New Insights on the Gospels

March for Life 2012

Evil triumphs when good men do nothing - Edmund Burke

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

St. Bonaventure - 15th July 2009

The illustrious founder of the Franciscan Friars, St Francis, cured Bonaventure of a serious illness as a boy in central Italy through his prayers, faith and God's favor. Later, he felt called by God to join the same religious order that he obviously knew. He devoted himself, as all can, according to God's will, to earnest study and prayer. God filled others with the fruits of his learning through his example, teaching and writings. The Order of Friar Minor (OFM), and the world, through Bonaventure, was renewed through his leadership and God's graces.

Our Italian Franciscan was a close friend of St Thomas Aquinas and received his doctorate with him as a Doctor of Theology in Paris. Thomas once asked him where he acquired his learning and Bonaventure pointed to his crucifix. Reflect and dwell on these spirited filled words of his: "whoever gazes upon Christ crucified with faith, hope and love will celebrate the Passover with Him". This master of theology and philosophy illuminates us, in this one sentence, with the secret and fulfillment of life, love and infinite happiness.

He held the leading role of his religious order and later was appointed a cardinal-bishop of Albano. He actually had declined an archbishopric position at Lyons. When the Pope offered Bonaventure one position, he humbly declined. Then the pope would offer him another. He got the message and Bonaventure humbly accepted.

Another reason he is referred to as the seraphic doctor is because of the warmth found in his writings and teaching. Both were always filled and inspired with God's burning charity. In biblical literature, a seraph is one of the six-winged angels of the highest rank believed in ancient Judaism to guard God's throne with sacred ardor. We can say that every creature of God, and not only the angels, who guard themselves from evil thoughts or actions, acts in a seraphic manner. We are temples of the Most High. We contain the throne of God within us. God has given us a guardian angel to protect, rule, guide and grace us. However, we have to be on our guard to acknowledge God's love responsibly. We need to show and demonstrate acts of kindness and goodness as Bonaventure even to unkind or mean people. This requires strength and virtue. When we do this, and we can only do it with God's grace, we, too, will reveal the fervor of God's fire as blessed Bonaventure.

Our doctor first taught at the University of Paris for about ten years. His teaching enkindled God's love in his subjects. His types of questions, his explanations, his answers - all, had divine warmth to them. He was a catalyst to anyone seeking the love and knowledge of God. Both in his Scripture and Theology courses, he made known to all that God was an exuberant Lover who cared and was solicitous for all creatures.

Many attacks were lodged against the Franciscan mendicants (beg for a living and take a vow of poverty) at this time largely because of jealousy and the success of their pastoral and academic endeavors. Bonaventure attempted to defend the friars by his good example and writings, some of which included: Concerning Perfection of Life, Soliloquy and Concerning the Threefold Way.

St Bonaventure's bent was to the ascetical rather than the philosophical approach. Ten thick volumes of writings testify to his inspired zeal. He is described as a "spiritual writer of great power and authority."

Our Franciscan doctor encouraged others in his lifetime and encourages us today to have a sincere spirit of humility, devotion and repentance. We need to practice these God-given qualities. Humility is a part of truth. Sound devotion is the earnest searching after God. Contrition, conversion and repentance means sorrow for past sins. We have committed egregious wrongs and have need of God's mercy. We are incapable and inadequate to have friendship with God without God's help and compassion. Our inadequacies are apparent in nearly all that we do despite our best intentions.

Read and listen to the following quote of St Bonaventure highlighting the futile effort of only human effort and not God's graces and support. Nothing can be gained supernaturally unless humility, devotion and repentance are practiced. Pray attentively as you think about Bonaventure's quote about our inadequacies:

"reading without repentance,
knowledge without devotion,
research without the impulse of wonder,
prudence without the ability to surrender to joy,
action divorced from religion,
learning sundered from love,
intelligence without humility,
study unsustained by divine grace,
thought without the wisdom inspired of God."

We often do all of the above in a natural manner when we could sanctify them with God's help and grace. We need grace! We can not follow our natural bent and inclination. That will not do it. Even if we achieved phenomenal results, is it pleasing to God? God does not measure the amount that we do but the quality of our love that we give. Bonaventure gave until it hurt and without complaining. He probably sensed that he was very ill and questioned to himself if he should have gone to the council at Rome. However, he was not thinking about himself but the church and her needs. Obedience and goodwill urged him onward.

During this period there were many reforms and renewals being encouraged by the church and Bonaventure attempted to pacify both the right and the left. He governed his Order for seventeen years and has been justly called its second founder. He also wrote about his Seraphic Founder's life, St Francis of Assisi.

This cordial and warm gentleman attended significant church councils, preached at sessions and gave his all to the church whenever the Holy Father requested his assistance. In fact, he died attending one of these sessions.

He attempted to unite holiness and theological knowledge. And he did just that! He was a very active preacher, writer and loved by all. It has been said that to know him was to love him. To read him is still for all, especially Franciscans today, to meet a true peacemaker and a gentleman. Many tears where shed by his sudden death just as he must have caused tears of conversion when he spoke about the joy of his life: Jesus Christ, the crucified Master. He was a person of eminent learning and eloquence and of outstanding holiness known for his kindness, approachableness, gentleness, compassion and virtue. What greater tribute could one possibly say than to be described as a very warm and charming saint, doctor, teacher, reformer and founder?

From one of his discourses: "The outcome or the fruit of reading holy scripture is by no means negligible: it is the fullness of eternal happiness. For these are the books which tell us of eternal life, which were written not only that we might believe but also that we might have everlasting life. When we do live that life we shall understand fully, we shall love completely, and our desires will be totally satisfied. Then, with all our needs fulfilled we shall truly know the love that surpasses all understanding and so be filled with the fullness of God. The purpose of scriptures, which comes to us from God, is to lead us to this fullness according to the truths contained in those sayings of the apostles to which I have referred. In order to achieve this, we must study holy scripture carefully, teach it and listen to it in the same way."

He explained Mary along a Franciscan theme of poverty and giving to the poor. He cited an unknown Franciscan who claims that Mary refused to accept the gifts given to Jesus by the Magi. She distributed them to the poor.

For more about St. Bonaventure please click here

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