Memorial of Saint Bonaventure, Bishop and Doctor of the Church
St Bonaventure Enters the Franciscan Order, 1628 — Museo del Prado, Madrid
Saint Bonaventure was cured of a serious illness through the prayers of Francis of Assisi
Reading 1 EX 3:1-6, 9-12
Leading the flock across the desert, he came to Horeb,
the mountain of God.
There an angel of the LORD appeared to him in fire
flaming out of a bush.
As he looked on, he was surprised to see that the bush,
though on fire, was not consumed.
So Moses decided,
“I must go over to look at this remarkable sight,
and see why the bush is not burned.”When the LORD saw him coming over to look at it more closely,
God called out to him from the bush, “Moses! Moses!”
He answered, “Here I am.”
God said, “Come no nearer!
Remove the sandals from your feet,
for the place where you stand is holy ground.
I am the God of your father,” he continued,
“the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob.
The cry of the children of Israel has reached me,
and I have truly noted that the Egyptians are oppressing them.
Come, now! I will send you to Pharaoh to lead my people,
the children of Israel, out of Egypt.”But Moses said to God,
“Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh
and lead the children of Israel out of Egypt?”
He answered, “I will be with you;
and this shall be your proof that it is I who have sent you:
when you bring my people out of Egypt,
you will worship God on this very mountain.”
Responsorial Psalm PS 103:1B-2, 3-4, 6-7
Bless the LORD, O my soul;
and all my being, bless his holy name.
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits.
R. The Lord is kind and merciful.
He pardons all your iniquities,
he heals all your ills.
He redeems your life from destruction,
he crowns you with kindness and compassion.
R. The Lord is kind and merciful.
The LORD secures justice
and the rights of all the oppressed.
He has made known his ways to Moses,
and his deeds to the children of Israel.
R. The Lord is kind and merciful.
Alleluia SEE MT 11:25
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Blessed are you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth;
you have revealed to little ones the mysteries of the Kingdom.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel MT 11:25-27
“I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth,
for although you have hidden these things
from the wise and the learned
you have revealed them to the childlike.
Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will.
All things have been handed over to me by my Father.
No one knows the Son except the Father,
and no one knows the Father except the Son
and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.”
Yesterday we saw Jesus severely chiding the people of three cities where he had shown many signs of his divine origin for their slowness to believe in and accept him. Today he speaks with warmth and praise of those who have become his followers.
He remarks, in a prayer he makes to his Father, that it is not the learned and clever, the Scribes and Pharisees, the religious experts, but “the merest children”, his disciples, who have been graced with understanding the secrets of the Kingdom. They are children not only in their lack of learning and sophistication but also in their openness to hear and learn, a virtue lacking in those who regarded themselves as intellectuals.
This was in fact a reflection on the actual development of the early Church. It was a grassroots movement which spread most among the lower levels of society and among slaves. It would not be until later that Christianity spread to the higher echelons and become the faith also of the ruling elite and the intellectual classes. As Jesus says today, “Yes, Father, for that is what is pleased you to do.”
In growing and spreading in this way, Christianity showed, first, that it was really the work of God. It worked against powerful forces which tried very hard to obliterate it but in the end the power of truth and love were too strong for even the strongest opponents.
Second, it revealed the truly catholic nature of the Christian faith. It was never an exclusive domain of either the political or educated elite. It has appealed and continues to appeal to people at every level of society from intellectual giants like Augustine, Thomas Aquinas and John Henry Newman to the totally illiterate. Both can sit side by side and together hear the Gospel and celebrate the Eucharist.
Finally, Jesus suggests that knowing him and, through him, knowing the Father is a gift that he gives. We can all, of course, open ourselves to that gift. Why some of us do and others do not is something we cannot understand in this life. It is a gift which is offered, never imposed and again no one can know who are those who have been offered it and turned it down.
Let us today thank God that we have been among those who have listened and accepted and been graced. But we know we have a lot more listening and accepting yet to do. Jesus stands at our door and knocks today and every day. It is up to me to what extent I open that door and let him come in.
