WISDOM STORY: Bernard and Francis by Nathalie Leone

Bernard and Francis by Nathalie Leone

From: Christian Stories of Wisdom

Francis had just withdrawn from the world and had embraced complete poverty. But the people of Assisi, his friends, his parents, and his acquaintances of long standing all thought him mad. They held him in contempt. When he went into town, people jostled him, threw nuts at him, and scolded him. They insulted him to his face and hurled at him all abuse they could think of.

Francis bore everything, without getting angry. He never even answered them.

Now a man was observing him from the window of his house. He was surprised to see him put up with such scorn so readily. “Either he really is completely mad,” he said to himself, “or he has received special grace from God.”

This man’s name was Bernard of Assisi, and he was one of the noblest and richest citizens in the town.  He sent for Francis, inviting him to spend the night in his home.  He had a comfortable room prepared for him and in the same room had a bed set up for himself behind a drape.  He wanted to watch this man of God and see whether he gave in to the comfort.  He placed a large lamp on a chest of drawers, with sufficient oil in it to shine throughout the night.  By evening the humblest of men and the richest man in the town slept in the same room.  But rather than enjoying the fresh sheets and soft mattress, Francis soon got up again and prayed through the night.  Like a litany, as if to spur his soul to be fruitful, he repeated: “My God and Everything, my God and my Everything; may God be Everything.  May God be Everything.”  By the first glimmer of daybreak, Francis appeared to be illuminated too, and Bernard was deeply moved.  Thanks to the lamp, which was still lit, but above all thanks to Francis’s glowing devotion, nothing in the scene had escaped him.  The rich man wished to be similarly ablaze with such passion.

“Brother Francis, let me take leave of the world and follow you,” Bernard begged.

“I don’t know.” replied Francis, “You will have to consult our Lord.  It is a serious decision.  You are powerful and accustomed to being honored.”

But he looked steadily into the rich man’s eyes and added these words:

“Follow me.  Let’s go see the priest at the bishop’s palace.  After the service we will pray until terce.  Then we will ask him to open his missal three times in succession.  And according to the words to emerge from the book, we will know what to do.”

They listened to the service, and prayed until terce; the priest approached them and, at their request, opened his missal three times.

On the first occasion the book said:

“If you wish to attain perfection, sell everything you possess and give the proceeds to the poor.”

On the second occasion they read:

“Let he who comes after me give himself up, take up his cross, and follow me.”

On the third occasion the sentence ran:

“Do not take anything with you along the road.”

Brother Francis turned to Bernard of Assisi and said, “God has given you his advice; now it is up to you to prepare.”

Bernard hurried home, settled his affairs, and sold all his possessions that same day.

In the evening he joined Francis in the poor district of the town, dragging behind him a big chest that contained his entire fortune.

They halted in a small piazza.  There they took off their robes and filled the piazza with the many coins from the chest.  A few onlookers drew near.  These were the first to benefit, for the two men were scattering the golden coins around them as a peasant sows his seeds.  Bystanders ran to and fro, their steps unpredictable, their eyes wild, and their hands grasping greedily.  Jubilation spread throughout the town.

Once the chest was empty, Francis and Bernard left Assisi and set off on their journey.

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