This Monday marks the Feast Day of one of the great figures in Franciscan history – St. Bonaventure of Bagnoregio – as well as the eighth anniversary of our Franciscan presence in this historic downtown parish. St. Bonaventure is a good model of what it means to be a Franciscan, while at the same time being a priest in leadership positions in a parish. Bonaventure reminded the friars of his day that our first vocation is as “brother.” At the core of our charism, we are a fraternity in mission to the People of God striving to continue our Order’s 800-year-old mission: bringing the Gospel into the everyday experience of men and women through our life in fraternity and compassionate service to all.
Among our brother friars in Holy Name Province we have medical doctors, nurses, university professors, world renown artists, scholars, directors of nursing homes, youth ministers, teachers, butchers, bakers, cobblers, tailors, economists, HVAC mechanics, as well as men who serve as ordained ministers in parishes. Bonaventure reminds us all that we are called to work, to live a common life in fraternity, and to give humble witness to those we serve. Bonaventure himself gave continual witness to that humble service.
In the years while St. Francis was alive, the Franciscan Order experienced rapid growth – which only accelerated after St. Francis’ death and canonization – each friar and local fraternity trying to discern what it meant to follow Christ in the “tradition” of Francis of Assisi. They came to several differing conclusions and the opinions were not always offered “humbly.” Over simply, one group called for poverty to be the mainstay while another called for obedience. A third group was in the middle just wanting everyone to get along because fraternity and minority were the hallmarks of Franciscan life. The Order was beginning to come apart at the core.
It was in the midst of this dissension that Bonaventure was elected to lead the friars during one of the most fractious times in the Order’s history. In the following 15 years of leadership, Bonaventure continually visited the brothers – walking from Assisi, to Padua, to Madrid, to Paris, and to all the friaries of Europe. His example of humble living coupled with his words reminding the friars that following Christ was the center of Francis’ vision, enabled the rifts in the fraternity to be healed.
His humble manner of living was on display when the Pope elevated him to the role of Cardinal. The papal couriers carrying the official proclamation and “red hat” found Bonaventure at one of the friaries in northern Italy. When the couriers arrived on the scene, Bonaventure, the Minister General of the Order, was occupied washing the dishes after a meal. The courier’s formal announcement was followed by the presentation of the red hat. Bonaventure thanked him, asked him to set the hat on the table, and said he would attend to those things as soon as he had finished washing the dishes.
The friars of Sacred Heart share this anniversary with St. Bonaventure, and so it is perhaps best to remember the words of St. Francis that Bonaventure quoted to his brothers during his days of leadership: “Up to now we have done nothing. Let us again set out to do that which we have been given.”
May we all bring the Gospel into the everyday experience of men and women through our life as a community and in compassionate service to all.