Starting roughly a year ago, I began reading the works of the Franciscans rather dutifully. From modern Franciscans, to the early ones, I found that they all resonated deeply within me. I think there is a reason for this, and the reason is that their approach to the faith has seemed more vibrant and vivifying.
Perhaps it is partially borne out of the fact that St. Francis himself was a Troubadour, a romance poet. Not only that, but it certainly seems that the Italians have always had a head start on poems and songs concerning love. But I digress…
St. Bonaventure, who is seen as the second most important person to the Franciscan movement, was a poet in his own way as well. He taught theology in Paris at the same time as St. Thomas Aquinas. As a thoroughly Trinitarian theologian, St. Bonaventure broke from the norm in some capacity by virtue of the fact that he wrote extensively on Christian spirituality. Often, even today, people would go one way or the other, but Bonaventure found a way to synthesize theology and spirituality in a way that is only just now being valued again.
The Classics of Western Spirituality is a series that compiles the most noteworthy texts of historical figures and publishes them in an incredibly readable format and size of book. Their volume on Bonaventure is what caught my eye…
In this edition can be found, The Soul’s Journey into God, The Tree of Life, and The Life of St. Francis. The first two are contemplative guides to meditations on the outward, inward and upward movements of spiritual development, a guide to reflecting on the life of Jesus, and the definitive biography of St. Francis.
Thomas Merton remarked more than once, “The only cure for the angst of modern man is mysticism.”
On some level, Christianity has lost its core identity as a form of mysticism, as a means of contemplation and meditation on God in such a way that it leads to personal transformation and social activism. It is no wonder that the majority of millennials find modern Christianity to be vacuous, to be empty. External ritual has been emphasized as piety rather than the classical Christian virtues of peace, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, self-control, and so many more.
American Christianity has been concerned with the transmission of information about the faith rather than transformation in the life of faith. And I believe millennials see right through it. They want transformation because I know that I want transformation. The life that is inspired by Jesus is the life similar to that of the Good Samaritan (who also does not go about parading about the good they have just done).
St. Bonaventure stands out to me because he shows that it is possible to be a theologian as well as a Christian mystic. He is one of many prime examples that one may be a profound Christian thinker yet also live a life that has successfully found that “second simplicity,” the childlike faith we are all encouraged to have.
With that being said, go read the works of the saints, I am sure they will challenge, comfort and inspire you.