St. Bonaventure and the Franciscans Teach Us the Importance of Peace

Violence and hatred serve only to create division and more hostility — never to change hearts and minds.

Palma il Giovane (1544-1628), “St. Bonaventure”
Palma il Giovane (1544-1628), “St. Bonaventure” (photo: Didier Descouens / Public Domain)

Today, we celebrate the feast day of St. Bonaventure — a saint sometimes referred to as the “second founder of the Franciscans.”

I grew up in a parish served by Franciscan priests, so I’ve always had a special love in my heart for St. Francis of Assisi and those who followed him. In fact, our church and parish school were named after St. Francis. 

When I visited Italy for the second time, I made it a point to visit Assisi to see the incredibly beautiful town where Francis lived. It sits on a hill, so quiet and peaceful. I felt as if I had stepped back into the 1200s. And that feeling embodies the peace I imagine when I think not only of St. Francis but of all those in the Franciscan order. 

So naturally, I am intrigued by the life of St. Bonaventure as well, as he so faithfully followed in the footsteps of St. Francis and promoted peace.

Legend tells us that, when Bonaventure was a child, he was deathly ill and healed by the intercession of Francis. Regardless of whether or not the story is true, we do know that Francis’ influence on Bonaventure lasted his entire life.

Bonaventure joined the Franciscans in 1243, studied with St. Thomas Aquinas, and became a doctor of the Church. But he is best known for fostering unity and peace within the order and within the Church.

Today, now more than ever, we need the example of Bonaventure and Francis. For the past few years, we have seen divisiveness on a monumental scale. But since the Dobbs leak and then the actual decision, we have seen an increase in anger, violence, vitriol and misinformation.

As pro-life people who work every day to help others see the beauty and dignity of the preborn baby, it is our duty to emulate saints like Bonaventure and Francis and to promote the peace that they taught. 

This means that we respond to harsh words about “my body, my choice” with the truth about human dignity and worth. We calmly explain the science that proves that a separate human being is created from the moment the sperm fertilizes the egg and that this person deserves the protection that those of us who are born have. It means that we summon the moral courage to speak out in compassion and love when someone we know spews hatred or half-truths. And it means that we educate our children, our family, our friends and even those who don’t understand the evil of abortion by teaching the humanity of the preborn baby.

But we do all this with love, keeping in mind the peace taught by our beloved Franciscans. 

When I was in the third grade, I was tasked with memorizing and reciting the Peace Prayer of St. Francis in front of the whole school. It has become one of my favorites. In that prayer, we ask the Lord to become instruments of peace. We pray:

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

The prayer ends with us asking God to help us do for others rather than for ourselves, and that is something we must keep in mind every day, for we were not created to serve ourselves. We were created to know, love, and serve God. And in serving him, we serve others. We care for them. We love them.

We know that it’s easy to love someone when we’re friends with them. But it can be extremely difficult to love the people who hurt us, who vandalize churches, who attack us with words or even violence, and who just can’t seem to understand that a woman’s autonomy over her body ceases when the tiny body of a baby resides within her. 

Those are the times we need the example of Bonaventure and Francis. Those are the times we must reflect on this prayer for peace. Those are the times we need to ask God for his help as we teach, love and speak with compassion.

We will never change hearts and minds if we act as many pro-abortionists today are acting. Violence and hatred serve only to create division and more hostility. It never draws people closer. 

So no matter how angry we become at the actions of pro-abortionists, we cannot allow that anger to cause us to behave in a way that destroys peace. 

We must take that anger and use it to fuel our resolve to lovingly teach the inherent dignity of each person. We start by teaching each person that he/she matters, and then we must live our words by treating people like they matter. If people do not believe they have inherent worth, they will never believe that about a tiny preborn baby they cannot see. 

Indeed, St. Bonaventure once wrote: “If you do not know your own dignity and condition, you cannot value anything at its proper worth.” Too many today do not know their own worth. They have never been taught that they are valuable. With each interaction we have with others, we must right this wrong.

So, as we reflect upon St. Bonaventure’s feast day and the peace he and Francis promoted, let us pray for the strength to be more like them. Let us love others as they did. And let us foster peace in our lives and in our communities knowing that God will work through us to create a culture of life where all are respected and cherished.