How a Saint Puts Up with Nonsense.
Lessons from cycle II of the feria, according to the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite:
Isaiah 7: 1-9.
Psalm 48: 3-8.
Matthew 11: 20-24.
The Memorial of Saint Bonaventure, Bishop & Doctor of the Church.
The Fifteenth Tuesday of Ordinary Time.
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1:54 PM 7/15/2014 — The texts for today's Mass are a jumble of contradictions; and, on those occasions when I was with you last week I was perhaps pushing the envelop to manufacture a unity among them. In reality, the readings for the day have no relationship to the cycle of the saints, and we were fortunate a few times in the last few weeks to be able to find one accidentally, such as in the case of Blessed Junípero Serra and St. Augustine Zhao Rong. It's a little more difficult today.
Our first lesson shows the Prophet Isaiah—remember we met him last week when he was visited by the six-winged seraphim—getting himself all embroiled in politics, which seems unseemly for a prophet except that God told him to do it. Our Gospel lesson is just as odd, showing our Lord throwing what amounts to a temper tantrum, railing against the towns he had visited which had not been converted, telling them that their fate will be worse than that of Sodom. That's a pretty severe curse, given what happened to Sodom and Gomorrah.
Both readings seem to contrast sharply with the life of the Seraphic Doctor, the title that Pope Sixtus V gave him after his predecessor, Sixtus IV, canonized him. But St. Bonaventure was a contradiction himself in a sense: we don't typically associate the Franciscan Order with men of great learning;—although we did notice the other week that Father Serra was a brilliant scholar before being sent to America—but, Bonaventure may have been the most brilliant man of the Middle Ages next to St. Thomas Aquinas, of whom he was a contemporary. They taught together, in fact, at the University of Paris in spite of the fact that they were both Italians.
He was born in Tuscany, entered the Franciscans at an early age, was known for not only his learning but also for his profound devotion to the Passion of Our Lord. At the age of thirty-five he was elected Minister General of the Franciscan Order, and became known for his diplomacy and prudence. Pope Gregory X pulled him out of his order and made him a Cardinal, sending him to the town of Albano as its bishop, and it was in that capacity that he went to Lyons to participate in the Council there, but died while there at the age of forty-three.
It all sounds very serene, but there are aspects of his life that are not generally known, and which caused some consternation when Sixtus IV canonized him. He was elected Minister General of the Franciscans in 1257, at a time when the Franciscans were just beginning to become fragmented. Now days, we're familiar with all the various branches of the Franciscan Order: the Friars Minor, the Capuchins, the Conventuals, not to mention the plethora of more modern groups that have sprouted off from the Franciscan family or have simply adopted there own version of the Rule of St. Francis and attached his name to themselves; but, at the time, the Franciscans were still one group, but were just beginning to have all these internal dissensions within themselves. Bonaventure dealt with all this in a very heavy-handed way. The chief disagreement within the Order was between one group who wanted to embrace a very strict and severe interpretation of Franciscan poverty, and those who thought that the Order needed to change with the times in order to survive, and both groups claimed support for their respective positions by citing their own versions of the life of St. Francis, the actual facts of which are sketchy at best.
In 1260, Bonaventure composed his own version of the life of St. Francis, and commanded that all other biographies of Francis of Assisi be destroyed, and its from that work that most of what we believe about St. Francis is known. Where he got most of his information about the life of St. Francis no one knows, but those who felt he was not on their side accused him of simply making most of it up to support his own idea of what he wanted the Franciscan Order to become. In any case, he convened a General Chapter of the Order in 1263, and imposed a rather ridged uniformity among the Franciscans; and, while Bonaventure's reforms held the Order together for a while, ultimately it did disintegrate, which is why we have so many different Franciscan communities today.
When you set yourself to study the lives of the saints—not the homogenized, pious versions of their lives, but the real lives of the saints with all the nastiness included—you realize what a tremendous capacity these people had for maintaining their spiritual equilibrium amidst all kinds of chaos and unpleasantness. It harkens back to what we were considering—those of you who were here—a few weeks ago when we celebrated the Solemnity of Ss. Peter & Paul on a Sunday. The Church is of Divine origin, but Christ entrusted her to men, and those men are beset by a fallen nature, which means that the Church is not always going to be governed the way it should be. What distinguishes the saints from the rest of us is their ability to—simply put—not allow themselves to be bothered by it. It doesn't mean that a saint is complacent; quite the contrary, as evidenced by St. Bonaventure's work to reform the Franciscans the best way he knew how. But at no time during all the controversies that he was forced to endure as Minister General of the Order did Bonaventure ever loose his holiness; and, we have to presume that his profound devotion to the Passion of Our Lord allowed him to see, in all he had to put up with, a participation in the Cross of Christ.
When Bonaventure looked at what was happening to his order he had to have the same feelings Our Blessed Lord had when he looked back on all the towns and villages that had rejected him and which moved him to say the things he said in today's Gospel lesson. He said the things he said because he wanted them to change. I don't have to tell you that all of us, in whatever is our state in life, have to put up with all kinds of nonsense every day. But, if we would be saints, which all of us are called to be, we should know instinctively how to put it all in perspective. And when we kneel here before the Altar, and cast our eyes upon the Body of Christ, we know that, no matter what may be going on in our lives, Christ is always there, and he is always the same.