Feast of St. Francis: St. Bonaventure's Major Legend Introduces us to St. Francis through the Eyes of a Friend
This pattern of Francis' life is to be imitated, embraced and appropriated in every human life.
Francis loved and lived the Sacred Scriptures. He was a man in a dynamic relationship with the Living Word, Jesus Christ. Through an intimate communion of prayer - and the continual prayerful reading of the Scriptures - Francis thus became a living letter of Christ for others.He calls us to do the same.
CHESAPEAKE, VA (Catholic Online) - The "Major Legend" written by St. Bonaventure is not a biography, at least in the strictest sense. It does not follow a chronological order of the life of Francis. St. Bonaventure writes of the little poor man of Assisi from firsthand experience.
There is so much to write about in this marvelous account of the life of one of my own personal heroes, the saint whose witness led me back to the Church. However, I will focus on one aspect of Bonaventure's tribute to Francis. In the beginning of Chapter Eleven of his eyewitness account of his friend's life, he speaks of Francis' love for the Bible, the Sacred Scripture:
"Unflagging zeal for prayer with a continuing exercise of virtue had led the man of God to such serenity of mind that although he had no expertise in Sacred Scripture through learning, his intellect, nevertheless enlightened by the splendor of eternal light, probed the depths of scripture with remarkable incisiveness."
"For his genius, pure and unstained, penetrated hidden mysteries, and where the knowledge of teachers stands outside, the passion of the lover entered. Whenever he read the Sacred Books, and something struck his mind, he imprinted it tenaciously on his memory because he did not grasp in vain what his attentive mind heard for he would mull over it with affection and constant devotion."
Francis loved and lived the Sacred Scriptures. He was a man in a dynamic relationship with the Living Word, Jesus Christ. Through an intimate communion of prayer - and the continual prayerful reading of the Scriptures - Francis thus became a living letter of Christ for others. (2 Cor. 3: 1-3) He calls us to do the same.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that "Christianity is the religion of the "Word" of God, "not a written and mute word, but incarnate and living. If the Scriptures are not to remain a dead letter, Christ, the eternal Word of the living God, must, through the Holy Spirit, open (our) minds to understand the Scriptures." (CCC# 108) This was the lived experience of Francis of Assisi and can become ours as well.
Bonaventure's account of his friend, mentor and spiritual father weaves a captivating picture of a poor, little man from Assisi who fully lived the life of grace and was completely conformed to Christ. It sets that life before the reader as an example to follow, imbibe and imitate - a life of penance, conversion, renunciation, self emptying, transforming and redemptive love.
These themes are developed by Bonaventure, a theologian of the highest order, in beautifully inspiring writing which invites the reader into his or her own encounter with the source of Francis' profound spirituality, Jesus Christ.
Bonaventure presents a Francis conformed and configured to crucified love over time through an ever deepening, dynamic relationship of living faith which manifested the timeless kingdom in the heart of the world. This pattern of Francis' life is to be imitated, embraced and appropriated in every human life. The life of the little poor man is a light from heaven meant to illuminate our own lives and guide us into the fire of God's love.
Living faith, like the faith demonstrated in Francis, mediates the mystery of God's loving plan. It can also open our spiritual eyes to behold God's design in the Book of Creation, the Book of Scripture. Bonaventure writes of Francis:
"Aroused by everything to divine love, he rejoiced in all the works of the Lord's hands and through their delightful display he rose into their life-giving reason and cause. In beautiful things he contuited Beauty itself and through the footprints impressed in things he followed his beloved everywhere, out of them all making a ladder through which he could climb up to lay hold of him who is utterly desirable"
Bonaventure offers a lesson book by telling the story of Francis in this way. It leads the reader to the One whom Francis loved, served, imitated and became. At the center of it all we find the Crucified Christ, the Word made flesh, Love Incarnate, stretched out on the wooden altar, which is the ladder of ascent and descent. This crucified Christ is the Center of the Universe and brings about its recapitulation as He is poured out in kenosis.
Philippians 2: 1-12 records an early, perhaps even pre-Pauline hymn that is central to the entire framework of the Major Legend because it reveals the "kenosis", the self emptying of the Second Person of the Trinity and is the very core of the response Francis made to the continual invitation he received from Jesus:
"Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he ...
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