In many ways St. Bonaventure is a Saint for the times in which we live – when divisions are ripe and the unity of a nation is being sorely tested. 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.
Humility is the guardian and gateway to all the virtues. Gratitude is the first evidence of it. Let us give thanks for the witness of St. Bonaventure.
Lovely reflection ~ humble feast day!