"I have never seen times like these," admitted Bernardino. "The pest has wiped out half of the population of Siena." Giovanni Capistrano looked at his friend and shook his head. "We are indeed facing the end of the world," he replied.
"We have run out of salt for the fish, ink
for the copyists, and candles for the chapel," enumerated Bernardino.
"We don't even have cloth to make robes for the novices!"
When catastrophes happen
took in a deep breath and, instead of giving an answer, he murmured a
prayer. He was convinced that the catastrophes that had happened during
the last years were a punishment from God and that no resistance was
In the year 1419, the economic depression ravaging
Tuscany had reached gigantic proportions. Bernardino was 39 years old
and he had seen with his own eyes land prices go down by 80% in a
twenty-year period. It was difficult to imagine that things could get
worse than they were already.
Although Bernardino appreciated
Giovanni Capistrano highly, he was also conscious that his friend was
more gifted for theological disputes than for solving practical
problems. Since Bernardino was the prior of Santa Maria Monastery,
finding solutions was his job.
The need to be alone for a while
After the morning prayer, he left
the chapel through the back door, crossed the monastery's orchard, and
walked into the woods. Like every time he had to make a difficult decision, he needed to be alone for a while.
"We have hardly
enough to eat as it is now," Bernardino reflected as he advanced towards
the river. "Should I tell novices that our monastery cannot accept new
vocations at this time and send them away?"
stood still and looked around puzzled. Something had changed since the
last time he had been in the woods, but he couldn't tell what.
Intrigued, he advanced fifty steps and reached the riverbank. It was
only at that moment that Bernardino realized what had interrupted his
thoughts. It was the noise! He was so used to long hours of silence in
the monastery that he had forgotten the relentless sound of nature.
Concentrating your mind
had arrived and Bernardino was immersed in a cacophony of cries from
birds, cicadas, and tree frogs. He sat down on a stone beside the
water and tried to concentrate his mind on the most pressing problems.
every year, the summer had made the river water level go down by two
feet, uncovering in the middle of the stream a long, narrow island.
Bernardino knew it well, since it had served him as playground in his
childhood, many years ago.
Bushes that had remained submerged
during the winter were now showing deep green colours and had become the
ideal basis for swallows to build their mud-nests. Bernardino smiled
when two yellow butterflies flew above his shoulders, fearlessly headed
towards the island.
He lowered his head and prayed silently for
guidance. Nine young men had requested to join the Santa Maria Monastery
as novices. Bernardino was the prior and it was up to him to decide on
the postulants' admission.
The economic depression had drained
the monastery's resources to such an extent that there was no way for
Bernardino to feed nine additional monks, let alone provide them with
novice's robes. On the other hand, additional help was badly needed to
cultivate the monastery's land.
Finding workable solutions
When Bernardino returned to the
monastery one hour later, he found Giovanni Capistrano sitting on a
bench in front of the chapel, reading the Bible. "I have found a
solution," announced Bernardino approaching his friend. Capistrano
lifted his eyes from the book and scrutinized Bernardino's face. "To the
economic crisis?" he retorted sceptically. "Or do you mean a solution
to the pest that is decimating the population of nearby cities?"
we cannot change the whole world," went on Bernardino, "let us at least
focus our efforts on doing whatever we can to improve our situation."
Giovanni Capistrano closed the Bible and stared at Bernardino, wondering
what he was talking about.
"I was sitting by the river thinking
about our problems," Bernardino continued, "when I realized that the
solution was before my eyes. It is summer now and swallows have built
their nests on the island in the middle of the river."
The energy that never stops
around and pointed at the cedar tree beside the chapel. "The energy of
nature never stops. Season after season, year after year, animals and
plants grow and live further. If there is a storm, birds might stand
still for a few hours, but only to move on relentlessly as soon as the
"Swallows don't sit around paralysed by fear
of the end of the world," continued Bernardino. "They pick up whatever
materials are available and build their nests, trying to make the best
of any given circumstances."
Giovanni Capistrano shrugged his
shoulders. "Indeed, birds are always moving, but they are stupid animals
that cannot reflect about the future. Otherwise, swallows would not
build nests on the island every summer. When the river water level goes
up in September, the island will be flooded and the nests will be washed
You don't have to repeat past mistakes
Bernardino nodded. "That's the point, Giovanni. We are
men, not birds, and we don't have to repeat our past mistakes. On the
other hand, we can learn from animals that life is meant to be lived by
relentlessly moving forward, not by complaining that things should be
otherwise than they are."
"That's very philosophical, but I can't
see how it relates to our current problems" objected Capistrano, laying
the Bible on the bench and standing up. "That will not help the Santa
Maria Monastery feed nine new novices. Unfortunately, we have to send
those postulants away."
"No, let's welcome those new vocations
and thank God for sending them to us," answered Bernardino. "Those nine
novices are the help that we need to cultivate the monastery's land. If
necessary, we will pawn our gold chalice to get us through the next
A pro-active attitude in difficult times
Incredulous, Giovanni Capistrano shook his head. "Even
if a pawnbroker in Sienna took the chalice, that wouldn't bring us
enough money to purchase nine monk's robes for the novices."
me," ordered Bernardino, starting to moved towards the chapel. With
Giovanni Capistrano on his trail, he entered the chapel, walked past the
wooden benches, and stood still in front of the brown drapes that
covered the wall. "We'll use those to make monk's robes. When the
economy recovers, we'll have new drapes made for the chapel."
the economy recovered little by little. Six years later, by 1425, the
Santa Maria Monastery was restored to its old splendour. Bernardino's
pro-active attitude in difficult times earned him a well-deserved
reputation and, soon after, Pope Eugene IV offered him a bishop's
For more information about rational living and personal development, I refer you to my book The 10 Principles of Rational Living
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