• Context. The liturgical passage of Mt 11, 25-27 represents a turning point in the Gospel of Matthew: Jesus is asked the first questions regarding the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven. The first one to ask the first questions on the identity of Jesus is John the Baptist, who through his disciples asks him a concrete question: “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to expect someone else?” (11, 3). Instead, the Pharisees, together with the Scribes, address words of reproach and judgment to Jesus: “Look, your disciples are doing something that is forbidden on the Sabbath” (12, 2).
Now the moment has arrived in which to question oneself about the activity of Jesus: how to interpret the “works of Christ” (11, 2.19)? How can these thaumaturgic actions be explained (11, 20. 21.23)? Such questions concern the crucial question of Messiah ship of Jesus, and judge not only “this generation” but also the cities around the lake which have not converted as the Kingdom of Heaven gets closer in the person of Jesus.
• To becomes small. The most efficacious itinerary to carry out this conversion is to become “small”. Jesus communicates this strategy of “smallness” in a prayer of thanksgiving (11, 27) which has a wonderful parallel in the witness rendered to the Father on the occasion of the Baptism (11, 27). Experts love to call this prayer a “hymn of rejoicing, exultation”. The rhythm of the prayer of Jesus begins with a confession: “I praise you”, “I confess to you”. Such expressions of introduction render Jesus’ words quite solemn.
Which are “these things” that are hidden or revealed? The content of this revelation or hiding is Jesus, the Son of God, the one who reveals the Father. It is evident for the reader that the revelation of God is linked indissolubly to the person of Jesus, to his Word, to his Messianic actions. He is the one who allows the revelation of God and not the Law or the premonitory events of the end of time.
• The revelation of God from the Father to the Son. In the last part of the discourse Jesus makes a presentation of self as the one to whom every thing has been communicated by the Father. In the context of the coming of the Kingdom, Jesus has the role and the mission to reveal the Heavenly Father in everything. In such a task and role he receives the totality of power, of knowledge and of the authority to judge. In order to confirm this role which is so committed, Jesus appeals to the witness of the Father, the only one who possesses a real knowledge of Jesus: “Nobody knows the Son but the Father”, and vice-versa “and nobody knows the Father but the Son”. The witness of the Father is irreplaceable so that the unique dignity of Jesus as Son may be understood by his disciples. Besides,theunicity or uniqueness of Jesus is affirmed in the revelation of the Father; the Gospel of John had already affirmed this: “No one has ever seen God; it is the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart who has made him known” (1, 18). To summarize, the Evangelist makes his readers understand that the revelation of the Father takes place through the Son. Even more: the Son reveals the Father to whom he wants.
• In your prayer do you feel the need to express all your gratitude to the Father for the gifts that he has given you in life? Does it happen to you to confess publicly, to exult in the Lord because of the wonderful works that he accomplishes in the world; in the Church, and in your life?
• In your search for God do you rely on your wisdom and intelligence or do you allow yourself to be guided by the wisdom of God? How attentive are you to your relationship with Jesus? Do you listen to his word? Do you assume his sentiments in order to discover his physiognomy of Son of the Heavenly Father?
My lips shall proclaim your saving justice,
your saving power all day long.
God, you have taught me from boyhood,
and I am still proclaiming your marvels. (Ps 71,15.17)
Do you have a passion for life? What are you living for? More importantly, whom are you living for? It is not enough to live for something, but passion ultimately must be to live for someone. It is therefore necessary from the outset to make a distinction between a career and a vocation. A career is an ambition to achieve something in life. It is more focused on self rather than on others; on things rather than on people. When we are concerned with a career, we think in terms of success, material and personal benefits from our hard work. So one can be passionate in one’s work, be successful and feeling good about oneself and yet lacking in something. Otherwise, why would Moses take the risk of going back to Egypt when he was happily married and settled at Midian!
