Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Saint Bernardino Realino: A Model of Gentleness and Patience

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me;
because the Lord has anointed me;
He sent me to bring good news to the afflicted,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
release to prisoners,
to announce a year of favor from the Lord
and a day of vindication by our God.
—Isaiah 61:1-2
Bernardino Luigi Realino was born in Carpi, Italy, in 1530. The son of a wealthy and influential family, he attended the academy in Modena, Italy, and went on to study the arts and medicine in Bologna. After finishing his studies, he considered becoming a physician. Instead, he chose to study canon and civil law (apparently, at the request of a lady he had fallen in love with and who thought he would have made a good lawyer). For his part, Bernardino recognized that his legal studies would give him a solid foundation for a career in government or public administration. After completing his doctorate in 1556, he became an auditor and general superintendent for the Marquis of Pescara, serving within the Kingdom of Naples. His letters from this period, however, reveal that Bernardino’s spiritual life was beginning to develop. He wrote to his brother: “I have no desire for the honors of this world but solely for the glory of God and the salvation of my soul.”

While serving in Naples, he first came into contact with the Society of Jesus. Not long after, following a period of intense prayer and discernment, he decided to join them. His early biographers relate that he was supported in his decision by a vision of the Blessed Virgin and the Child Jesus. He became a Jesuit novice in 1564 and was ordained a priest in 1567. He was soon appointed as novice master, but when the novitiate was moved from Naples, he remained behind to work among the poor and the enslaved Muslims, preaching (badly, it seems), hearing confessions, and directing a lay confraternity. In 1574, he moved to Lecce to establish a new Jesuit house and college. He spent the remainder of his life there, serving in a variety of positions. 

Bernardino is most especially remembered for his gentleness and patience. People from every walk of life came to him for guidance on both secular and religious questions and he earned the nickname “father of the city” because of his care for the sick and poor. In addition to his work in the college, he also served in the local prisons and continued his work with slaves. He would roam the streets of Lecce, collecting food, clothing, and money for his beloved poveretti, distributing the alms with tact and gentleness. He is credited with helping many accept the Christian Faith and he eventually recognized that his gifts were most effective in individual counseling rather than public preaching.

Bernardino Realino died on July 2, 1616. When he heard of Bernardino's passing, Saint Robert Bellarmine recalled, “I have never heard a complaint about Father Realino, though I have been his provincial; even those who were ill-disposed to the Society, who seized every opportunity to speak unforavorably of it… always made exception for Realino… Everyone knows that he is a saint.” He was beatified in 1895 and canonized in 1947. His memory is celebrated on July 2.

In many ways, Bernardino Realino seems to be an unremarkable saint. Like Saint John Berchmans, Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, and Saint André Bessette, his life was lived in an unremarkable way, filled with small, ordinary day-to-day tasks and acts of goodness. But, this is actually where his greatness can be discovered: it is a great grace to “do small things with great love” (to borrow a phrase from Blessed Teresa of Calcutta). This is really the key to holiness for most of us.

Few of us are called to serve God and the Church as priests, deacons, or consecrated religious and still fewer will be asked to give our lives for Christ. We are, however, able to live and love as Jesus did. We do this by sharing the Good News with those who most need to know of God’s love for them. Saint Bernardino teaches us, however, that this isn’t necessarily best done with flowery words or parroting harsh or complex doctrines. Instead, we show the love and mercy of God through our own gentleness and patience: because God has been gentle and patient with us, we are to pass that along to others: “It is true that in our dealings with the world, we are told to give reasons for our hope, but not as an enemy who critiques and condemns. We are told quite clearly: ‘do so with gentleness and reverence’ (1 Peter 3:15) and ‘if possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all’ (Romans 12:18). We are also told to overcome ‘evil with good’ (Romans 12:21) and to ‘work for the good of all’ (Galatians 6:10)” (Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium).

As our nation continues to grapple with the realities of poverty, racism, sexism, religious divisions, and political tensions, ask Saint Bernardino to help you understand the ways your gentle and patient witness to God’s loving plans can be a source of unity and grace.

A prayer in honor of Saint Bernardino Realino +
Lord our God, you sent out your holy priest Bernardino Realino to bring the Gospel of peace to towns and villages. In our own day call many others to work in the harvest-fields of your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit for ever and ever. Amen.
(adapted from the Supplement to the Divine Office for the Society of Jesus)

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