One of my favorite saints is Saint Francis of Assisi. He is such a charming and such a daring Saint! An incident which always inspired me is when he explains what is perfect joy.
Be ready for a shocking answer.
It was winter. Bitter cold. Barefooted and scantily dressed, Brother Francis and his faithful companion Brother Leo were going home from Perugia. “Listen, Brother Leo, keep this in mind. If the brethren become perfect examples of holiness and edification all over the world… this would not be perfect joy!” A little further on, St Francis called Brother Leo again and added, “Yes and even if the brethren were to cause miracles – make the lame walk, the crooked straight, the blind see, the deaf hear, the dumb speak, raise the dead… no this would not be perfect joy!”
They kept walking in silence until Brother Francis, this time yelling, asserted, “No, even if the brethren knew all languages, and were very smart in sciences and Scripture, and had lots of discernment… no, this would not be perfect joy. Write this down!” They had only walked a short distance, when Saint Francis again stopped. In a loud voice, he uttered, “Let me tell you, that even if the brethren could speak with the tongues of angels and became experts in the astronomy and knew all the secrets of agriculture and farming… no, this would not be perfect joy….” He stopped once more and exclaimed, “And even if they had the gift of preaching so as to convert everyone to the faith of Christ, write that this would not be perfect joy.”
This monologue continued for two miles, creating many questions in the mind of Brother Leo. “What is then perfect joy, Brother Francis?” pleaded finally Brother Leo.
The Saint stopped and quietly answered : “If, when we arrive at St Mary of the Angels, all drenched with rain and trembling with cold, all covered with mud and exhausted from hunger… if, when we knock at the convent-gate, the porter should come angrily and ask us who we are and after we have told him, ‘We are two of the brethren’, he should answer angrily, ‘What you say is not true; you are but two impostors going about to deceive the world, and take away the alms of the poor; get away from here’… If he refuses to open to us and leaves us outside, exposed to the snow and rain, suffering from cold and hunger till nightfall – if we accept such injustice, such cruelty and such contempt with patience, without being ruffled and without murmuring, believing with humility and charity that the porter really knows us, and that it is God who makes him speak thus against us, write down, O Brother Leo, that this is perfect joy.
And if we knock again, and the porter come out in anger to drive us away with oaths and blows, as if we were vile impostors, saying, ‘Begone, miserable robbers! Go to the hospital, for here you shall neither eat nor sleep!’ – and if we accept all this with patience, with joy, and with charity, O Brother Leo, write that this indeed is perfect joy.
And if, urged by cold and hunger, we knock again, calling to the porter and entreating him with many tears to open to us and give us shelter, for the love of God, and if he comes out more angry than before, exclaiming, ‘These are but importunate rascals, I will deal with them as they deserve’; and taking a knotted stick, he seizes us by the hood, throwing us on the ground, rolling us in the snow, and shall beat and wound us with the knots in the stick – if we bear all these injuries with patience and joy, thinking of the sufferings of our Blessed Lord, which we would be sharing out of love for him, write, O Brother Leo, that here, finally, is perfect joy.”
Would you have guessed it?!
Well Saint Peter in his first letter had said it : “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.”
(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, provided that the content is unaltered from its original state, if this copyright notice is included.