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Friday, 7 September 2012

THE SOUL’S JOURNEY INTO GOD (Ryan Mutayomba)


RYAN MUTAYOMBA 11029T
THE SOUL’S JOURNEY INTO GOD     

I want to understand my Franciscan tradition!
            St Bonaventure was born Giovanni Fidanza in 1217 at Bagnoregio Tuscany. Legend has it that as a child, he was healed from a serious illness through the prayers of St Francis of Assisi and he got the name of Bonaventure from the exclamation, ‘O buona Ventura’- O good fortune, which Francis made upon foreseeing the future of the child. He joined the Order at the age to 22 and after completing his studies at the University of Paris, he taught theology there until He was elected as the 7th Minister General of the Order of Friars Minor. Because of his immense impact on the Order as Minister General, he is sometimes referred to as the ‘Second Founder’, in that he brought order to a disorganised Order. He was made a Cardinal in 1273 and he died a year later in 1274 while attending the Council of Lyons in which he took a leading role. He was canonised in 1482 and was declared Doctor of the Church in 1588. He is also referred to as the ‘Seraphic Doctor’. St Bonaventure left many writings but he is known for his most influential work called Itinerarium Mentis in Deum, that is, ‘The Soul’s Journey into God’.
            I was moved to choose this work of St Bonaventure called ‘The Soul’s Journey into God’ because as a young Franciscan friar I would like to deepen my grasp on Christian spirituality from a Franciscan orientation. Therefore I believe reading St Bonaventure’s classic gives me that opportunity of delving into the Christian spirituality from a Franciscan point of view. On the other hand, reading St Bonaventure’s work, who is one of the greatest minds of the Christian Middle Ages, also gives me an opportunity to appreciate the spirituality of the Middle Ages which produced some of the illustrious saints that we have in the Church.


THE SOUL’S JOURNEY INTO GOD
Reflection On Divine Assistance (24th September)

                Each of us is called to communion with God but this communion, which will be realised when we see the lord face to face, is preceded by a spiritual journey in which one progressively comes to know and to love God. One thing that struck me at the beginning of this book is the acknowledgement that though we may have the desire and will to embark on this journey, there can be no progress “unless divine assistance intervenes.” This just re-echoes the words of Jesus that “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” (Jn 6:44)  Personal effort, therefore, is not ‘everything’ in this journey since one needs to be assisted by the grace of God. Nonetheless, personal effort is indispensable since one needs to cooperate with this grace. This humbling reality makes one to realise his/her dependence on God not only on the spiritual journey but in one’s entire earthly existence, but this is not obvious and is easily missed. It is thus uplifting to know that divine assistance is always and everywhere available to us and our part is to direct our efforts in cooperating with it. Hence, one can conclude that it is this divine assistance that even led St Augustine to realise that “our hearts are restless until they find rest in God.” 


On Creation as a Mirror of God (21st October 2012)


            The itinerarium of St Bonaventure is permeated by the use of symbolism. One striking symbolism that he uses is that of a mirror in talking about the relationship between Creation and God. Bonaventure points out that creation reflects its creator, thus, to an awakened mind, creation can serve as a ladder to the contemplation of the Creator. In our search for God, assuming we are really searching for God, it is rare that we begin to search for God in familiar surroundings and objects. This is because ‘familiarity breeds contempt’. Our minds are so attuned to look for extraordinary experiences as sign of the presence of God forgetting that God can be found even in ordinary experiences as Jesus pointed out that in performing ordinary acts of charity to the needy, we are actually doing them to Him (Mt 25: 35ff).  Most of the time, our judgment about the beauty of creation does not go beyond mere aesthetics, we appreciate ‘beautiful’ things, such cars, landscapes, paintings and people in so far as they are pleasurable to our senses. This is not bad, but as Believers, our attention should go beyond mere sensual pleasures to that inner truth and beauty that pervades creation, that is God. However, we cannot have this attentive awareness without the illumination of God’s grace. Once our minds are illuminated, we will be able to see that the created order can serve as a ladder on our spiritual journey in search of the mystery of God. Ours therefore, should be the prayer that God may give us the grace to be attentive to the movement of his spirit in our daily and ordinary experiences but above all, that we may truly see the reflection of His image in the beauty of Creation.


