'THE LITTLE FLOWERS OF ST. FRANCIS'
HOW ST FRANCIS, HAVING ALLOWED AN EVIL THOUGHT TO ARISE IN HIS MIND AGAINST BROTHER BERNARD, ORDERED HIM TO PLACE HIS FOOT THREE TIMES UPON HIS NECK AND HIS MOUTH.
St Francis, the devoted servant of the crucified Jesus, through constant weeping and penance, had become nearly blind, so that he could scarcely see. Wishing one day to speak with Brother Bernard on things divine, he left the place where he was and went to join him. Being told, upon arrival, that he was in the forest praying, St Francis proceeded thither, and, calling out, said; “Come, O Brother Bernard, and speak with this blind man.” But Brother Bernard did not make answer; for, his soul being rapt in divine contemplation, he did not hear him call; one of the special graces of Brother Bernard being that of holding converse with God Almighty, of which St Francis had often been a witness. The saint, therefore, since he wished specially to speak with him at that hour, called him again a second time and a third. Brother Bernard, not having heard him, neither answered nor went to him; at which St Francis went away somewhat saddened, and wondering in himself how it was that, having called him three times, Brother Bernard had not come to him. With this thought on his mind, when he had proceeded a little way, he bade his companion wait for him, and retiring to a solitary spot, fell on his knees, praying that God would reveal to him why Brother Bernard had not answered his call. As he prayed, a voice came from God, which said, “O poor little man, why art thou troubled? Is it meet for man to leave God for the creature? When thou didst call Brother Bernard he was with me, and could neither hear thee, nor go to thee; be not then surprised if he answered thee not, for he was rapt out of himself, nor did he hear aught of all thou saidst.” St Francis, having received this answer from God, went back with great haste to Brother Bernard, to accuse himself humbly of the thought he had allowed to enter his mind against him. Brother Bernard, seeing St Francis coming towards him, went to meet him, and threw himself at his feet. Then St Francis bade him rise, confessing most humbly what his thoughts has been and the answer which God had made him; and with these words he concluded: “I command thee, by virtue of holy obedience, to do whatsoever I shall order thee.” Brother Bernard, fearing St Francis would oblige him to inflict upon him some great punishment, as was his custom, would most willingly have avoided obeying him. “I am ready,” he answered, “to obey thee, father, if thou also wilt promise me to do whatsoever I shall command thee.” To this St Francis consented; and Brother Bernard then asked him what he wished him to do. “I command thee,” said St Francis, “under holy obedience, in order to punish my presumption and the evil thought of my heart, when I lie down on the ground to place one of thy feet on my neck, and the other on my mouth. And this shalt thou do thee! Be humbled, thou son of Peter Bernardoni, for thou art but a vile wretch; how camest thou to be so proud, thou miserable servant of sin!” On hearing this Brother Bernard was much grieved, but out of holy obedience he did what St Francis had ordered him, striving withal to acquit himself thereof as lightly as possible. Then St Francis, having promised obedience to Brother Bernard, asked what he wished him to do, whereto the latter answered: “I command thee, in virtue of holy obedience, that whenever we are together thou reprove and correct with great severity all my defects.” This order much surprised St Francis, for Brother Bernard was so holy that he held him in great reverence, and did not believe it possible to find in him any fault. From that time, therefore, the saint avoided being much with Brother Bernard, fearing lest, out of holy obedience, he might be obliged to reprove him; and when he was obliged to see or to speak with him, he parted from him as soon as possible. Most edifying it was to hear with what charity, what admiration and humility, St Francis, who was his superior, spoke of Brother Bernard, who was his first son in God - to the praise and glory of Jesus Christ and his poor servant Francis. Amen.