By Denise Trull
Blessed feast of St Bonaventure!
On the subject of temperaments (an endlessly fascinating subject, I know) I have a few children who, when reading that it would be a contradictory impossibility to be both sanguine and melancholic, would look up from the book and say, "Mom, I am a contradictory impossibility!" And I would reply to them, "No. You are just French.”
Saturday is the feast of St. Bonaventure, whose own phlegmatic temperament was sent to save a large, wandering group of well meaning, lively but lost, sanguines who were in desperate need of help -- thirty thousand of them, in fact. The order of St. Francis of Assisi.
Alas, the brothers of St. Francis, as cheerful, kind, inviting, and downright fun as they were, would have been a phlegmatic's worst nightmare or cross, depending on the level of your holiness. Luckily, St. Bonaventure was most holy.
These sanguine sons of Francis were not the list-makers. Or the rule-writers. Or the organizers. They willingly hugged lepers, fed the hungry, talked to the lonely and danced and sang loudly and with spirit to The Most High King. They were deeply poor and joyful and kind, but they couldn’t organize themselves to save their lives. Without proper leadership, they began to fight and wander from the ideals that Francis had set out by the example of his life. God loved them so much, however, that He sent them a father to keep things in order so they could continue to do what they were called to do -- be joyful beggars for the Lord. What beautiful providence this is!
St. Bonaventure was born in 1221 in Tuscany, Italy. He became gravely ill as a child and was saved when his mother prayed to a "new" saint at that time, the holy St. Francis of Assisi. That's when God began to unfold his plan. Bonaventure was cured through the tears of his mother and the kind intercession of St. Francis.
Bonaventure was born with a fine, ordered mind and he loved quiet and study. As a young man, he met some Franciscans and was probably delighted by them (who doesn’t love a sanguine). He was very impressed by their poverty and joy. He joined their number and eventually, seeing his fine mind, his superiors sent him to university in Paris where he received a doctorate in theology. He grew in holiness and zeal while there and was nicknamed the Seraphic Doctor. His fellow student and friend, Thomas Aquinas, once asked him where he received all his deep and beautiful thoughts. St. Bonaventure led his friend to his desk and pointed to the crucifix above it saying, “It is He who tells me everything. He is my only teacher.”
It wasn't long before this very organized, methodical man saw the great need to write a standardized, unifying, reformed rule for his brothers to follow. He also loved them so dearly that he wrote a beautiful biography of their beloved father and founder, the holy Francis, knowing how moved and delighted they would be. He also wanted to honor this saint who had listened to the heartfelt prayers of his dear mother so long ago.
In the end, Bonaventure literally saved this group of sanguines with his careful love of order and organization. He became their minister general. He was also able to convince them that they needed to take a more intellectual and moderate path in order to preserve their order in the future. Many of these men proved to be fine intellectuals and settled into lives of study and order through his example, thus bringing some stability and depth of spirit to their order in addition to the joyful poverty for which they were already well known.
Eventually, Pope Gregory heard wind of him and sought him out. Bonaventure humbly begged no. But, alas, he was chosen and was made the cardinal bishop of Albano, Italy. It is said that Bonaventure was washing pots at his monastery when the delegates showed up with his official red hat. They waited patiently for him to be done. He was methodical, remember, because he was a phlegmatic. He dried his hands quietly on a towel and then received his hat, I imagine, with a quiet sigh of resignation. His brothers probably thought this just another opportunity for dancing and singing and made much of their father’s red hat.
I can’t help thinking, when I read some of his beautiful writings, that there was a secret, exuberant sanguine deep down in Bonaventure somewhere. For how else could he have cried out in such beautiful abandon, like a true son of Francis:
"Run with eager desire to this source of life and light...Come, whoever you may be, and cry out to Him with all the strength of your heart!”
All you temperaments of the Lord, bless the Lord, praise Him and magnify Him forever!