Friday, July 14, 2006

Saint Bonaventure

SAINT BONAVENTURE, whom we honor today, was a great leader and reconciler in the Church. As a scholar trained in the Neo-Platonic tradition of Saint Augustine, he had to contend with the reintroduction of the Aristotelian corpus. As Minister-General of the Franciscans, he had to mediate between the Zelati, who were fastidious about the strict observance of the Rule and the Relaxati, who were impatient about introducing reforms and mitigations.

While some may contrast him against Saint Thomas Aquinas, with whom he disputed on so many matters but who nevertheless remained his good friend, as an adamant disciple of Plato and Augustine who refused to accommodate the newly-found Aristotelian teachings, he nevertheless maintained an open mind and is even known to have quoted Aristotle more than any of the scholastics. Placed at the helm of his order in such a difficult time that threatened its stability if not survival, he unified his brethren by subduing both extremes and finding a middle way that preserved tradition and at the same time adapted changes that were for the better, such as sending the friars to study in the universities.

Bonaventure teaches us how to confront crises that challenge our convictions and oblige us to make crucial choices. What perhaps allowed him, otherwise a scholar comfortable in his system and an academic already well-placed in his career, to take up and face the challenges that met him was his great faith. Always, in all his discourses and all decisions, the Doctor Devotus turned to the Lord for enlightenment and guidance and did not rely on his own knowledge and competence.

In the first reading, we contemplate with the prophet Jeremiah a vision of God enthroned upon the Seraphim and confront our own unworthiness before God and his gracious election. Is this not the same humility of the Seraphic Doctor Bonaventure, who, although gifted with a brilliant intellect and a great capacity for leadership, never regarded his own opinion as apodictic truth and saw himself only as "a poor compiler"? Who, although a pillar of strength as a leader was also one who listened and knew intimately the struggles of his own as a shepherd? Indeed, Bonaventure was Seraphic because he was one who was glorious yet knew how to cover himself before God's glory: a disciple below his true Master; a leader of his brethren but first, a servant of his Lord.
And yet, with this humility, he also bore an amazing confidence that allowed him to face the many trials that beset him and his times with remarkable clarity and unperturbed composure. In today's Gospel, Jesus calls on us to have the same confidence, founded on a living relationship with him that dispels all our fear and anxiety and allows us to recognize and acknowledge him, even in the face of confusion and in the midst of crisis both within and without us.
As we remember this great teacher and leader of the Church, let us ask for the mind and heart of Bonaventure, that we may always be open to listen to others and open to listen to the Lord.

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