Saint Bonaventure | Seraphic Spirituality for the Modern Day

July 15, 2021

Today the Universal Church celebrates the feast of Saint Bonaventure. Saint Bonaventure is a Seraphic Doctor in the Order of Friars Minor (the Franciscans), Minister General, Cardinal, Saint, and Doctor of the Church. Born in 1221and passing into Eternal Life on this date in 1274.

Saint Bonaventure played an important role in both the medieval Church and the history of the Franciscan Order. A senior faculty member at the University of Paris, Saint Bonaventure certainly captured the hearts of his students through his academic skills and insights. But more importantly, he captured their hearts through his Franciscan love for Jesus and the Church. Like his model, Saint Francis of Assisi, Jesus was the center of everything—his teaching, his administration, his writing, and his life. So much so, that he was given the title “Seraphic Doctor.”

Saint Bonaventure left behind a structured and renewed Franciscan Order and a body of work all of which glorifies his major love—Jesus.

In his book “The Soul’s Journey into God” [1259] also known as “The Journey of the Mind to God” Bonaventure tells us that the eyes of our souls should be opened and enlightened so “to guide our feet in the way of that peace which surpasses all understanding”.

Saint Bonaventure makes spirituality very accessible. This is what’s needed in our world and perhaps Saint Bonaventure can help us.

In the midst of these pandemic times while all the world has slowed down, there has been a deepening of introspection. I know many people who have transitioned to working at home after working remotely for safety reasons. Some have retired early and have decided to move closer to family. There are a few close friends that now recognize more need in their own families and greater community. This has been a time to prioritize our time, energy, focus and lives. The Journey of the Mind to God is a helpful reflection. The Saint takes us through a process of deepening our understanding by lifting our minds and hearts to God.

Franciscan Seculars offers us a succinct treatment of this work. The movement of this work first establishes that creation is God’s goodness; it is a reflection of His love and wisdom and it helps our spiritual journey towards God’s Holy Trinity. Creation is where we experience our humanity and it’s the world where God’s artistry and fingerprints come to us through our senses.

God’s reflection is within each of us, we are wonder and beauty of His Creation and that our soul, through our mind—through memory, intellect and will.

Bonaventure reminds us that we can be formed or “re-formed” by God’s Grace, stating that only a few of us are aware “that God is so close to our souls” and that God dwells within us.

What Bonaventure is telling us is that our souls are immersed in sensory experiences and desires of the body and that these prevent us from seeing and knowing we are made in the image of God and that He dwells within us. Through “devotion, admiration and exultation” our soul remembers its spiritual senses and we become better able to embrace goodness and truth.

“We can contemplate God not only outside us and within us but also above us; outside through His vestiges [His traces or fingerprints], within His image and above through light which shines upon our minds.” We are asked to consider who God is, what is His Being? We are invited to contemplate the Holy Trinity.

Finally, we are challenged with finding our own unity with God by grace and not instruction, desire and not understanding, by prayer and not diligent reading, through Spouse not the teacher, God not man. Bonaventure tells us we must “give over” or “die to the self”, to be less of our own self allowing more of God to be within us.

Saint Bonaventure offers us much. During these Summer days we are invited to be restored, re-created and to experience God in the blessings of good weather, enjoy God’s creation, renew our relationships with others, and most importantly experience the God who dwells within.

Let our prayer be the prayer of Saint Bonaventure as he concludes this book:

With Christ Crucified let us pass out of this world to the Father so that when the Father is shown to us we may say with Philip: It is enough for us. Let us hear with Paul: My grace is sufficient for you. Let us rejoice with David saying: My flesh and my heart have grown faint; You are the God of my heart, and the God that is my portion forever. Blessed be the Lord forever and all the people will say: Let it be; let it be. Amen

Reflection by: Rev. Michael MacInnis, Director of Human Formation