July 15, 2016

Feast of St. Bonaventure

By gift or blessed coincidence, my turn to preside at the community Mass fell on today, the feast of our Seraphic Doctor St. Bonaventure.

I had some time to spend with him, so I returned to some texts and thought about what I might give for a homily. In the end I landed on Bonaventure's account of St. Francis descending the mountain after the experience of the stigmata:
After true love for Christ transformed the lover into his image, when the forty days were over that he spent in solitude as he had desired, and the feast of St. Michael the Archangel had also arrived, the angelic man Francis came down from the mountain, bearing with him the likeness of the crucified, depicted not on tablets of stone or on panels of wood carved by hand, but engraved on parts of his flesh by the finger of the living God. (Major Legend XIII:5)

 The comparison with Moses is bold and interesting. As Moses descended the mountain with the tablets of stone, inscribed by God with the law that would guide his people, so Francis descends with his flesh inscribed with the marks of Christ crucified. So St. Bonaventure teaches that Christ crucified is the supreme rule and guide of the Franciscan soul.

As St. Francis himself writes:
And the Lord gave me such faith in churches that I would pray with simplicity in this way and say: “We adore You, Lord Jesus Christ, in all Your churches throughout the whole world and we bless You because by Your holy cross You have redeemed the world.” (St. Francis, Testament, 4-5)
So also Bonaventure opens his Tree of Life (Lignum vitae):
The true worshiper of God and disciple of Christ, who wants to conform perfectly to the Savior of all men, crucified for him, should, above all, strive with earnest endeavor of the soul to carry about continuously, both in his soul and in his flesh, the cross of Christ.
Indeed this is the spirituality taught to us by St. Paul:
But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us....always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. (2 Cor 4:7,10)
It is in this sense that we can understand what St. Bonaventure says in the selection from his Itinerarium that we pray in the Office of Readings today: Christ is the way and the door. Christ is the ladder and the vehicle.

By joining ourselves to the humanity of Christ crucified in our praying for one another, in our charity, and in our own sacrifices, his sacred humanity becomes the means by which we travel through the suffering of sin and the misery we have brought upon this world to becoming citizens of the new creation inaugurated in Christ's resurrection.

In the end it is about adoring and following in the footsteps of a Love that reveals itself as cruciform, and in so revealing itself as cruciform love, makes itself the Way.

As St. Bonaventure affirms, via autem non est nisi per ardentissimum amorem crucifixi. "There is no way but through the most burning love of the crucified." (Itinerarium, prologue)


Anonymous said...

I suspected, and hoped, that you would post on the feast of St. Bonaventure. Thanks for an excellent post.

Brother Charles said...

Thanks for the comment!

Louis M said...

Beautiful reflection Father. Thank you and God bless you. Happy Feast Day!