Mystical Prayer in the Holy Spirit

Christ is both the way and the door. Christ is the staircase and the vehicle, like the throne of mercy over the Ark of the Covenant, and the mystery hidden from the ages. A man should turn his full attention to this throne of mercy, and should gaze at him hanging on the cross, full of faith, hope and charity, devoted, full of wonder and joy, marked by gratitude, and open to praise and jubilation. Then such a man will make with Christ a pasch, that is, a passing-over. Through the branches of the cross he will pass over the Red Sea, leaving Egypt and entering the desert. There he will taste the hidden manna, and rest with Christ in the sepulchre, as if he were dead to things outside. He will experience, as much as is possible for one who is still living, what was promised to the thief who hung beside Christ:Today you will be with me in paradise.

For this passover to be perfect, we must suspend all the operations of the mind and we must transform the peak of our affections, directing them to God alone. This is a sacred mystical experience. It cannot be comprehended by anyone unless he surrenders himself to it; nor can he surrender himself to it unless he longs for it; nor can he long for it unless the Holy Spirit, whom Christ sent into the world, should come and inflame his innermost soul. Hence the Apostle says that this mystical wisdom is revealed by the Holy Spirit.

If you ask how such things can occur, seek the answer in God’s grace, not in doctrine; in the longing of the will, not in the understanding; in the sighs of prayer, not in research; seek the bridegroom not the teacher; God and not man; darkness not daylight; and look not to the light but rather to the raging fire that carries the soul to God with intense fervour and glowing love. The fir is God, and the furnace is in Jerusalem, fired by Christ in the ardour of his loving passion. Only he understood this who said: My soul chose hanging and my bones death.Anyone who cherishes this kind of death can see God, for it is certainly true that: No man can look upon me and live.

Let us die, then, and enter into the darkness, silencing our anxieties, our passions and all the fantasies of our imagination. Let us pass over with the crucified Christ from this world to the Father, so that, when the Father has shown himself to us, we can say with Philip: It is enough. We may hear with Paul: My grace is sufficient for you;and we can rejoice with David, saying: My flesh and my heart fail me, but God is the strength of my heart and my heritage for ever. Blessed be the Lord for ever, and let all the people say: Amen. Amen!

 
This reading on mystical (contemplative) prayer, taken from St. Bonaventure’s Journey of the Mind to God (Cap. 7,1 2.4.6: Opera Omnia, 5, 312-313), is used in the Roman Office of Readings for the Feast (liturgical memorial) of St. Bonaventure on July 15.

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Bonaventure , St.

Born in Italy as Giovanni di Fidanza around the year 1217, St. Bonaventure entered the new religious order founded by St. Francis of Assisi called the “Friars Minor” around the year 1243, about twenty years after Francis’ death. Bonaventure studied theology under the famous Alexander of Hales and became a professor at the greatest school of theology in the medieval world, the University of Paris where he taught alongside St. Thomas Aquinas, the “Angelic Doctor.” St. Bonaventure’s theology is always written with holy passion, in the tradition of St. Augustine, and always directed towards increasing the depth and intensity of the spiritual life. Because of his burning zeal, Bonaventure became known as the “Seraphic Doctor.” St. Bonaventure was elected minister general of the Franciscan order in 1257 and played a prominent role in settling the dissension that had plagued the order since the death of its founder, St. Francis. In fact Bonaventure’s Life of St. Francis was approved by the Friars Minor as the official biography of their founder. Having been created Cardinal Archbishop of Albano in 1273, St. Bonaventure attended the Ecumenical Council of Lyon where he died in the same year that St. Thomas Aquinas died, in 1274. As a theologian, Saint Bonaventure upheld the duty and value of using the human intellect to reflect on the mysteries of faith. But for him all human wisdom was folly when compared to the mystical illumination given to the faithful Christian by God himself. This theme is most beautifully developed in St. Bonaventure’s best known work, his Itinerarium Mentis in Deum (Journey of the Mind into God). His most extensive and systematic work of theology is his Commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard. It is however, as a spiritual writer, that Saint Bonaventure has had his greatest and most lasting impact. Be sure to check out the poetic Prayer of Saint Bonaventure. Incorporate it into your own prayer life. It is only fitting that the first Franciscan University in the United States, located in St. Bonaventure, New York, should be named after St. Bonaventure, the greatest of all Franciscan theologians. His feast day in the Roman calendar falls on July 15.