Thursday, July 16, 2009
Homily for the Feast of St. Bonaventure July 15, 2009 Gospel of Matthew 11, 25-27
The painting is The Cure of St. Bonaventure as a Child by St. Francis from the Year 1628 by Francisco de Herrera, the Elder (1585-c. 1655) Louvre Museum in Paris
St. Bonaventure, is known as "the seraphic doctor" because of his burning love for God. As a priest, St. Bonaventure was a great preacher who inspired people to share his love for God. He was also great scholar with a subtle mind who wrote extensively and was able to use reason to expose sophistry and refute erroneous opinions.
St. Bonaventure had a brilliant mind which was refined by a superb education. But he understood the message of our Gospel today that a simple child could be closer to God than the most learned theologian.
Unlike the Gnostics of yesterday and today, who believe that you can only find enlightenment by gaining access to some secret knowledge, Christ revealed his teaching to all. It is the humble who accept it. St. Bonaventure taught that the key to unlocking the treasure of the grace Christ offers is self-surrender. Whereas, worldly wisdom, pride and supposed cleverness get in the way of a relationship with God.
In the Broadway musical South Pacific one of the characters sings the following song:
You've got to be taught to hate and fear,
you've got to be taught from year to year,
it's got to be drummed in your dear little ear---
you've got to be carefully taught!
A child who looks at an ultrasound sees a baby. He must be taught that what he is seeing is not a person like himself, but a blob of tissue, something sub-human, a fetus, a threat.
A child, an uneducated but loving grandmother with a simple faith can often have greater spiritual wisdom than a learned Professor.
A person could have an IQ of 200. He could have several doctorates, but lack common sense and the wisdom that comes from faith in God. St. Bonaventure said “If there is anyone who is not enlightened by this sublime magnificence of created things, he is blind. If there is anyone who, seeing all these works of God, does not praise Him, he is dumb; if there is anyone who, from so many signs, cannot perceive God, that man is foolish.” He also said “In everything, whether it is a thing sensed or a thing known, God Himself is hidden within.”
Bonaventure was born in Tuscany circa 1221 and given the name Giovanni. According to legend, when he was about four years old he had a severe illness. The doctors who treated him couldn’t do anything for him and he was dying. In desperation his mother brought him to St. Francis of Assisi who was preaching in the area. St. Francis prayed over him and he was immediately healed. St. Francis also sensed his future greatness and prophesied "O Buona ventura" Oh blessed things to come! So when he entered the Franciscan Order, he was given the name Bonaventure. We do know for certain that St. Bonaventure claimed to have been preserved from death as a child through the intercession of St. Francis.
The University of Paris was the greatest institution of higher learning in the world at that time. Bonaventure’s parents sent him there to study under an Alexander of Hales, an Englishman and founder of the Franciscan School. When Alexander died he continued to study under John of Rochelle. He received his licentiate in 1248 which gave him the right to teach publicly at the University. He became a colleague and close friend of St. Thomas Aquinas who also taught at the University. Both saints were also friends with St. King Louis IX. Bonaventure taught there until 1256. St. Bonaventure’s days at the University were far from peaceful. Throughout his years there a controversy had been brewing which would eventually erupt into full force against the mendicant orders.
The Franciscan and Dominican Orders were new and revolutionary. They sought to imitate Christ in a radical form of poverty. They preached and begged for their living. The success of the mendicant orders was a reproof to the worldliness around them. Secular clergy previously had a monopoly of teaching posts, but now the mendicant orders had gained some prominent lecturing positions and secular clergy wanted the mendicants to be suspended. The controversy brought the University to the point of near-collapse.
Guillaume de Saint- Amour led the attack by the secular clergy. In 1254, he and five other masters petitioned Pope Innocent IV to have the mendicants suspended. The Pope intervened to limit the power of the friars and reduce the number of lecturing posts that they could occupy at the university. However, their victory was short-lived. Innocent IV died in December of that year and was replaced by Pope Alexander I who had been the cardinal protector of the Franciscans. Alexander promptly overturned the restrictions imposed by his predecessor.
Saint- Amour attacks became even more vitriolic. Pope Alexander responded by ordering an inquiry into his orthodoxy. This resulted in Saint- Amour being suspended from all teaching and administrative duties. In 1256, Saint- Amour produced De periculis novissimorum temporum (On the Dangers of the Final Days), his most vicious tirade against the friars. In it he ridiculed the more extreme speculations on the last days by of some friars who predicted that the fraternal orders would usher in the third and final age of the world, a glorious era of the Holy Spirit. De Periculis implied that the friars would help precipitate the end of the world, but only because they would facilitate the coming of the Antichrist. St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Albert the Great, both Dominican friars, answered the treatise. St. Bonaventure also responded with De Pauertate Christ (Of the Poverty of Christ).
