July 14, 2017

St. Bonaventure, Franciscan Doctor of the Church

St. Bonaventure

Memorial of St. Bonaventure - July 15th

Legend has it that it was Saint Francis of Assisi who gave Saint Bonaventure his name, long before anyone else realized to what heights this young boy would ascend. As a child, Bonaventure — who was baptized John — became seriously ill. His mother, hoping that the saint would intercede with God on behalf of her son, brought him to St. Francis. Francis did pray for the boy and he was made well. The saint also foresaw a great future for the child. "O Buona ventura!" (O Good Fortune!) Francis was reported to have exclaimed, and the name stuck. Whether or not there is truth to this story is debatable; however, Bonaventure went on to live a life of compassion, holiness, and remarkable scholarship, leaving an indelible imprint on the Franciscan Order and the Universal Church.

Born in the town of Bagnoregio, Italy, around the year 1217, the boy who would become the saint grew up in relative obscurity. Little is known of his early years; even the exact year of his birth is uncertain. It was only when he entered the Franciscan Order at the age of 22, that any reliable information about him becomes available. Recognizing his superb intellectual gifts, Bonaventure was sent to Paris to study under Alexander of Hales, one of the most outstanding Scholastic theologians of his day. Praised by that scholar for his "virtue and brilliance," Bonaventure went on to teach in Paris with another intellectual giant, Saint Thomas Aquinas. Both became friends of the French king, Saint Louis IX.

Bonaventure  became minister general of the Franciscan Order in 1257 at the age of 36. This was a more difficult position than it might appear on the surface because at the time, the Franciscan Order was suffering from internal divisions between two factions, each of whom interpreted the Rule of St. Francis of Assisi differently. Bonaventure not only reconciled these groups, thereby bringing unity to the Order, but he also wrote a biography of St. Francis, which helped elucidate and clarify the true ideals and teachings of the great Franciscan mystic and saint.

His wisdom and charity also led him to preside at the Second Council of Lyons, which was convened in 1274 and attempted to reestablish the unity of the Church following the 1054 schism between the Western Church governed by the pope at Rome, and the Eastern Church headed by the patriarch of Constantinople. The agreements reached at this meeting were short-lived, only lasting until 1289.

In the midst of this council, on July 15, 1274, St. Bonaventure died. The pope and all those in attendance were shocked and grief-stricken. A contemporary chronicler described their feelings about the saint this way: "A man of eminent learning and eloquence, and of outstanding holiness, he was known for his kindness, gentleness, and compassion. Full of virtue, he was beloved of both God and man, whoever came to know him was at once drawn to a deep love of him."

Because of his formidable intellect and wisdom, St. Bonaventure, who is a Doctor of the Church, has also acquired the sobriquet “the Seraphic” or angelic doctor.  In him the ideals and virtues of St. Francis of Assisi came together in such a way that he not only helped transform the Franciscan Order, but also enriched the Universal Church.  Grant, we pray, almighty God, that, just as we celebrate the heavenly birthday of the Bishop Saint Bonaventure, we may benefit from his great learning and constantly imitate the ardor of his charity. Through our Lord Jesus Christ who reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever. Amen.

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