Super-Splendant Darkness: The Feast of St. Bonaventure
July 15th Readings Reflection: Memorial of Saint Bonaventure, Bishop and Doctor of the Church
Today the Church celebrates the feast of St. Bonaventure, a Doctor of the Church who is known as the Seraphic Doctor for his holiness and contributions to Catholic theology and philosophy. The following quote, taken from St. Bonaventure’s famous Journey of the Mind to God, is particularly fitting for today’s Gospel reading:
[N]o one can become blessed, unless he ascends above his very self, not by an ascent with the body, but with the heart.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus reminds us that “[n]o disciple is above his teacher, no slave above his master.” St. Bonaventure recognized that no matter how close he came to understanding the nature of God, he was ultimately only a disciple and could never fully understand the infinite mystery of the Almighty. He wrote that the best way to understand God is by thinking of what God is not. According to St. Bonaventure, it is through darkness and unknowing that we are best able to know God.
The concept is less confusing than it first sounds. With our imaginations, we tend to create our own ideas of what God is like. There is a danger, however, of clinging to these ideas too much. C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters mentioned that one danger is praying to our idea of God rather than to God Himself; we may start praying to our mental image of God as an old Man with a long white beard rather than to God in Heaven. St. Bonaventure described how, through humility, we must learn to set aside our personal ideas of God and allow ourselves to learn who He truly is without mental distractions. We must turn to the instruction of Sacred Scripture, the Church, and the saints, recognizing that we are but disciples and cannot fully comprehend the infinite nature of God.
Jesus said in today’s Gospel, “What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light; what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.” God speaks to us in whispers, the “still, small voice” that spoke to the prophet Elias (cf. 1 Kgs 19:12). We must learn to clear our minds from distractions in order to listen to His voice. In this “super-splendant darkness” of which St. Bonaventure wrote, we can come to understand God more fully as we strive to do His will each day.
St. Bonaventure, ora pro nobis!