HOW ST FRANCIS, WHEN ABOUT TO DIE, BLESSED THE HOLY BROTHER BERNARD, NAMING HIM VICAR OF THE ORDER
The holiness of Brother Bernard shone forth so brightly, that St Francis held him in great reverence, and often was heard to praise him. One day, as St Francis was in prayer, it was revealed to him by God that Brother Bernard, by divine permission, would sustain many painful combats with the devil. Now St Francis felt great compassion for Brother Bernard, whom he loved as a son; wherefore he wept for prayed for many days, imploring the Lord Jesus Christ to give him the victory over the evil one. As he was praying thus devoutly, the Lord answered his prayer, and said to him: “Fear not, Francis, for all the temptations which will assail Brother Bernard are permitted by God, to increase his virtue and win for him a crown of merit; for at length he will gain the victory over all his enemies, because he is one of the ministers of the kingdom of heaven.” This answer to prayer filled St Francis with joy; he thanked God; and from that moment, Brother Bernard became even dearer to St Francis than before, and many proofs of affection did he give him, not only during his life but more especially at the hour of his death. For when St Francis was about to leave this world, being surrounded like the holy prophet Jacob by his devoted sons, all grieving at the departure of so beloved a Father, he thus addressed them: “Where is my first-born son? let him come to me, that my soul may bless him before I die.” Then Brother Bernard said in a whisper to Brother Elias, who at that time was vicar of the Order: “Go to the right hand of the saint, that he may bless thee.” On this Brother Elias placed himself on the right side of St Francis - who had lost his sight through much weeping - and the saint, putting his right hand on the head of Brother Elias, said: “This is not the head of my first-born, Brother Bernard.” Then Brother Bernard placed himself on the left side of St Francis, who, crossing his arms in the form of a cross, put his right hand on the head of Brother Bernard and his left on that of Brother Elias. Then said he to Brother Bernard: “May God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, bless thee with every blessing, spiritual and celestial; for thou art my first-born son in God, chosen in this Order to set an example of every virtue, and to follow Christ in evangelical poverty; for not only didst thou give all thy possessions and distribute them freely and liberally to the poor, but thou didst likewise offer thyself to God in this Order as a sacrifice of love; blessed be thou, then, by our Saviour Jesus Christ and by me, his poor servant, with eternal blessings, when thou goest out and when thou comest in, when thou wakest and when thou sleepest, both living and dying; he that blesseth thee shall be blessed, he that curseth thee shall not remain unpunished. Thou shalt be at the head of all thy brethren, and all thy commands the brethren shall obey. I give thee power to receive into this Order whomsoever thou willest; no brother shall rule over thee. Thou art free to go where thou wilt, and to remain where it pleaseth thee best.” So, after the death of St Francis, the brethren loved and revered Brother Bernard as their father, and when it was his turn to die, many brethren came from all parts of the world to take leave of him; amongst them the angelic Brother Giles, who when he saw Brother Bernard exclaimed, with great joy, “Sursum corda! Brother Bernard, Sursum corda!” and Brother Bernard ordered secretly one of the brothers to prepare for Brother Giles a place meet for contemplation, which was done even as he ordered. Now when the last hour of Brother Bernard arrived, he begged to be raised in his bed, and thus addressed the brethren who surrounded him: “Beloved brethren, I have not many words to say to you; but I wish you to consider that, as the religious order which has been my choice has been yours also, the hour which is now come for me will also come for you; and this I find in my soul to tell you, that for a thousand worlds I would not have served another Lord than our Saviour Jesus Christ. Now I accuse myself before my Saviour and before you all of every offence I have committed; and I pray you, my dear brethren, to love one another.” And having said these words, and given other good advice, he lay down on his bed, his face radiant with joy and shining with celestial brightness, of which all the brethren were witnesses; and in that ecstasy of joy his holy soul, crowned with glory, passed from this present life to the blessed life of the angels.