Tuesday, July 14, 2015

St. Bonaventure: A Great Saint and Teacher

The Franciscan Order every year with the arrival of 15th July gets geared up to celebrate the feast of St. Bonaventure because of honor and respect, devotion and faith that every friar has for him. 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.” We, the Capuchins of Maharashtra are fortunate to have him as our patron of the province who is a great teacher and saint who encourages us to live a Spirit filled Capuchin Franciscan life. The Church and the Franciscan Order appreciates this great son of St. Francis of Assisi for many divine gifts and virtues, which have helped the Franciscan Order to walk in the footsteps of our Seraphic Father Francis. The entire Franciscan brotherhood is grateful to him even today for his hard-work for the expansion of the Order. While working for the Order he maintained and instilled in the hearts and minds of the friars a spirit of unity and admonished them to preserve it at any cost. He was able to calm the threat of internal dissension that arose over differences in interpreting the message of St. Francis of Assisi with a strong faith in Christ and adherence to the Catholic teaching and faith. That is the reason he promoted the study of philosophy and theology in the Order to have a clear understanding of the person of Jesus Christ and the Church. Pope Benedict rightly called St. Bonaventure as a man of action and contemplation, of profound piety and prudent government.” The Pope also mentioned that “Christ always played the central role in Bonaventure's life and teaching,” and to imitate the way in which “the whole of his thinking was profoundly Christo-centric.” 

An excerpt from St. Bonaventure would paint a picture of a great Doctor of the Church who lived what he wrote and taught.  “ … ask for grace not instruction, desire not understanding, the groaning of prayer not diligent reading, God not man, darkness not clarity, not light but fire that inflames and carries us into God. … let us impose silence upon our cares, our desires and our imaginings. … let us pass out of this world to the Father … You are the God of my heart, and the God that is my portion forever …” He was faithful to his motto in his spiritual quest for God: “To God alone be honor and glory.” And his spirituality presents that he gave honor and glory by being devoted to the sacred humanity of Christ, his life and death. You take up his books and you will immediately understand that he gave priority to prayer over research and faith in God was above anything else.
St. Bonaventure teaches us that when God is given a primary place in human life there are fewer chances for all kinds of evil to thrive in the society. Every human person becomes other-centered rather than self-centered. There is more peace and brotherhood than war and worry in the world when God plays an important role in our society. When ego and knowledge takes precedence over Divine then men make things of the world as an end to achieve liberation and salvation. When God alone is honored and glorified the world is a better place for divine and human interaction and communication. 

St. Bonaventure invites us to contemplate on the nature of God that is of the highest good, and to be the highest good requires a quality of self-giving that enriches the giver and the receiver. Today’s world is forgetting this concept of self-giving because we have lost the original goodness that God places in us. We do know that someone whom we love and we gift them which bring joy and happiness. We feel enriched, and so does the receiver. But Bonaventure teaches that we need to model our giving on that of the Holy Trinity where the act of self-giving is continuous among them and to the rest of the universe. If we are aware of primary goodness then we will not be grumbling of giving ourselves to create a better society and world around us. 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.”

When Bonaventure says that to God alone be honor and glory he means that God should not be pushed to the corner and displace Him from our Lives. When this act takes place material world dominates our human life, captures every fiber of our being and becomes source of all hatred, worries and wars. We need to act and make Jesus Christ as a model of self-giving. St. Bonaventure says that "Meditation on Christ in His humanity is corporeal in deed, in fact, but spiritual in mind. . . . By adopting this habit, you will steady your mind, be trained to virtues, and receive strength of soul....Let meditation of Christ's life be your one and only aim, your rest, your food, your desire, your study.". To understand the spirituality of Bonaventure one has to surrender to the Will of Christ who is called “both the way and the door” and “the staircase and the vehicle”. When one does make this act of self-surrender and self-giving one can experience, as much as possible even here on earth a taste of paradise. But St. Bonaventure 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.”
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