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A CHALLENGE TO LOVE

Father Francis's picture
Blessed Bernard of Corleone

Bernard of Corleone was a man who liked a challenge. He trained as an athlete and a fighter, and when he later joined the Capuchin Order this training proved to be an excellent preparation for his life as a friar.

He was born in Sicily in 1605 and given the name Philip. His father, a devout and charitable man, was a shoemaker. He taught Philip his trade, but the boy had very little interest in the business. He wanted action and adventure, so when his father died he took up the sport of fencing. All his time and effort went into training and competing. He wanted to be the best fencer in the country and he would face any swordsman who challenged him to a fight. He won most of his contests and achieved a good deal of fame.

But Philip's life was not entirely given up to selfish amusement. He would use his sword to defend any helpless person who was being threatened, and so the old and the weak looked to him as their champion. He had great devotion to St. Francis and Our Lady, and was frequently to be seen praying before a crucifix. One day a man named Canino challenged Philip to a duel. Canino was a hired assassin acting on behalf of a former adversary whom Philip had defeated. The two men fought desperately and Philip won the duel, but Canino was so severely injured that his arm was permanently disabled. Immediately, Philip was filled with remorse and begged forgiveness of his opponent.

As a result of this incident, Philip resolved to change his life completely and try to atone for the harm he had done. He entered the Capuchin Order in 1632, at the age of 27, and received the name Bernard. All the dedication and self-discipline he had put into his physical training were now applied to spiritual training, and he set himself a very taxing programme of penance and mortification. He volunteered for the most unpleasant and menial jobs in the community. His diet was very simple, and he chose an uncomfortable board as his bed.

Bernard loved to spend every spare moment in prayer and meditation. Sometimes he would go into the forest to pray in solitude. In his bedroom, and in the kitchen where he helped to prepare meals, he had a tiny altar dedicated to Our Lady, and he often encouraged others to deepen their devotion to her. He never learned to read. But he had a deep and sincere faith and was able to talk about his faith in a very direct and simple way. It is said that Bernard had the gift of making people feel loved and appreciated. He would do this with a hug, a smile, or a few consoling words of sympathy. He took delight in helping others, and he particularly enjoyed making soup for the poor people who came to the Friary.

Bernard died in Palermo on 12 January 1667 at the age of 62. The man who had once been famous for his prowess as a swordsman had gained an entirely different reputation, as a man of gentleness and holiness. He was loved by all those whose lives he had touched, and huge crowds attended his funeral.

How did Bernard become a saint? The change in his life seems astonishing, but the seeds were sown in his childhood and early life. His father set him an example of Christian living, faith in God and caring for other people. All this stood him in good stead when God called him to be a Capuchin Brother. Parents should never tire of encouraging their children to do good, for they never know what an impact it will have on their future lives. Perhaps you have plans for your children and you are disappointed when they choose a different way. But if you have given them a good grounding in the faith they will never be lost. How happy Bernard and his father must have been when they met in heaven.

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