That is why we must find our vocation in life. The real cause of happiness is not just passion but a passion that is identified with the passion of God Himself. This is what a vocation is all about. Vocation is a call from within, and ironically, this call from within is also from without. It is a call from God that takes place in the depths of our being. When a person hears the call of God and is identified with God’s call, then he is being true to his vocation. So to distinguish whether we have a vocation or simply a career, we must ask whether what we are doing is what the Father would want to do Himself. Only when we are able to identify ourselves with Him and His passion, can we then speak of a vocation.
Isn’t this the case of Moses and Jesus in today’s scripture readings? We read that in the case of Moses, God revealed to him His passion when He said, “And now the cry of the sons of Israel has come to me, and I have witnessed the way in which the Egyptians oppress them, so come, I send you to Pharaoh to bring the sons of Israel, my people, out of Egypt.” Similarly, in the gospel, Jesus also said, “Everything has been entrusted to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, just as no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” Indeed, if Moses were inspired to lead his people out of slavery from Egypt, it must have been because he was moved by God’s mercy and love for His people. Isn’t this what the psalmist is saying, “The Lord secures justice and the rights of all the oppressed. He has made known his ways to Moses, and his deeds to the children of Israel. The Lord is kind and merciful.” In the same vein too, it was Jesus’ identification with His Father’s love for His people that He, too, embarked on His mission to proclaim His Father’s love and mercy through His preaching, miracles and deeds, especially in forgiving sins, eating and drinking with sinners.
It was this personal identification with God’s voice spoken to him from within and without that Moses could say, “Here I am.” In responding with such obedience and conviction, it clearly presumes that Moses’ heart is aligned with God’s heart. He heard the voice of God from without calling him, but he also heard the voice of his people crying out in misery within his heart. Vocation, therefore, is the combination of the calling of an external and internal voice. One hears an external voice speaking and at the same time, this voice resonates with an interior voice within, like an imperative commanding him to act accordingly.
Similarly, Jesus, too, sought to do only the Father’s will. He came not to do His own will but that of His Father’s. “I have come from heaven not to do my own will but to do the will of him who sent me. Now the will of him who sent me is that I should lose nothing of all that he has given to me.” (Jn 6:38f). And in Letter to the Hebrews, the author, citing Ps 40:6-8, wrote of Jesus saying, “Here I am! I am coming to do your will.” (Heb 10:10) Not only was His mission identified with the Father’s but He, too, was moved by the people in His heart, for we read that “As he stepped ashore, he saw a large crowd; and he took pity on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd, and he set himself to teach them at some length.” (Mk 6:34)
Thus, the prerequisite of a vocation is that we are involved in the life of God. We cannot identify with God’s passion unless we first know Him. This accounts for why when God appeared to Moses, He revealed Himself as the “God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” This was necessary; otherwise Moses would not know who this God is. By identifying Himself as the God of his Fathers, God reassured Moses of His fidelity to the people. In the same vein too, Jesus exclaimed, “I bless you Father, Lord of heaven and of earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the cleaver and revealing them to mere children. Yes, Father, for that is what it pleased you to do.” For Jesus too, came to recognize His God as His Father. It was His experience of sonship, being a child of the Heavenly Father, which gave Him the impetus to share His Father’s love with all of us. It was this inexpressible joy of having received the Father’s love that stirred Jesus to share that love.
There is another reason why it is necessary for us to encounter God before we can discover our vocation and mission. Unless we can recognize who we are before God, we will undertake the mission as if it is our personal ambition, relying only on ourselves. The truth is that the success of God’s mission cannot be merely the fruits of human effort, but principally, it must be seen as the work of God rather than the work of man. Moses’ encounter with God gave him a sense of unworthiness. He needed to take off his sandals, be stripped of his complacency and self-sufficiency. The burning bush itself was not significant, as bushes often catch fire in the desert. Rather, it was because of the fact that the burning bush “was not being burnt up.” This experience enabled him to be ready for God’s call to free His people because Moses reckoned it was a job beyond his strength. He could not speak well. He had no weapons or armies. “Moses said to God, ‘Who am I to go to Pharaoh and bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt?’” Precisely, it will not be Moses but God who would lead His people out of Egypt, for He said, “’I shall be with you, ‘and this is the sign by which you shall know that it is I who have sent you … After you have led the people out of Egypt, you are to offer to God on this mountain.”
