July 15: Saint Bonaventure

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Saint Bonaventure at St Anthony of Padua, Rye, SX.

Someone should mark the feast of the  Seraphic Doctor, Saint Bonaventure. He is shown above with book and quill and two lamps, no doubt for burning the midnight oil in his studies and writing. His head is bathed in heavenly light, suggesting he is inflamed by the Holy Spirit. In this passage from ‘The Mind’s Journey to God’ he tells us, paradoxically for a researcher, to seek for God not in daylight but in darkness, not in research but in sighs of prayer.

This reminded me of the poet Dylan Thomas, for whom darkness was a creative space, even as a child. He tells us that at day’s end in A Child’s Christmas in Wales, ‘I got into bed. I said some words to the close and holy darkness, and then I slept.’[1] And remembered, for thirty years.

And so to Bonaventure, writing poetically with many  images:
Christ is both the way and the door. Christ is the staircase and the vehicle, like the throne of mercy over the Ark of the Covenant, and the mystery hidden from the ages. A man should mercylogoturn his full attention to this throne of mercy, and should gaze at him hanging on the cross, full of faith, hope and charity, devoted, full of wonder and joy, marked by gratitude, and open to praise and jubilation. Then such a man will make with Christ a passing-over. Through the branches of the cross he will pass over the Red Sea, leaving Egypt and entering the desert. There he will taste the hidden manna, and rest with Christ in the sepulchre, as if he were dead to things outside. He will experience, as much as is possible for one who is still living, what was promised to the thief who hung beside Christ: Today you will be with me in Paradise.

For this passover to be perfect, we must suspend all the operations of the mind and we must transform the peak of our affections, directing them to God alone. This is a sacred mystical experience. It cannot be comprehended by anyone unless he surrenders himself to it; nor can he surrender himself to it unless he longs for it; nor can he long for it unless the Holy Spirit, whom Christ sent into the world, should come and inflame his innermost soul. Hence the Apostle says that this mystical wisdom is revealed by the Holy Spirit.

If you ask how such things can occur, seek the answer in God’s grace, not in doctrine; in the longing of the will, not in the understanding; in the sighs of prayer, not in research; seek the bridegroom not the teacher; God and not man; darkness not daylight; and look not to the light but rather to the raging fire that carries the soul to God with intense fervour and glowing love.

 

[1] Dylan Thomas: ‘A Child’s Christmas’, pages not numbered.

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Filed under Daily Reflections, poetry, Year of Mercy

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