Sometimes it can be a little hard to understand a saint’s connection to a particular patronage he or she has been assigned over the centuries, but in the case of St. Bernardine of Siena (Feast Day, May 20) the connections are crystal clear. He’s the patron of advertisers and marketers.
Yep. Patron saint of the people in Madmen. Who needs intercession more than that bunch?
There are two particularly strong connections between St. Bernardine and the marketing & advertising community; they cover both the visual and verbal perspectives that combine to create effective messages.
Verbally, St. Bernardine—famous for his preaching—would take great care over crafting his sermons, drafting them as many as four times (without word processing software). Visually, we have St. Bernardine to thank for one of the Church’s most recognized symbols: “IHS” (the first three letters of Jesus’ name in Greek). Not the first logo in the history of Christianity but certainly a famous one.
Evangelization is, in a sense, something of a marketing endeavor. That’s not to say it’s the same thing as hawking products on TV, but it is about convincing an audience; for instance, when Paul used the altar to an unknown god as an opportunity to make a point to the people of Athens, he was making use of language and thinking that would connect with his “market.”
So what lessons can we learn for St Bernardine of Siena?
1. Pick something you care about
From volunteering with plague victims in Siena’s largest hospital, to the many months he spent taking care of the needs of an invalid aunt, to all of the miles he walked between preaching engagements, St. Bernardine was a model of genuine caring. What does that mean for us? Let’s not evangelize out of just a sense of responsibility; lack of enthusiasm will eventually show. Find an aspect of the faith that means a lot to you and make it your specialty. That’s a great place to start, and you can build from there.
2. Understand your audience
Whether he was preaching against immodesty, gambling or cheating people financially, St. Bernardine knew the specifics of what was going on in the places where he preached. Most of us won’t be going up against his level of challenges, but taking some time to understand where people are in terms of their knowledge of our faith is a smart thing to do. Are you speaking to someone with no idea about Catholicism? Are you speaking to a Catholic who was taught some less-than-kosher catechesis? Is the subject you’ve chosen to make the focus of your evangelizing at this point in time going to be useful to the individual in front of you?
3. Prepare your information
You don’t have to write four drafts of everything you want to say, but learning more than some basics about the aspect of the faith you want to share with people is important. Is your focus going to be the sacraments? Get to know all seven well. Do you want to tell people about Mary and her ability to bring us closer to Jesus? Be ready to explain the difference between the Incarnation and the Immaculate Conception and a whole lot more.
4. Call for backup when you need it.
Just as St. Bernardine got people to imprint banners and other things with his “IHS” logo, and those things went on to have their various effects on others, you can take advantage of the many great tracts, DVDs, CDs and religious artworks that are related to the subjects you want to evangelize about. You might even put together your own visually interesting fact sheets to share with people.
5. Show up
Many say that Woody Allen coined the familiar saying, “90% of life is showing up.” Whoever said it, they weren’t wrong. St. Bernardine was always there when he was needed. He took on everything that came his way when battling plague at that Siena hospital and he did everything he could to get where his preaching was needed. For us, that means staying alert, listening to people and speaking up when we see an opportunity to evangelize.