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St. Bonaventure’s advice for how to be at peace with your place in this world

CONTEMPLATE
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The Franciscan monk offers 3 tips for how we can be confident that we are right where we are meant to be.

I’m a fraud. Or at least, that’s the thought that rattles through my mind as I stand in the pulpit at Mass and give a room full of Sunday worshipers inspiring words to ponder. As I preach, I wonder if they know how impatient I was on the drive to Church, or how senselessly upset I became when I burned the toast at breakfast. The feeling, when it hits, is that I am out of place, doing a job I am unqualified for and am merely pretending to be competent to fill. Who am I to think I can be a good Catholic priest?

At other times, the pendulum swings and I have the opposite problem. Pride sets in and I convince myself that I am very wise indeed, that no one else is as good a priest as me and I might just deserve the biggest, most wealthy parish in the diocese. Again, it’s a feeling of being out of place, that I somehow belong in front of an ever-growing crowd who will hang on my every word. Nothing is ever good enough and no matter how wonderful my current situation is, I think about what else might have been or find myself jealous of what others have.

Both mindsets are damaging. Both destroy the present moment and represent a refusal to cherish my place in the world. It’s a lack of trust that I am right where I need to be.

Do you struggle to find a sense of your place in this world?

At the least, it’s a major challenge to be able to accept who we are, where we are, and just how happy we can really be if we stop thinking that we belong somewhere else. It’s so irrational, to reject what’s right before us, to purposely alienate ourselves from our very own lives, and yet we all do it. Consider the parent who wishes he had fewer children or more children, the employee who is always complaining and dissatisfied at work, the constant desire for a larger house, a fancier car, a different, more accomplished set of friends. We convince ourselves that no one truly understands us, no one appreciates us, and we are adrift and floating through life. This sense of homelessness causes us to see the world and our place in it with distorted vision.

In times like this, we can turn to St. Bonaventure for advice. Bonaventure was a Franciscan monk living in the 13th century. He spent time at the University of Paris and befriended a number of luminaries of the day, including St. Thomas Aquinas and King Louis IX. He wasn’t as smart as Aquinas but was never jealous, insisting that his friend receive his diploma before he did as a sign of honor. He wasn’t as rich or powerful as King Louis but never desired to trade places. After he graduated, Pope Gregory tried to make him an archbishop, but that wasn’t the right place for Bonaventure and he declined. Eventually, he became the leader of the Franciscan Order and among his writings is the classic meditation The Journey of the Mind to God.

Bonaventure was a man who knew his place in the world. He was at peace with his life, his choices, and took great joy in fulfilling his vocation. In The Journey of the Mind to God, he offers three helpful tips for how we can achieve the same:

1
Investigate rationally

Bonaventure says, “In the first way of seeing, the observer considers things in themselves …” In other words, make a factual investigation of life. It may be as simple as a reminder that my friends and family are pretty wonderful, I have a good job just where I am, I deserve neither more nor less praise, and that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. It’s an honest look at the way everything in life fits together and the reassurance that I’m in the right place.

2
Believe faithfully

Next, Bonaventure says, we consider the world in its “origin, development, and end.” This serves as a reminder that there is a progression to our lives and that we are on a journey. It encourages thankfulness for past blessings, gratitude for the present, and hope for the future. We must have faith in the ultimate goodness of the world and where our lives are heading.

3
Contemplate intellectually

Now that we have reminded ourselves of the facts and renewed our sense of movement towards a goal, Bonaventure says we can discern that some things are “better and of more dignity.” When we desire the wrong things for the wrong reasons, it causes alienation. We must sort out what is actually good for us. It’s a different way of seeing, to notice that every good thing has meaning and in our daily lives we are constantly touching eternity. A person who seeks these beautiful and noble aspects of life discovers a sense of belonging and home, that the world is full of permanence and goodness.

Ultimately, when I read Bonaventure, he helps me to remember that whatever we do, it matters. Our lives matter, our family, friends, thoughts, emotions, work, and hobbies matter. It matters that my cup of coffee is good in the morning and that I saw a particularly nice flower while walking the dog after work. My life is important. Your life is important. Nothing is perfect, but when I read St. Bonaventure, I realize I am right where I need to be.

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