Those men studying to be priests undergo a lengthy process called “formation,” yet too often that becomes a process of acquiring “information.” St. Bonaventure strove to understand and undergo that formation process throughout his life. Indeed, he believed that we can make affirmations and state facts about our God, but sometimes we must get out of our heads about God, for his truth transcends any human understanding.
From the Journey of the Mind to God by St. Bonaventure:
Mystical wisdom is revealed by the Holy Spirit
Christ is both the way and the door. Christ is the staircase and the vehicle, like the throne of mercy over the Ark of the Covenant, and the mystery hidden from the ages. A man should turn his full attention to this throne of mercy, and should gaze at him hanging on the cross, full of faith, hope and charity, devoted, full of wonder and joy, marked by gratitude, and open to praise and jubilation. Then such a man will make with Christ a pasch, that is, a passing-over. Through the branches of the cross he will pass over the Red Sea, leaving Egypt and entering the desert. There he will taste the hidden manna, and rest with Christ in the sepulchre, as if he were dead to things outside. He will experience, as much as is possible for one who is still living, what was promised to the thief who hung beside Christ: Today you will be with me in paradise.
For this passover to be perfect, we must suspend all the operations of the mind and we must transform the peak of our affections, directing them to God alone. This is a sacred mystical experience. It cannot be comprehended by anyone unless he surrenders himself to it; nor can he surrender himself to it unless he longs for it; nor can he long for it unless the Holy Spirit, whom Christ sent into the world, should come and inflame his innermost soul. Hence the Apostle says that this mystical wisdom is revealed by the Holy Spirit.
If you ask how such things can occur, seek the answer in God’s grace, not in doctrine; in the longing of the will, not in the understanding; in the sighs of prayer, not in research; seek the bridegroom not the teacher; God and not man; darkness not daylight; and look not to the light but rather to the raging fire that carries the soul to God with intense fervour and glowing love. The fire is God, and the furnace is in Jerusalem, fired by Christ in the ardour of his loving passion. Only he understood this who said: My soul chose hanging and my bones death. Anyone who cherishes this kind of death can see God, for it is certainly true that: No man can look upon me and live.
Let us die, then, and enter into the darkness, silencing our anxieties, our passions and all the fantasies of our imagination. Let us pass over with the crucified Christ from this world to the Father, so that, when the Father has shown himself to us, we can say with Philip: It is enough. We may hear with Paul: My grace is sufficient for you; and we can rejoice with David, saying: My flesh and my heart fail me, but God is the strength of my heart and my heritage for ever. Blessed be the Lord for ever, and let all the people say: Amen. Amen!
Bonaventure found himself “in the middle” from time to time. The spiritual Franciscans felt it necessary to live with absolutely no possessions: no homes, no clothes, etc. The other Franciscans felt that if they were to survive at all, these things would be necessary. Bonaventure stood in the middle and said that both could believe what they will in this situation, but that ultimately, as long as they both focused on Christ, things would be okay. To focus on divisions and fight over them was fruitless, and Bonaventure knew that. What really mattered, he said, was that both camps believed in Jesus Christ and served him with their whole beings. We’re called to do the same.
Yet being in the middle is a rather awkward place to be, for one there risks be attacked by people on both sides. He stood there anyway.
Just a little bit of info about him:
Bonaventure’s name means “good luck.” He was born in 1221 in Tuscany, Italy, and was baptized John. Bonaventure joined the Franciscan order, which was still new. In fact, St. Francis of Assisi who started the Franciscans lived from 1181 until 1226. Francis was still alive when Bonaventure was born. As a young Franciscan, Bonaventure left his own country to study at the University of Paris in France.
He became a wonderful writer about the things of God. He loved God so much that people began to call him the “Seraphic Doctor.” Seraphic means angelic. One of Bonaventure’s famous friends was St. Thomas Aquinas. His feast day is January 28.
Thomas asked Bonaventure where he got all the beautiful things he wrote. St. Bonaventure took his friend and led him to his desk. He pointed to the large crucifix which always stood on his desk. “It is he who tells me everything. He is my only Teacher.”
Another time when Bonaventure was writing the life of St. Francis of Assisi, he was so full of fervor that St. Thomas exclaimed: “Let us leave a saint to write about a saint.” St. Bonaventure always kept himself humble even though his books made him famous.
In 1265, Pope Clement IV wanted him to become an archbishop. Bonaventure begged the pope to accept his refusal. The pope respected his decision. However, Bonaventure did agree to be master general of his order. This difficult task was his for seventeen years.
In 1273, Blessed Pope Gregory X made Bonaventure a cardinal. The two papal messengers found Bonaventure at the large wash tubs. He was taking his turn scrubbing the pots and pans. The papal messengers waited patiently until Bonaventure finished the last pot. He rinsed and dried his hands. Then they solemnly presented him the large red hat which symbolized his new honor.
Cardinal Bonaventure was a great help to this pope who had called the Council of Lyons in 1274. Thomas Aquinas died on his way to the Council, but Bonaventure made it. He was very influential at the assembly. Yet he, too, died rather suddenly on July 14, 1274, at the age of fifty-three. The pope was at his bedside when he died.
Bonaventure was proclaimed a saint in 1482 by Pope Sixtus IV. In 1588, Pope Sixtus V declared him a Doctor of the Church. “If you ask how such things can occur, seek the answer in God’s grace, not in doctrine; in the longing of the will, not in the understanding; in the sighs of prayer, not in research.”