Brother Bernard’s Discernment: Little Flowers of St. Francis

Sister JulieAnn Sheahan

March 14, 2022

St. Francis’ early documents hold wisdom fitting for our daily discernment today. Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Marsaia Kaster reflects on this text from the Little Flowers of St. Francis.  She comments on discernment in action in the heart of a seeker and also discernment in the heart of the Church.

The first companion of St Francis was Brother Bernard of Assisi, who was converted in the following way: St Francis had not yet taken the religious habit, though he had renounced the world, and had so given himself to penance and mortification that many looked upon him as one out of his mind. He was scoffed at as a madman, was rejected and despised by his relations and by strangers, who threw stones and mud at him when he passed; yet he went on his way, accepting these insults as patiently as if he had been deaf and dumb. Then Bernard of Assisi, one of the richest and most learned nobles of the city, began to consider deeply the conduct of St Francis; how utterly he despised the world, how patiently he suffered injuries, and how his faith remained firm, though he had been for two years an object of contempt and rejected by all. He began to think and say within himself, “It is evident that this brother must have received great graces from God”; and so resolved to invite him to sup and to sleep in his house. St Francis having accepted the invitation, Bernard, who was resolved to contemplate the sanctity of his guest, ordered a bed to be prepared for him in his own room, where a lamp burned all night. Now St Francis, in order to conceal his sanctity, so soon as he entered the room, threw himself upon the bed, pretending to fall asleep. Bernard likewise soon after went to bed, and began to snore as if sleeping soundly. On this, St Francis, thinking that Bernard was really fast asleep, got up and began to pray. Raising his hands and eyes to heaven, he exclaimed with great devotion and fervour, “My God! my God!” at the same time weeping bitterly; and thus he remained on his knees all night, repeating with great love and fervour the words, “My God! my God!” and none others.

And this he did because, being enlightened by the Holy Spirit, he contemplated and admired the divine majesty of God, who deigned to take pity on the perishing world, and to save not only the soul of Francis, his poor little one, but those of many others also through his means. For, being enlightened by the Holy Ghost, he foresaw the great things which God would deign to accomplish through him and through his Order; and considering his insufficiency and unworthiness, he prayed and called upon the Lord, through his power and wisdom, to supply, help and accomplish that which of himself he could not do.

Then Bernard, seeing by the light of the lamp the devout actions of St Francis and the expression of his countenance, and devoutly considering the words he uttered, was touched by the Holy Spirit, and resolved to change his life. Next morning, therefore, he called St Francis, and thus addressed him: “Brother Francis, I am disposed in heart wholly to leave the world, and to obey thee in all things as thou shalt command me.” At these words, St Francis rejoiced in spirit and said, “Bernard, a resolution such as thou speakest of is so difficult and so great an act, that we must take counsel of the Lord Jesus Christ, and pray to him that he may be pleased to show us what is his will, and may teach us to follow it. Let us then go together to the Bishop’s palace, where we shall find a good priest who will say Mass for us. We will then remain in prayer till the third hour, imploring the Lord to point out to us the way he wishes us to select, and to this intent we will open the Missal three times.” And when Bernard answered that he was well pleased with this proposal, they set out together, heard Mass, and after they had remained in prayer till the time fixed, the priest, at the request of St Francis, took up Missal, then, having made the sign of the holy cross, he opened it three times, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Discernment in action in the heart of a seeker:

  • A rich young man devises a sneaky plan to find out if Francis is “for real “– someone madly in love with God
  • Bernard of Quintavalle’s plan works: he discovers that Francis‘s heart is a mirror of what Bernard desires: total love and complete union with and self-donation to God.
  • YES! There is joy, peace and “an interior fit.”
  • Bernard realizes he could follow Francis to Jesus, the Father, in the Spirit.

Discernment in the heart of the church:

  • Francis hears with awe the news, the decision of Bernard.
  • Francis realizes that his acceptance of Bernard would/could mean the beginning of a brotherhood.
  • Francis requests that Bernard accompany him to the bishop’s residence for Mass and then to listen to the Scriptures. Thus Francis places a possible brotherhood before the listening ear of the bishop and under obedience to what the WORD of God will say to the seekers.
  • After Listening to the bishop and hearing the words of scripture after Mass, both Francis and Bernard are filled with joy, peace, strength to do what the WORD has told them!
  • GRACE, COURAGE AND ACTIVE ENERGY ABOUND AND THE BROTHERHOOD BEGINS under the blessing of the Bishop and thus in the peace of obedience.

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