In anticipation of the feast of St. Bonaventure on July 15, Christopher VanHaight, OFM, pastor of St. Bonaventure Parish in Paterson, N.J., reflects on the ways his community embodies the teachings of the 13th century saint.
On the list of Franciscan saints, there are some famous names — Francis himself, Clare, Anthony. But here at our parish, there is another Franciscan saint we hold dear — our patron, St. Bonaventure. Though not as well known as other Franciscan saints, his life and works continue to inspire us and the wider Franciscan family.
A Saint of Many Titles
St. Bonaventure of Bagnoregio held many titles during his lifetime (1221-1274) and beyond — friar, priest, scholar, theologian, General Minister of the Order of Friars Minor, Cardinal Bishop of Albano, saint, Doctor of the Church. But the title he most valued, and which I believe most keenly formed his life and his theology, was Christian. For Bonaventure, no matter how much he valued the intellectual life, it was living the Christian life, a life of the heart and soul, which mattered most. Rational thought was important to Bonaventure, but only insofar as it led ultimately to a mystical union with God.
It was because Christ was the focal point of Bonaventure’s rational and contemplative life that he was able to find the serenity to navigate the fractious differences he was confronted with again and again throughout his life and which he was often called upon to help solve. These include the squabbles between the diocesan clergy and mendicants such as himself during his time as a master at the University of Paris with St. Thomas Aquinas, holding together the various factions of friars during his time as General Minister, or helping to bring together the Eastern and Western parts of the Church at the Second Council of Lyon, at which he was a prominent theologian and where he died on July 15, 1274. For Bonaventure, all things came from God and ultimately led back to God, and he used his intellectual ability to help guide others to seeing that reality as well. For Bonaventure, the gifts he had been given were for God’s glory, never his own.
Bonaventure in New Jersey
This is why I am honored to be the pastor of a church named after this great saint. Here at St. Bonaventure Parish, we strive to follow our patron’s example. Yes, we respect and promote the study of the faith here through our religious formation and adult faith programs, through our preaching and other liturgical celebrations, and through our day-to-day interactions. But the ultimate goal of all this activity and learning is the same one St. Bonaventure himself had, which is to be guided and to guide others on the journey toward God. Coming together as the one body of Christ, we strive daily for that union with God that St. Bonaventure so earnestly studied, taught about, prayed for, and ultimately achieved.
It was Bonaventure’s conviction that anyone properly disposed and guided could achieve union with the divine. Through our ministry to both the English-speaking and Spanish-speaking communities of Paterson and the surrounding area, we strive — as one parish family — to invite all to walk with us on the path to Christ. Just as in the life of Bonaventure we are often confronted with difficult situations throughout our individual lives and as a parish, we know as Bonaventure did that a challenge faced with Christ in one’s heart is, in fact, an opportunity for a grace-filled moment.
St. Bonaventure wrote many important theological and spiritual works, and I wish to conclude this meditation with how he ends one of these works, the Breviloquium, because it beautifully expresses Bonaventure’s passion for God, which we strive to live out in our parish life as well:
“I ask, Lord, as you counsel through our Wonder Counselor. May I receive what you promise through your Truth, so that my joy may be complete. O God of truth, I ask that I might receive, so that my joy may be complete. Until then, let my mind meditate on it, let my tongue speak it, let my heart love it, let my mouth express it. Let my soul hunger for it; let my flesh thirst for it; my whole being desire it, until I enter into the joy of my Lord, who is God three and one, blessed forever! Amen.”
— Fr. Christopher, a native of Boston, has been pastor of St. Bonaventure Parish, Paterson, N.J., since 2012.
The HNP Communications Office welcomes friars to submit reflections about holidays, feast days and other topics of a timely nature. Those interested in submitting a reflection for consideration for a future issue of HNP Today should contact communications director Jocelyn Thomas by email at JThomas@hnp.org.