HOW THE HOLY BROTHER BERNARD OF ASSISI WAS SENT BY ST FRANCIS TO BOLOGNA AND HOW HE FOUNDED A CONVENT THERE
St Francis and his companions, being called by God to carry the cross of Christ in their hearts, to practise it in their lives, and to preach it by their words, were truly crucified men both in their actions and in their works. They sought after shame and contempt, out of love for Christ, rather than the honours of the world, the respect and praise of men. They rejoiced to be despised, and were grieved when honoured. Thus they went about the world as pilgrims and strangers, carrying nothing with them but Christ crucified; and because they were of the true Vine, which is Christ, they produced great and good fruits in many souls which they gained to God. It happened that, in the beginning of the Order, St Francis sent Brother Bernard to Bologna, there to accomplish many good works, according to the grace which God had given him. So Brother Bernard, making the holy sign of the cross, in the name of holy obedience, set out for Bologna; but when he arrived in that city, the little children in the streets, seeing him dressed so strangely and so poorly, laughed and scoffed at him, taking him for a madman. All these trials Brother Bernard accepted for the love of Christ, with great patience and with great joy, and seeking to be despised yet more, he went to the market-place, where, having seated himself, a great number of children and men gathered round him, and taking hold of his hood pushed him here and there, some throwing stones at him and others dust. To all this Brother Bernard submitted in silence, his countenance bearing an expression of holy joy, and for several days he returned to the same spot to receive the same insults. Now, patience being a work of perfection and a proof of virtue, a learned doctor of the law, seeing such virtue and constancy in Brother Bernard, who had endured for so many days such contempt and such injuries without losing his temper, said within himself: “Without doubt this man must be a great saint”; and going up to him, he asked him who he was, and whence he came. Brother Bernard put his hand into his bosom, and taking out the Rule of St Francis, gave it to him to read. The doctor, having read the Rule, was struck with wonder and admiration at the sublime perfection therein prescribed, and turning to his friends, he said: “Truly this is the most perfect state of Religion I have ever heard of, and this man and his companions are the holiest men I have met with in all the world; guilty indeed are those who insult him; we ought, on the contrary, to honour him as a true friend of God.” And addressing Brother Bernard, he said to him: “If it is thy wish to found a convent in this town, in which thou mayest serve God according to thy heart’s desires, I will help thee most willingly, for the salvation of my soul.” Brother Bernard answered: “I believe that our Saviour Jesus Christ has inspired thee with this good intention, and most willingly do I accept thy offer, to the honour of Christ.” Then the doctor, with much joy and great charity, conducted Brother Bernard to his house, and soon after gave to him a place as he had promised, which he arranged and furnished at his own expense, and from that moment he became a father to Brother Bernard, and the special defender of the Friars Minor. Brother Bernard, through his holy conduct, began to be much honoured by the people, so much so that those who could see and touch him accounted themselves as most blessed; but he, like a true disciple of Christ and a son of the humble Francis, fearing lest the honours of the world should disturb his peace and endanger the salvation of his soul, set out one day and returned to St Francis, whom he thus addressed: “Father, the convent is founded at Bologna, send other brothers there to keep it up and reside there, as I can no longer be of any use; indeed, I fear that the too great honours I receive might make me lose more than I could gain.” Now St Francis, having heard, one after another, all the things which the Lord had wrought through Brother Bernard, rendered thanks to God, who thus began to spread abroad the poor disciples of the Cross; then sent he others of the brethren to Bologna, and to Lombardy, and these founded many convents in divers countries.