As you know, St. Bonaventure was a contemporary of other great saints, like St. Francis of Assisi and St Thomas Aquinas. So he lived about 800 years ago. HIs date of birth is not exactly known, but is placed between 1217 and 1221. He was born in Civita di Bagnoregio, near Viterbo, Italy. His father was a doctor. At first he had the name John like his father. Then he changed it to Bonaventure, when he entered the Franciscan family. He taught theology at the famous Sorbonne University in Paris, then from 1257 (at age 40 years), he was Minister General of the Franciscan Order for 17 years.
In 1273 (when he was 56 years old) his life underwent a great change: Pope Gregory X called him to be Bishop of Albano, and a Cardinal. And moreover asked him to prepare an Ecumenical Council in Lyon, which had the task of again establishing unity in the Church, that is, full communion between the Latin and Greek Churches. He devoted himself assiduously to this delicate task, but did not succeed in seeing the completion of the ecumenical session, because he died in 1257, while it was being prepared. He was 57 years old.
One anonymous papal clerk left us a short but wonderful description: "A good man, kind, then also compassionate, full of virtues, beloved of God and people." He was a great saint, but also an excellent philosopher and theologian. And so for the works that he left us, after his death (1592) he was declared a Doctor of the Church, and was called "The Seraphic Doctor."
"What can St. Bonaventure teach us? The answer was simple: he can teach a lot, like every great saint. And here, in order to facilitate reflection, I would like to point out only two aspects of his character, which can be very useful for our concrete pastoral situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
First of all, he cultivated a great love for St. Francis and the Franciscan Order. An event that happened while he was a boy, made a deep impresson on his life. He was struck by a severe illness. Not even his father, who was a doctor, hoped any longer to save him from death. His mother hastened to the intercession of Saint Francis, who had just been canonized, and she obtained his healing. Later, when he was a student in Paris, he remained fascinated by the ardent testimony and radical evangelical witness of the Friars Minor, who had come to Paris a few years earlier. It so happened that John knocked on the door of the Franciscan monastery in that city and asked to be admitted to the great family of the spiritual sons of Saint Francis. He was invested with the Franciscan habit in 1243 and was named St. Bonaventure (exchanging John with Bonaventure).Fourteen years later, when he was already a renowned teacher in Paris, the General Chapter of the Order elected him to be Minister General. He was 40 years old. He fulfilled this service wisely and faithfully for 17 years. Concerning this so sensitive service of General Minister, I would like particularly to draw attention to two elements:- In the first place to the Constitution of the Order, which he prepared and had approved by order of the General Chapter (1260, Constituzioni Narbonensi). On these Constitutions were based all subsequent Constitutions of the Order.
- Then, the life of St. Francis, which he personally prepared (entitled Legenda Maior), which became the official biography of Saint Francis, at a delicate moment in Franciscan history, when conflicting interpretations of the life of the founder were in danger of causing serious tensions and divisions.
The image of Saint Francis, which flowed out of the heart and pen of his loyal son, St. Bonaventure, is that the man from Assisi was a poor person who passionately sought Jesus Christ, who knew him and loved him. Out of love comes imitation, and so he became like him completely. St. Bonaventure with fervor of faith dedicated himself and particularly all followers of Saint Francis to this model. But this model is valid for every Christian, yesterday, today and tomorrow. It is a program of the spiritual life, that is valid also for us today. And today as we celebrate the great patron of Banja Luka, we are called to live this ideal every day in our life. In other words it is according to the life of St. Francis that St. Bonaventure invites us to know Jesus, to love Him and to imitate him, to put Him in the center of our life, and - especially in difficulties - to be with him on the cross, to take up our cross every day, so as to share with Him in the dawn of resurrection and life.
The other aspect of the personality of St. Bonaventure which I think is very important for our communities, is his great love for the Church. He witnessed his love for the Church not only during the time of his episcopal ministry in Albano and of preparation for the Ecumenical Council of Lyons, but through all of his theological and spiritual works, his sermons, and his academic activities in Paris which speak of him as a loyal son of the Church.
He wanted to institutionalize this unconditional love for the Church in the Franciscan Order when he was invited to be Minister General. And so, with the above mentioned Constitutions which he prepared for the Order and that were approved in1260 at the General Chapter of Narbonne, he wanted to arrange the life of the Franciscan Order in a harmonious way and with a desire to actively include the Order in pastoral ministry and in the organized and institutional structure of the Church.