Franciscan Spirit Blog

Bernard of Quintavalle: First Companion of Saint Francis

Tau Cross

Bernard, one of the wealthiest young men of Assisi, became intrigued by reports about one of his peers—Francesco di Bernardone, previously known as something of a dandy and carouser—who had recently aroused wonder, as well as ridicule, by his ostentatious embrace of poverty. His curiosity piqued, Bernard invited Francis to dine with him and spend the night in his home.

During the course of the night, he was so moved by the sound of his guest’s ardent prayers that he confronted Francis the next day and asked his help in discerning God’s will. Opening the missal at random, Francis alighted on the text, “If you wish to be perfect, go and sell all you own, and give it to the poor.” A second time he opened the book and found, “Take nothing for your journey.” On a third attempt, he found, “If anyone would follow me, let him deny himself.” “This is the advice that the Lord has given us,” Francis proclaimed. “Go and do as you have heard.” Taking these instructions to heart, Bernard disposed of his property and adopted Francis’s way of life.

Becoming one of Francis’s most trusted companions, Bernard accompanied him on many journeys. He established a house in Bologna and undertook a special mission to the shrine at Santiago de Compostela. When Francis was on his deathbed in 1226, “like the patriarch Jacob, with his devoted sons standing around him, grieving and weeping over the departure of so beloved a father,” he asked, “Where is my firstborn son?” Placing his hand on Bernard, he bestowed a special blessing, and enjoined him to “be the head of all your Brothers.”

Bernard himself died around 1241 and was buried near his spiritual father in the Basilica of Saint Francis. His last words were, “I find this in my soul: not for a thousand worlds equal to this one would I want not to have served Our Lord Jesus Christ…. My dearest brothers, I beg you to love one another.”

“Of Bernard, 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.” — From The Little Flowers of St. Francis

Follower of St. Francis

Bernard was highly esteemed and respected for his virtue and wisdom. He was attracted by the example of Francis, especially his genuine humility and love for the poor, but he wished to determine its authenticity. Bernard invited Francis to spend the night with him in his home where he secretly planned to observe his guest more closely. While Bernard pretended to sleep, Francis quietly slipped from his bed and spent the remaining hours of the night absorbed in deep communion with God. In the morning, convinced that Francis was deeply in love with God, Bernard confessed his desire to join him as a disciple, and together they attended Mass at the church of St. Nicholas where they sought spiritual direction from the priest. Opening the Gospel book, Francis and Bernard discovered three foundational messages for the future Order:

If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me (Matthew 19:21). He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts (Mark 6:8). If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me (Matthew 16:24).

Hearing this, Bernard sold his possessions, gave the money to the poor, and became the first companion to join Francis in his new evangelical experiment. In 1209, Francis chose Bernard to lead the first group of friars to Rome to ask approval from the pope for this new propositum vitae—plan of life as mendicant brothers. He was also trusted to lead the brothers in their missionary journey to Spain. Bernard remained close to Francis throughout his life.

The Franciscan Saints

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