Saint Bonaventure, known as the “seraphic doctor” enlightens our mind with the splendor of his teaching and stimulates us with his ardent love for God. His wisdom came from meditating in the humanity of Christ and on his Passion. He was a close friend and companion of Saint Thomas Aquinas, and both rank among the six prominent Doctors of the Church. The other four are Saint Ambrose, Saint Augustine, Saint Jerome and Saint Gregory the Great.
Bonaventure was born to John Fidanza and Mary Ritella in 1221 at Bagnorea near Viterbo, Italy. At baptism he was named John. When he was four years old, he fell critically ill. His mother took him to Saint Francis of Assisi and begged him to pray for his recovery. Francis knelt and prayed and then blessed the child who was cured instantly. Seeing this Francis exclaimed, “O, bona ventura!” (O good things to come!). From that time onwards the child was called Bonaventura in his mother-tongue. Bonaventure in English.
Mary Ritella instilled sentiments of true piety and devotion in her son who excelled in his studies. When he was 17, she told him of a vow she had made when he was critically ill, to consecrate him to the service of God, and so he entered the Franciscan Order. He was sent to the University of Paris for his theological studies. There he met Saint Thomas Acquinas and the two became friends. Shortly after his ordination he was appointed to teach his confreres, and before long, at the age of 25 was required for this appointment, an exception was made in his case. The young professor was very popular, and students thronged to hear him.
In 1257, at the suggestion of Pope Alexander IV, Bonaventure, aged 36, was elected General of his Order. The fifty-year-old Franciscan Order had already 20,000 members then. The order was riddled with dissensions, but soon he restored peace. At the General Chapter of Norbonne in 1260 he gave the Order its first Constitution. Unlike Saint Francis, he did not forbid the friars to accept money, but asked them “to use what is indispensable in the measure that is indispensable”. Bonaventure was noted for his peaceful approach to all questions, even controversial ones.
In 1265 Pope Clement IV appointed him Archbishop of York, but he humbly excused himself. However in 1273 Pope Gregory X made him Cardinal and Bishop of Albano so that with greater authority he could direct the proceedings of the General Council of Lyons that was to begin the following year. His motto was “To God alone honor and glory”. It is said that the Pope’s emissaries who arrived with the cardinal’s hat found Bonaventure busy washing and cleaning, he asked them to hang the hat on a tree till he finished. When the Council met, Bonaventure was it moving spirit.
One important objective of the Council was the reunion of the Greeks with the Catholic Church. On 29 June 1274 this was accomplished, and Bonaventure assisted in the solemn thanksgiving. The following day he fell ill. As his condition did not allow him to receive Holy Viaticum, he asked that the Blessed Sacrament be brought to his bedside. The Sacred Host flew from the priests hand and rested on the saint’s heart. In this experience of heavenly joy he breathed his last on the night of July 14, 1274. He was 53 years old. Pope Gregory and all the Prelates gathered for the Council took part in his funeral on the 15th.
Bonaventure was canonized by Pope Sixtus IV in 1482, and declared a doctor of the Church by Pope Sixtus v in 1588.
Bonaventure dedicated himself to the study of the law of God and poured forth words of wisdom. His wisdom came from above, and was marked by purity and peacefulness. During the busy years of teaching, preaching and administration, he managed to do considerable writing. He wrote on Franciscan history and spirituality and on philosophy, theology and Scripture. His biography of Saint Francis of Assisi is considered the best. His “Journey of the Soul to God” and “The Threefold Way” are outstanding spiritual and mystical works. Bonaventure had a deep devotion to the Passion of our Savior. His works include an Office of the Passion composed for the personal use of King Saint Louis IX. Bonaventure stressed on love and the part played by the intellect. In response to a question asked by old Friar Egidius he replied, “Certainly a poor old lady can love God better than a doctor in theology”. And even better than our Father Bonaventure”, laughed the Friar cordially.
The popular devotion to Saint Bonaventure increased when in 1434 his remains were exhumed and his head was found incorrupt. Sadly, it was lost during the troubles of the French Revolution. Several miracles were wrought by the intercession of Saint Bonaventure. When the plaque raged in Lyons in 1628, the people and the clergy took his relics in procession and the plaque ceased immediately.
May we too benefit from the intercession of this great Doctor of the Church and follow his example of humility, simplicity, love for God and love for neighbor. May he help us to learn divine wisdom and to walk the path of holiness.
Main source of reading: George Kaitholil, SSP: FEASTDAY HOMILIES, pages 191-193.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, on this feast of Saint Bonaventure, enlighten our minds with splendor of his teaching , and help us to imitate his example of humility, simplicity, love for God and love for neighbor. We also humbly ask Your mercy through his intercessions to help the world fighting the Covid-19 Pandemic. We pray this in the most precious name of our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Jakarta, 15 July 2020
A Christian Pilgrim