On self-knowledge (1st November 2012)

            In the degrees of ascent that St Bonaventure offers, the middle stage which consists of the third and fourth steps seems to be quite important. It involves self-introspection, a journey into ourselves, for Bonaventure, without self-knowledge one cannot rightly estimate the worth of anything. Only by knowing ourselves can we see that we are frail and weak thus in need of the grace of God. However, most of the time we are afraid to enter into the closet of our hearts for fear of what we might find. This failure is twofold, on one hand it is the result of our unwillingness to embark on this journey of introspection and on the other hand, it is due to our being deformed by sin. So, just as we need the grace of God to embark on the journey toward union with God, we also need the same grace to enter into ourselves as we are unable to do this on our own. Bonaventure sees self-knowledge as a stepping stone to the contemplation of God. Without knowing our strengths and weaknesses, we will be unable to distinguish between what we can and cannot do, what is within our reach and what is outside our reach. Self-knowledge is therefore important not only in the spiritual dimension but also in other areas of our life. In fact, there can be no growth until we learn to confront ourselves. 


A SUMMARY OF ST BONAVENTURE’S 

BOOK: THE SOUL’S JOURNEY INTO GOD 

Introduction
St Bonaventure was born Giovanni Fidanza in 1217 at Bagnoregio Tuscany. Legend has it that as a child, he was healed from a serious illness through the prayers of St Francis of Assisi and he got the name of Bonaventure from the exclamation, ‘O buona Ventura’- O good fortune, which Francis made upon foreseeing the future of the child. He joined the Order at the age to 22 and after completing his studies at the University of Paris, he taught theology there until He was elected as the 7th Minister General of the Order of Friars Minor. Because of his immense impact on the Order as Minister General, he is sometimes referred to as the ‘Second Founder’, in that he brought order to a disorganised Order. He was made a Cardinal in 1273 and he died a year later in 1274 while attending the Council of Lyons in which he took a leading role. He was canonised in 1482 and was declared Doctor of the Church in 1588. He is also referred to as the ‘Seraphic Doctor’. St Bonaventure left many writings but he is known for his most influential work called Itinerarium Mentis in Deum, that is, ‘The Soul’s Journey into God’. The task of this paper is to give a summary of the book and some personal reflection thereafter.
Organization of the Book
In the prologue, Bonaventure talks about the context in which he wrote this book and how he has organized it. Bonaventure places the composition of the book in the context of his search for peace, a search that, he says, was inspired by the example of St Francis. He also points out that the main insight for this book came from his meditation on the mystical experience of St Francis in which he (Francis) had a vision of a six winged seraph. Taking the symbol of the six wings of the seraph, Bonaventure expounds a spiritual journey that is composed of six steps or degrees of illumination toward union with God. He thus divides the book into seven chapters, the first six corresponding to the six steps that characterize the soul’s search for God, while the seventh chapter deals with the union with God. Drawing from the pairing of the six wings of the seraph, Bonaventure also pairs the six steps of the journey. Therefore, in as much as Bonaventure talks about six steps or stages of the journey, he also talks about three degrees of ascent to God to correspond to the three pairs of the six wings of the seraph. Thus step one and two represent the beginning of the journey which is outside the person. Step three and four concerns the search within the person and step five and six deal with the search above the person. Thus  Bonaventure outlines in the six chapters of this book a journey that unfolds from the contemplation of things outside the person(creation), to the contemplation of the things within the person(image) and finally to the contemplation of the things above(the attributes of God). This journey is thus a movement from the lowest to the highest, the temporal to the eternal.
Chapter 1 and 2
As alluded to above, in Chapter One and Two, Bonaventure talks about the first degree or stage of the soul’s journey. In this first degree there are two steps. The first step has to do with contemplating God through creation. According to him, creation is like a book written by God, thus it reflects though in a remote manner, the power, wisdom and goodness of God. However, this reflection is at three different levels namely, trace, image and likeness. The second step, which is higher than the first, involves seeing God, not through creation but in creation. That is, through the human act of perception of material things the soul goes beyond the first step and sees that God in not only reflected in creatures, He is actually present in them!
Chapter 3 and 4
In these chapters, the journey moves from Outside (creation), to Inside (self-introspection). In step three the soul moves to the contemplation of the Divine Image within us. Here, one examines the faculties of Memory, Understanding and Will to discover that we are led to God through these natural faculties in their operations, relative functions and patterns of knowledge. In step four, we see God within ourselves through the souls same natural faculties in their reformed state, that is, assisted by infused virtues, spiritual senses and operations of the mind. As such, in Step four Bonaventure focuses on the redemptive work of Christ in restoring the deformed image of God in Man. Bonaventure points out here that these two middle steps are important because one who lacks self-knowledge is unable to correctly estimate the worth of anything. And without this ability to enter into oneself, one cannot examine things either inside or above him. Nonetheless, we are unable to enter into ourselves due to sin, thus we need the assistance of grace to do so. 
