The Little Flowers of St. Francis, tr. by W. Heywood, , at sacred-texts.com
Of Friar Bernard of Quintavalle, first companion of St. Francis
THE first companion of St. Francis was Friar Bernard of Assisi, who was converted after this manner. St. Francis, being still clothed with lay garments, albeit he had already renounced the world, lived utterly scorned and mortified for penance, on such wise that by many he was deemed mad and was scoffed at as a madman and driven away with stones and mud by kinsfolk and by strangers. Nevertheless, he ever bore himself patiently, as one who is deaf and
dumb, under every insult and derision. Wherefore it came to pass that Messer Bernard of Assisi, who was among the most noble and rich and wise of that city, began to consider attentively St. Francis’ very great patience of injuries under such extreme contempt of the world; and beholding how, after having been thus abhorred and despised by every one for two years, he ever appeared more constant, he began to think and to say within himself: "Of a truth it is impossible that this Francis hath not great grace from God". And so he invited him to supper in the evening and to lodge in his house; and St. Francis accepted and supped with him and lodged. Then Messer Bernard was minded to contemplate his sanctity; and thereunto he caused a bed to be prepared in his own chamber, in the which, at night, a lamp was always kept burning. And St. Francis, to conceal his sanctity, having entered into the chamber, forthwith cast himself upon the bed and feigned to sleep; and in like manner, Messer Bernard, after a little while, laid himself down and began to snore loudly as if he were fast asleep. Whereupon, believing that in very truth Messer Bernard slept, St. Francis presently rose from his bed and betook himself to prayer, lifting up his eyes and hands to heaven, and saying, with great devotion and fervour: "My God, my God". And so saying and weeping continually, he abode even until morning, always repeating: "My God, my God," and nothing else. And this St. Francis said, contemplating and marvelling at the excellence of the Divine Majesty which vouchsafed to give grace to the perishing world, and, through His mendicant Francis, to provide a remedy of salvation for his soul and for the souls of others. Wherefore, illuminated by the Holy Ghost or else by the spirit of prophecy, and foreseeing the great things that
[paragraph continues] God would do through him and through his Order, and mindful of his own insufficiency and little worth, he called unto God and prayed Him that of His pity and omnipotence, without which human weakness can do nothing, He would supply, aid and complete that which, of himself, he (St. Francis) could not do. Now, when Messer Bernard had seen by the light of the lamp the very devout actions of St. Francis, and had reverently considered the words which he spake, he was touched and inspired by the Holy Ghost to change his life. Wherefore, when day was come, he called St. Francis and said unto him: "Friar Francis, I am altogether disposed in my heart to renounce the world and to follow thee in that which thou shalt command me". Hearing this St. Francis rejoiced in spirit and said: "Messer Bernard, this which you speak of is so great and difficult a work, that we ought to seek the counsel of our Lord Jesus Christ touching the same, and to pray Him to vouchsafe to show us His will therein and teach us how we may bring the same to good effect. Wherefore let us go together to the house of the bishop, where there is a good priest, and him will we cause to say Mass, and afterward we will continue in prayer until terce, beseeching God that, in three openings of the missal, He may show us the way which it is His will that we should choose." Thereto Messer Bernard made answer that he was well content. Wherefore they presently departed and gat them to the bishop's house; and after they had heard Mass and had continued in prayer until terce, the priest, at the request of St. Francis, took the missal, and having made the sign of the most holy cross, opened it three times in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. At the first opening, they found that saying which Christ spake in the Gospel to the young man which inquired
the way of perfection: If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give the to poor and follow Me. At the second opening, they found that saying which Christ spake to the Apostles, when He sent them forth to preach: Take nothing for your journey, neither staff, nor scrip, nor shoes, nor money; intending thereby to teach them that they ought to set all their hope of living upon God, and to turn all their thoughts to preaching the Holy Gospel. At the third opening of the missal they found that saying which Christ spake: If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. Then said St. Francis to Messer Bernard: "Behold the counsel which Christ gives us. Go then, and do thoroughly that which thou hast heard, and blessed be our Lord Jesus Christ who hath vouchsafed to show us His evangelic way". When he had heard this, Messer Bernard departed and sold all that he had; and he was very rich. And with great rejoicing he gave everything to widows, to orphans, to prisoners, to monasteries, to hospitals and to pilgrims; and in everything St. Francis faithfully and providently aided him. Now a certain man whose name was Messer Sylvester, when he saw that St. Francis gave and caused to be given so much money to the poor, was moved by avarice and said: "Thou didst not pay me in full for those stones which thou boughtest of me to repair the church; wherefore, now that thou hast money, pay me". Then St. Francis, marvelling at his avarice and not wishing to contend with him, as a true follower of the Holy Gospel, put his hands into the bosom of Messer Bernard and, having filled them with money, put them into the bosom of Messer Sylvester, saying that if he wanted more he would give him more. Messer Sylvester, being content with that which he had received, departed and went to
his house; and in the evening bethinking him of that which he had done during the day, and considering the zeal of Messer Bernard and the sanctity of St. Francis, he repented him of his avarice; and on the night thereafter and on the two following nights, he had a vision from God, wherein he beheld how from the mouth of St. Francis issued a cross of gold, the top whereof reached to heaven, and the arms whereof extended from the East even unto the West. By reason of this vision he gave away all that he had for love of God and became a minor friar; and he was of such holiness and grace in the Order, that he spake with God even as one friend speaketh with another, according as St. Francis many times approved, and as shall be hereinafter set forth. In like manner Messer Bernard had so much grace from God that he was ofttimes carried away in contemplation to God; and of him St. Francis said that he was worthy of all reverence, and that he had founded this Order, because he was the first who had left the world, keeping back nothing for himself, but giving everything to Christ's poor; and, when he began evangelic poverty, offering himself naked in the arms of the Crucified; the which be blessed by us for ever and ever. Amen.