“Three things are necessary to everyone: truth of faith which brings understanding, love of Christ which brings compassion, and endurance of hope which brings perseverance.”
— St. Bonaventure
I can remember the first day I went to school in Payson, Arizona. I was in the fourth grade. We moved often back then because of my father’s government job, but the move from Oregon to Arizona as an eight-year old was like moving to a new world. I was the new kid in the class arriving in at the middle of the first six-weeks period. I remember this particular time because I had just been introduced to the class, had taken my seat, and the teacher asked the question, “What do we all need to survive?”
I knew the answer to that, this was an easy one.
I did not know that the social rules of this new world include the law, “New kids don’t answer the question,” and so I raised my hand. I think this surprised the teacher so much that she, without thinking, called on me to answer.
I answered, “The answer is food.”
The teacher looked at me with a puzzled look on her face. After a brief contemplative pause, she said, “David, you are right, but what else do we need,” opening up the question to the class again.
A girl with curly blonde hair, who was obviously the class scholar, seemed quite perturbed as she waved her hand in the air that this insolent new student would even speak, said, “I believe, teacher, the answer you are looking for is water.” This was, of course, the right answer.
My answer was right, but it was not the only answer. In fact there are many more answers that would also fit. We human beings are really needy creatures. In fact, a psychologist named Maslow has developed a five-level pyramid that sets up a hierarchy of human needs.
Spiritually we also have needs, things necessary to our spiritual lives. Bonaventure’s words tells us we need “the truth of faith that brings understanding.” I have heard many people say all we need is faith. Yes, I would agree we need faith, but unless that faith is anchored in what is true all we have is a blind faith that must be supported by blind obsessiveness or unquestionable dogma demanding absolute loyalty. Such a faith borders on a worship of manufactured certainty that will ignore any “truth” that would challenge it.
This is why developing as disciples, developing the mind of Christ is so important. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (Jn. 14:6 NRS) Jesus goes on to say, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”
(Jn. 8:31-32 NRS)
Yes, truth of faith which brings understanding is an essential spiritual need.
Next Bonaventure tells us that we need the love of Christ that brings compassion. I cannot help but wonder how a group of people could gather at a building they call a church and sing, “Oh, how I love Jesus,” and then ignore the plight of the people at the border or support politicians that will do nothing about the military weapons that are being used to kill innocent people in this country or the lack of health care for the poor? The words of the song do not seem to indicate the attitude of the heart.
Do the words spoken by Jesus have meaning to them, “Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.'” (Matt. 25:41-45 NRS)
Or remember the story of the Good Samaritan? Are these words just for others and not us? Is it okay now to not care or get involved when we see injustice? Is it now okay to put the good of making money above the suffering of human beings? If we need anything spiritually in our age and culture, it is the love of Christ, Christ in us, that brings compassion rather than corruption.
Lastly, of the three essential, necessary needs Bonaventure speaks of the last one is the hardest, “endurance of hope which brings perseverance.” To be a Christian means to live in hope. Hope of our salvation. Hope of the Lord’s return. A hope that must face the reality of a world in which love grows colder by the day. A hope that must endure the scandals of the church, the divisions of the church and the teachings of a church that is more interested in relevancy than orthodoxy. Endurance and perseverance are words that imply commitment. They are words that speak of pain, challenge, and risk. But these two words, endurance and perseverance, are also spiritual gifts given to those who will make the commitment needed. These words are skills that can be obtained when they are important enough to put the effort into strengthening them.
Bonaventure speaks of these three necessary things for all people, but not all people can have them. Bonaventure lived in the time and context of a Christendom culture, that time has come and gone. We now live in a post-Christian culture that has not a clue of these necessary things. If we are to live as true Christians in this kind of world, we need head Bonaventure’s words and continually examine of lives in the light they give us.