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Catholic Heroes… St. Bonaventure

July 18, 2017 saints No Comments

By CAROLE BRESLIN

There are many saints who have been called saints long before the formal process for canonization was put in place. Some of the names by which we know them may not be the names they were given at birth, but indicate their special gifts.
For example, St. Veronica, known from the sixth station of the cross, may have been called Veronica because the name comes from the Latin words meaning “true icon.” St. John Chrysostom’s name came from his gift of oratory; it means “golden tongue.” Likewise, St. Bonaventure’s name comes from the Latin words meaning “good adventure.”
This saint was born in 1221 in Bagnoregio, Italy, to Giovanni di Fidanza and Maria Ritella, who gave their son the name Giovanni.
According to a legend, when he was still young, he became very ill and even his father, who was a doctor, despaired of his life. His mother, however, brought him to St. Francis of Assisi to plead for God’s mercy and save the life of her son. He then quickly recovered. From this time, he became known as Bonaventure after the phrase O buona ventura, or good adventure, says the legend.
In 1243, Giovanni (Bonaventure) went to Paris to complete his education. The University of Paris was begun as the Cathedral School of Notre Dame founded by Robert de Sorbon and chartered by St. Louis IX, King of France. Sorbon was chaplain to the king and thus the institution was the center of higher education in all of Europe — founded by Catholics.
Giovanni studied under Alexander of Hales, another Franciscan, a theologian who was known as the greatest philosopher of his time. One of his classmates was another doctor of the Church, St. Thomas Aquinas. Giovanni studied diligently, applying himself to both prayer and to his studies. When he completed his master of arts, he sought wisdom in determining what he would do for the rest of his life.
Once again St. Francis of Assisi comes into the story: His friars, by example, led Giovanni to the Franciscan calling. He went to the Franciscan house in Paris and knocked on the door — and it was opened to him as though from the hand of God.
The Friars Minor accepted him in 1219 in Paris. At his investiture, when he took the Franciscan habit, he also took the name of Bonaventure. Eagerly, he awaited his opportunity to save souls after the example of St. Francis.
Given his academic achievements, his superiors sent him back to the University of Paris, where he entered the faculty of theology. There he not only studied Sacred Scripture, but he also read the Sentences of Peter Lombard, a collection of studies by the most learned theologians in the history of the Church.
He continued his studies as he wrote to a variety of scholars across the European continent.
Accompanied by prayer and meditation that deepened his relationship with Christ, Bonaventure critically considered the merits of the writings of these scholars as he sought to clearly understand the teachings of Christ.
These years of prayer, study, and social interaction led him to become a leader in theology. Today he is recognized as one of the principal theologians in the history of the Church. His doctoral thesis, Questions on the Knowledge of Christ, reveals his Christocentric focus.
Another one of his profound and academic writings came about as the result of a raging conflict between the mendicant orders and the secular professors at the University of Paris.
Bonaventure became the focus of the objectors’ complaints. However, he had already begun teaching at the Franciscan chair of theology and was prepared to defend the mendicants’ position. His work, Evangelical Perfection, described the practices of poverty, chastity, and obedience as the same ideals as those preached and practiced by Christ in the Gospels.
This masterpiece of timeless value brought attention to the infinite value of religious who practice the evangelical counsels and thereby lead others to Christ, the ultimate source of joy and perfection.
As peace was restored at the university, Pope Alexander IV appointed Bonaventure as a doctor — St. Thomas Aquinas was also appointed a doctor at the same time. Bonaventure served as doctor and master for less than a year because the Friars Minor elected him to be minister general of the General Chapter of the Order.
He applied himself with sincere dedication and zeal for the Franciscan ideals until the end of his life. He visited the various houses, addressing the abuses that he observed and urging others to live holier lives.
The challenge he faced was to consolidate the expansion of the order, which included thousands of friars in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and China. Likewise he sought to give the order unity in the spirit of its founder, St. Francis.
Various interpretations of the charism of St. Francis threatened to divide the Friars Minor so Bonaventure worked to resolve the conflict. At the chapter meeting he won approval of his norms regulating the daily life to be practiced.
Even that would not be enough to appease the factions if all the members did not share the same objectives. Thus he collected information on the life of St. Francis to reiterate their founder’s intentions. This research then became the most definitive biography of St. Francis ever written.
His biography portrayed the saint as a man seeking to imitate Christ in every way, even enduring the pains of His crucifixion. Bonaventure also sought to imitate Christ, who was his support and eternal quest.
Pope Gregory X in 1273 called on Bonaventure to become a cardinal and to prepare for the Second Council of Lyon which hoped to re-establish unity in the Church between the Latin and Greek Churches.
Bonaventure never witnessed the brief unity that occurred at the end of the council. He died on July 15, 1274 — some claim, although it was never proven, that he died of unusual circumstances.
His eulogist wrote of him, “A good, affable, devout, and compassionate man, full of virtue, beloved of God and human beings alike. . . . God in fact had bestowed upon him such grace that all who saw him were pervaded by a love that their hearts could not conceal.”
Pope Sixtus V bestowed the title of “Seraphic Doctor” on St. Bonaventure in 1588. His feast is celebrated on July 15.
Dear St. Bonaventure, you loved Jesus Christ, and Him crucified with a pure and simple love for which He blessed you with many gifts. Help us to love Christ and to seek to imitate Him as you and your father in Christ, St. Francis did so that we too may win many souls for the Kingdom of Heaven. Amen.

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(Carole Breslin home-schooled her four daughters and served as treasurer of the Michigan Catholic Home Educators for eight years. For over ten years, she was national coordinator for the Marian Catechists, founded by Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ.)

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