"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.
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!"
Facing problems effectively
Capistrano 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 possible.
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.
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.
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.
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?"
Bernardino 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.
had arrived and Bernardino was immersed in a cacophony of cries from
birds, cicadas, and tree frogs. He sat down on a stone in front of 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.
Focusing your efforts
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 admission of novices.
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.
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."
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
Don't fall into paralysis
"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
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
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
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