A curial committee examined De Periculis. In 1257, Pope Alexander ordered it to be burned. He also excommunicated William, and exiled him from France. The Friars were reinstated. In the following year, St. Bonaventure and St. Thomas Aquinas received their Doctorates of Theology together.
Perhaps he was thinking about some of the proud men he met at the University of Paris when he wrote in his Itinerarium Mentis in Deum (The Journey of the Mind to God) invites the reader to recognize the inadequacy of '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 by God'"
At the age of thirty-five, he became the General of the Franciscan Order and helped to resolve some internal dissension and composed a biography of St. Francis. He took a middle path by strengthening discipline, but not going to the extremes that some of the rigorists had demanded. He’s considered the second founder of the Franciscan Order.
St. Bonaventure was known for his cheerfulness. This was a fruit of his inner peace. He himself said “A spiritual joy is the greatest sign of the divine grace dwelling in a soul.”
In 1257, Pope Clement IV asked him to become the Archbishop of York, but after St. Bonaventure begged permission not to accept this great honor and responsibility and another man was chosen. But eight years later he was chosen to be Bishop of Albano by Pope Gregory X. Castel Gandolfo, the Pope’s summer residence is currently in this area. When the papal envoys found him to give him the cardinal’s hat, St. Bonaventure was at a monastery washing dishes. Since his hands were full of grease, he asked them to leave it hanging on a tree until his hands were free to take it.
It was through his efforts that the Greeks were briefly reconciled with the Church of Rome, but they split again after his death.
He died suddenly during the night of July 14-15, 1274, during the Council of Lyons. His secretary believed he had been poisoned. He was canonized and declared a Doctor of the Church in 1482.
The key to understanding the spirituality of St. Bonaventure is surrendering your will to Christ who he called “both the way and the door” and “the staircase and the vehicle”.
When one does make this act of self-surrender you can experience, as much as possible even here on earth a taste of paradise. But he says “It cannot be comprehended by anyone unless he surrenders himself to it; nor can he surrender himself to it unless he longs for it; nor can he long for it unless the Holy Spirit, whom Christ sent into the world, should come and inflame his innermost soul.”
To do this he says we need to “seek the answer in God’s grace, not in doctrine; in the longing of the will, not in the understanding; in the sighs of prayer, not in research; seek the bridegroom not the teacher; God and not man; darkness not daylight; and look not to the light but rather to the raging fire that carries the soul to God with intense fervor and glowing love.”
“Let us die, then, and enter into the darkness, silencing our anxieties, our passions and all the fantasies of our imagination. Let us pass over with the crucified Christ from this world to the Father, so that, when the Father has shown himself to us, we can say with Philip: It is enough.” (John 14,8)
(Based on a homily given at a Mass for the Staff of Priests For Life in Staten Island, NY July 15, 2009. After Communion Jim Pinto recited the following prayer composed by St. Bonaventure.)
Pierce, O my sweet Lord Jesus, my inmost soul with the most joyous and healthful wound of your love, with true serene and most holy apostolic charity, that my soul may ever languish and melt with love and longing for you, that it may yearn for you and faint for your courts, and long to be dissolved and to be with you. Grant that my soul may hunger after you, the bread of angels, the refreshment of holy souls, our daily and supernatural bread, having all sweetness and savor and every delight of taste; let my heart hunger after and feed upon you, upon whom the angels desire to look, and may my inmost soul be filled with the sweetness of your savor; may it ever thirst after you, the fountain of life, the fountain of wisdom and knowledge, the fountain of eternal light, the torrent of pleasure, the richness of the house of God; may it ever compass you, seek you, find you, run to you, attain you, meditate upon you, speak of you and do all things to the praise and glory of your name, with humility and discretion, with love and delight, with ease and affection, and with perseverance unto the end; may you alone be ever my hope, my entire assistance, my riches, my delight, my pleasure, my joy, my rest and tranquility, my peace, my sweetness, my fragrance, my sweet savor, my food, my refreshment, my refuge, my help, my wisdom, my portion, my possession and my treasure, in whom may my mind and my heart be fixed and firm and rooted immovably, henceforth and forever. Amen.