Jesus too, could accomplish His mission because He regarded Himself as a child of the heavenly Father. Did not He pray, “I bless you Father, Lord of heaven and of earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to mere children”? If Jesus were so confident of fulfilling His vocation, it was because of His childlikeness, that total trust and confidence in His Heavenly Father. It was this docile and humble attitude towards His Father that the latter could do great things through Him. When we are like Moses and Jesus, realizing our total dependence on God for all we have and all we are, then we will not allow our anxieties to transform our vocation to an ambition.
But how is this possible? There can be no question of discovering one’s vocation without prayer and a deep intimacy with God. Finding one’s vocation is not simply a question of a rational analysis of what we want to do in life. Vocation is not revealed to “the learned and the clever.” Vocation originates from prayer life. Like Jesus who not only taught us how to pray but revealed the content of His prayer life, we too must learn to relate with the Heavenly Father the same way as He did. We too need to avail ourselves to the Burning Bush experience like Moses. Only a personal intimacy with the Lord can help us to acquire the heart of the Good Shepherd. Only in prayer, will the Lord reveal Himself to us mere children, who know Him and who share in His love.
Bonaventure, Franciscan, theologian, doctor of the Church, was both learned and holy. Because of the spirit that filled him and his writings, he was at first called the Devout Doctor; but in more recent centuries he has been known as the Seraphic Doctor after the “Seraphic Father” Francis because of the truly Franciscan spirit he possessed.
Born in Bagnoregio, a town in central Italy, he was cured of a serious illness as a boy through the prayers of Francis of Assisi. Later, he studied the liberal arts in Paris. Inspired by Francis and the example of the friars, especially of his master in theology, Alexander of Hales, he entered the Franciscan Order, and became in turn a teacher of theology in the university. Chosen as minister general of the Order in 1257, he was God’s instrument in bringing it back to a deeper love of the way of St. Francis, both through the life of Francis which he wrote at the behest of the brothers and through other works which defended the Order or explained its ideals and way of life.
The morning of the fifteenth of July, 1274, in the midst of the Second Council of Lyons, Pope Gregory X and the Fathers of the Council were shocked to learn that toward dawn Brother Bonaventure, bishop of Albano, had sickened and died. An unknown chronicler provides his impression of the Franciscan cardinal: “A man of eminent learning and eloquence, and of outstanding holiness, he was known for his kindness, approachableness, gentleness and compassion. Full of virtue, he was beloved of God and man. At his funeral Mass that same day, many were in tears, for the Lord had granted him this grace, that whoever came to know him was forthwith drawn to a deep love of him.
Bonaventure so united holiness and theological knowledge that he rose to the heights of mysticism while yet remaining a very active preacher and teacher, one beloved by all who met him. To know him was to love him; to read him is still for us today to meet a true Franciscan and a gentleman.
Grant, we pray, almighty God, that, just as we celebrate the heavenly birthday of the bishop Saint Bonaventure, we may benefit from his great learning and constantly imitate the ardor of his charity.
Prayer of St. Bonaventure
Tags: Augustine, celebrate the Eucharist, Christianity, cured of a serious illness through the prayers of Francis of Assisi, dependent upon God, Disciple that Loved Him Best, EX 3:1-6 9-12, Francis of Assisi, Franciscan, grassroots movement, He reveals to the childlike, hear the Gospel, John Henry Newman, July 15 2015, Matt 18:3, Mt 11:25-27, Mt 18:3, Pierce O my sweet Lord Jesus my inmost soul with the most joyous and healthful wound of your love, Pope Gregory X, pour ourselves out, Prayer and Meditation, Psalm 103, revelation to the little ones, Saint Bonaventure, service to others, St. Bonaventure, The Lord is kind and merciful, the merest children, Thomas Aquinas, unless you change and become like little children you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.