The Gospel is primarily communicated by highly symbolic human lives that operate as “Prime Attractors”: through actions visibly done in love; by a nonviolent, humble, and liberated lifestyle; and through identification with the edged out and the excluded of the world. The very presence of such Prime Attractors “gives others reasons for spiritual joy,” as St. Francis said.
Bonaventure pays little attention to fire and brimstone, sin, merit, justification, or atonement. His vision is positive, mystic, cosmic, intimately relational, and largely concerned with cleaning the lens of our perception and our intention so we can see and enjoy fully!
As St. Francis is often quoted as saying, “You must preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary use words.” This demands no “belief” or theology whatsoever, but only eyes wide open.
.. In the great basilica in Assisi where Francis is buried, there is a wonderful bronze sculpture of Francis inviting the Holy Spirit. Instead of looking upward as is usual, he gazes reverently and longingly downward—into the earth—where the Spirit is enmeshed. Francis understood that the Holy Spirit had in fact descended; she is forever and first of all here! There are artists who inherently understand incarnation.
Both Jesus and Francis were “conservatives” in the true sense of the term: they conserved what was worth conserving—the core, the transformative life of the Gospel—and did not let accidentals get in the way. They then ended up looking quite “progressive,” radical, and even dangerous to the status quo.
The poverty and austerity of Saint Francis were no mere veneer of asceticism, but something much more radical: a refusal to turn reality into an object simply to be used and controlled.
.. Jesus told us, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind” (Luke 10:27). He called us to a presence that is a broader and deeper kind of knowing than just cognitive thinking. Thinking knows things by objectifying them, capturing them as an object of knowledge. But presence knows things by refusing to objectify them; instead it shares in their very subjectivity. Presence allows full give and take, what Martin Buber (1878-1965) called the “I/Thou” relationship with things as opposed to the mere “I/it” relationship. Buber summed it up in his often-quoted phrase: “All real living is meeting.”