth they’ve worked so hard to find, and inspire others with the joy of that truth, that they might learn more themselves. While mastery in the faith is no different, we must never make the mistake of thinking that it is reserved to preachers like Apollos or St. Bernardine, or theologians or even just energetic and holy people like St. Bernardine. When it comes to communicating the truth and beauty of Christ, what speaks more eloquently than works of mercy, like feeding the hungry, visiting the home-bound, and comforting those who mourn? What training in theology do we need other than to pray as Christ taught us in the Lord’s Prayer? And what more energy do we need than to obey the words of the Blessed Mother when she said to do whatever he tells you? This is the obedience of Christ; the obedience that brings joy and inspires others, not to be like us, but to be like him.


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