If you’re like me, you probably never heard of Saint Bernardino of Siena (1380–1444). I learned about him a couple of weeks ago when I read a summary of his life. His feast day is on May 20, the same day as my birthday. This year, when I turned 57, I decided that it was time for me to learn about the saint who is honored by the Catholic Church every year on my birthday.
Saint Bernardino was a Franciscan missionary who was considered to be one of the greatest preachers of his time. He was known throughout Italy for his ability to captivate audiences with his simple and direct style of speaking. Although he died more than 500 years ago, Bernardino preached against many of the same evils that are plaguing the world today — immodest clothing, gambling, homosexuality, indecent conversation, blasphemy, witchcraft, and the excess of luxurious living.
What surprised me about Bernardino was that in addition to boldly speaking out against the most egregious sins of his time, he also vigorously defended the right of an individual to own private property and to profit from the operation of a business. Bernardino wrote a book, On Contracts and Usury, which dealt with the economics of the marketplace and the important role of the entrepreneur in making goods available for people to purchase.
The dictionary defines “entrepreneur” as “one who organizes, manages, and assumes the risks of a business or enterprise.”
Bernardino wrote that an entrepreneur is endowed by God with a rare combination of unique gifts that enable him to take risks, work harder than most other people, assume responsibility for complex tasks, and create new efficiencies. He pointed out that since all callings provide occasions for sin, a person called to be an entrepreneur can choose to act either lawfully or unlawfully.
While Bernardino was critical of certain business practices, he made it clear that an entrepreneur is entitled to keep the profits from his business as compensation for his labor, expenses, hardships, and willingness to take risks.
Over the course of our country’s history, it has been the entrepreneurs who have contributed the most to the growth of our economy, the rise in our standard of living, and the creature comforts that we are all able to enjoy on a daily basis.
Hundreds of times each week, you and I are able to light up the darkness because an entrepreneur — Thomas Edison — used his God-given gifts to persevere through more than 10,000 experiments so that he could create a miraculous little glass bulb that had the ability to illuminate a dark room.
In the middle of winter when the temperature is below zero, you and I are able to drive from one end of a city to the other in a heated car or truck because an entrepreneur — Henry T. Ford — used his God-given gifts to create and mass-produce the first motorized vehicle.
At any time of the day or night, you and I are able to use a miniature computer that is smaller and thinner than a slice of bread to call or text a friend, surf the Internet, take pictures, or watch a video, all because an entrepreneur — Steve Jobs — used his God-given gifts to develop and mass-produce a digital device that no previous human was able to produce.
In addition to the most well-known entrepreneurs, there are thousands of others that we never see or hear about who take risks every day to bring new products and services to market. These entrepreneurs operate their own restaurants, auto repair shops, plumbing companies, medical practices, automobile dealerships, and construction companies. They take risks, work harder than most other people, assume responsibility for complex tasks, and create new efficiencies.
Despite their valuable contribution to our society and our economy, they are under constant attack from legislators, regulators, and the mainstream media for no other reason than the fact that they are profiting from their endeavors. We are told that business owners don’t deserve to keep what they earn because they are selfish and greedy.
We are also told that they should pay their “fair share” of taxes and that the government will see to it that their money is properly redistributed to those who are “less fortunate” (after the government officials skim their share of the proceeds off the top).
When I refer to entrepreneurs, I’m not talking about the corporatists who use their political clout to stack the deck in their favor. These corporatists pay off government regulators and legislators to limit competition, give them favorable tax breaks, and allow them to use cheap (illegal) foreign labor to make their products.
What most people do not realize is that when our government confiscates the profits of an entrepreneur, it reduces and limits the amount of capital that the entrepreneur has available to create new products and services which, in turn, limits the number of new employees the entrepreneur can hire. It is the entrepreneurs who use their God-given gifts to create, refine, and offer superior products and services to their fellow citizens at competitive prices.
What can we learn from Saint Bernardino? We can learn that although we’ve seen technological breakthroughs that science fiction writers were never able to fully imagine, human nature is the same today as it was during the time that Saint Bernardino was alive. Today, more than 500 years later, we are still dealing with the same sins that Saint Bernardino spoke out against — immodest clothing, gambling, homosexuality, indecent conversation, blasphemy, witchcraft, and the excess of luxurious living.
And, of course, we are still dealing with political operatives who seek to line their own pockets and extend their careers by using their power to take money from productive entrepreneurs, so they can transfer the money to people who will support and vote for them.
I can’t believe that it took me 57 years to discover this unique saint who not only stood up against the evils of the day, but also defended the rights of the entrepreneur. I’m honored to be able to celebrate my birthday on his feast day. Saint Bernardino has now earned a place on my short list of most favored saints. Bravo for all the saints that God has given us to emulate and pray to for guidance and support.