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Of Innocence and Intellect

Updated on July 14, 2021

”Innocence tinctures all things with brightest hues.” ~ Edward Counsel

We would appear to be faced with something of a divine paradox today in that the Catholic Church pauses to celebrate the Memorial of the great Saint Bonaventure, the man who would go on to be dubbed the “Seraphic Doctor” by his students at the University of Paris due to his ability to capture their hearts and minds by way of his brilliant academic acumen and insights. He would ultimately earn the title of Doctor of the Church, an honor he shares with only 35 others.

Yet in today’s Gospel (Matthew 11:25-37), Jesus speaks of the necessity of cultivating a faith rooted in simplicity, “child-like” (11:25) as it were, in order to fully understand and cherish the great mysteries of our faith

How does one achieve this delicate balance, wherein the pursuit of knowledge, one of the seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit, is coupled in perfect proportion with the wonder and awe that accompanies a true child-like faith? Can having too much knowledge be a detriment to the formulation of a child-like faith? Is it even possible to have too much knowledge? On the surface, having too much knowledge would seem to be on par with being too rich or too thin. The answer to these questions might surprise you.

Appointed Bishop of Albano in the year 1273 by Pope Gregory X and made a Cardinal shortly thereafter as well, Saint Bonaventure died suddenly on this date, July 15th, a year later in 1274. There are many who believe that he was poisoned by one of his adversaries. Saint Bonaventure played a vital role in both the medieval Church and the history of the Franciscan Order, earning, as mentioned earlier, the rarefied title of Doctor of the Church. His gifts as a mystical writer were virtually unparalleled; they remain as such today.

Noted author and editor Margaret Caroline Anderson once observed “I have always suspected that too much knowledge is a dangerous thing. It is a boon to people who don't have deep feelings; their pleasure comes from what they know. But this only emphasizes the difference between the artist and the scholar.” It is true that knowledge for the mere sake of it, knowledge that is ravenously acquired in a way that Imelda Marcos might accumulate shoes, is an exercise in vanity. Yet in tomorrow’s Gospel (Matthew 11:28-30) Jesus says “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me.” Herein lies Jesus’ core mission, the very reason He was sent by the Father. To die for our sins yes, but also that we might learn from Him. For in Him is enfleshed the word of God, the perfect man who led a flawless life. By emulating Jesus, we can properly respond to His heroic gift of self-sacrifice on the cross, thereby attaining eternal life. This is why the Gospels, these four books which tell of the life of Jesus and thus serve as our roadmap to the Heavenly Kingdom, are the most important books we will ever read.

Innocent trust, turning to God in our sorrows as well as our joys, our setbacks and celebrations, is at the heart of a true child-like faith. As we adopt this attitude, Jesus begins to reveal Himself to us in more profound and meaningful ways. Our eyes become open to His mercy. Far too often we have more faith in our weaknesses and frailty than in the power of God. But through the cultivation of a child-like faith, we come to finally believe and understand that our sinfulness is no match for Jesus’ love and willingness to forgive.

Like his role model Saint Francis, those who knew Saint Bonaventure would often talk about his amazing ability to put Jesus at the center of everything; his teachings, his administration, his writing, and his life. In this respect, Saint Bonaventure, a man of tremendous spiritual complexity, kept it simple. Yes, Saint Bonaventure married the child-like components of his faith to the intellectual elements with amazing acuity, similar in many ways to the beloved Saint Terese of Lisieux May we too search for and ultimately achieve that ideal blend of innocence and intellect, of wonder and wisdom, so that we may better understand and fall in love with the divine mysteries of our faith.

“Look with favor on us O Lord, we pray, that on this Feast Day of Blessed Saint Bonaventure, we may always give honor to your name, striving to know you, to love you, to serve you....and to be forever in awe of you” ~ Amen

Saint Bonaventure, pray and intercede for us.


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