Chapter 5 and 6
Here, Bonaventure talks about the contemplation of those things above us, that is, the contemplation of the personal attributes of God. In step five Bonaventure deals with the contemplation of the divine attribute of Being. Here he invites the reader to gaze on this pure Being. He states that the existence to God is self-evident because ‘being’ itself is so certain it cannot be thought not to exist. In step six, Bonaventure moves to the consideration of the attribute of Good. For him since God is good and good is by nature self-diffusive it means that God must be self-communicative. This self-communication of God gives rise to the procession of the son and the spirit. His consideration of the Good led him to the discussion of the Trinitarian processions as well as the centrality of Christ in life of the trinity as well as in the Father’s relationship to the world.
Chapter 7
The seventh step is that of transcendence where the soul goes beyond the world and itself. Here Christ is the one who makes this transcendence possible. Bonaventure points out that the highest union is possible only with the crucified Christ, that is, through an ardent love of the crucified. This stage thus represents the Goal of the journey, that is, ultimate Union with God made possible through Christ.
Personal Reflection
The Itinerarium of St Bonaventure is permeated by the use of symbolism. One striking symbolism that he uses is that of a mirror in talking about the relationship between Creation and God. Bonaventure points out that creation reflects its creator, thus, to an awakened mind, creation can serve as a ladder to the contemplation of the Creator. In our search for God, assuming we are really searching for God, it is rare that we begin to search for God in familiar surroundings and objects. This is because ‘familiarity breeds contempt’. Our minds are so attuned to look for extraordinary experiences as sign of the presence of God forgetting that God can be found even in ordinary experiences as Jesus pointed out that in performing ordinary acts of charity to the needy, we are actually doing them to Him (Mt 25: 35ff).  Most of the time, our judgment about the beauty of creation does not go beyond mere aesthetics, we appreciate ‘beautiful’ things, such cars, landscapes, paintings and people in so far as they are pleasurable to our senses. This is not bad, but as Believers, our attention should go beyond mere sensual pleasures to that inner truth and beauty that pervades creation, that is God. However, we cannot have this attentive awareness without the illumination of God’s grace. Once our minds are illuminated, we will be able to see that the created order can serve as a ladder on our spiritual journey in search of the mystery of God. Ours therefore, should be the prayer that God may give us the grace to be attentive to the movement of his spirit in our daily and ordinary experiences but above all, that we may truly see the reflection of his image in the beauty of Creation.
Each of us is called to communion with God but this communion, which will be realized when we see the Lord face to face, is preceded by a spiritual journey in which one progressively comes to know and to love God. One thing that struck me at the beginning of this book is the acknowledgement that though we may have the desire and will to embark on this journey, there can be no progress “unless divine assistance intervenes.”(Ch. 1.1) This re-echoes the words of Jesus found in Jn. 6:44. Personal effort, therefore, is not ‘everything’ in this journey since one need to be assisted by the grace of God. Nonetheless, personal effort is indispensable since one need to cooperate with this grace. This humbling reality makes one to realize his/her dependence on God not only on the spiritual journey but in one’s entire earthly existence, but this is not obvious and is easily missed. It is thus uplifting to know that divine assistance is always and everywhere available to us and our part is to direct our efforts in cooperating with it. Hence, one can conclude that it is this divine assistance that even led St Augustine to realize that “our hearts are restless until they find rest in God.” 
In the degrees of ascent that St Bonaventure offers, the middle stage which consists of the third and fourth steps seems to be quite important. It involves self-introspection, a journey into our solitary selves. For Bonaventure, without self-knowledge one cannot rightly estimate the worth of anything, it’s only by knowing ourselves that we can see our frailty and weakness and thus our need for the grace of God. However, most of the time we are afraid to enter into the closet of our hearts for fear of what we might find, as such, we tend to avoid solitariness and block it with activities and noise. Despite our efforts to avoid the need for inner silence, this need for personal depth remains especially in the noisy world of today. The failure to introspect oneself is somewhat twofold, on one hand it is the result of our unwillingness to embark on this journey of introspection and on the other hand, it is due to our being deformed by sin. So, just as we need the grace of God to embark on the journey toward union with God, we also need the same grace to enter into ourselves as we are unable to do this on our own. Bonaventure sees self-knowledge as a stepping stone to the contemplation of God. Without knowing our strengths and weaknesses, we will be unable to distinguish between what we can and cannot do, what is within our reach and what is outside our reach. Self-knowledge is therefore important not only in the spiritual dimension but also in other areas of our life. In fact, there can be no growth until we learn to confront ourselves because it is in our inner solitariness that we encounter God.


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