I love the Franciscans. Poverty, simplicity, humility and joy are a few things that we need a heck of a lot more of in our time. St. Bonaventure, one of my inspirations, was considered the “second founder” of the Franciscan order. He’s a doctor of the Church, referred to as the “Seraphic Doctor.” And interestingly, he and St. Thomas Aquinas got their degrees at the same ceremony.
Late in life, St. Bonaventure was appointed to be a cardinal by the pope. In those days, the message didn’t come in a phone call. Rather the pope would send out a delegation of Vatican officials to bring the red hat to the appointee. (The red hat, the galero, which back then looked more like a sombrero, was the most important symbol of the cardinal’s office. Since 1965, the galero is no longer in use.)
Anyway, when the delegation showed up at St. Bonaventure’s friary, they found him washing the dishes. He actually sent them outside to wait for him to finish the dishes. Legend has it, he asked them to leave the red hat on a tree outside. So the saint finished washing the dishes and then came to greet the papal delegation.
Doing dishes often feels more like an annoying necessity than the substance of holiness. I think most of us would be tempted to put the dishes down gratefully for someone else to do if a papal messenger were knocking on the door. But St. Bonaventure’s commitment to his task in the life of his community, even in the face of honors from the pope, shows something very simple and yet very deep: The path to sainthood does not lie in showy ostentation, in external honors and achievements, but in the mundane, humdrum tasks of daily living. It’s the way we do these things, the level of commitment to our personal missions, that changes us. No amount of external recognition can bring about that kind of holiness. St. Bonaventure was not disrespecting the papal messengers, but deeply respecting the calling God had placed on his life at that moment: Wash the dishes!
Maybe you could think of the Seraphic Doctor next time you wash the dishes and realize that doing the dishes can be your path to holiness!
(Oh, by the way, today, July 15, is St. Bonaventure’s feast day.)