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Sunday, June 11th, 2017

Franciscan Spirituality: Week 2

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Despite many legitimate reasons for discouragement, Francis of Assisi (1181-1226) was known as a man of deep and abiding joy. He knew that after all was done and undone, he was still “the herald of the Great King.” Francis told his friars that it was their vocation as God’s minstrels “to move people’s hearts and lift them up to spiritual joy.” [1] They needed no other justification for their life or ministry.

To illustrate what he meant by joy, Francis shared this dialogue with Brother Leo:

One winter day when he and Brother Leo were walking along the road to Assisi from Perugia, Francis called out to Leo in the bitter cold five times, each time telling him what perfect joy was not: “Brother Leo, even if a Friar Minor gives sight to the blind, heals the paralyzed, drives out devils, gives hearing back to the deaf, makes the lame walk, and restores speech to the dumb, and what is more brings back to life a man who has been dead four days, write that perfect joy is not in that.” And so he continued with different enumerations of success and even spiritual enjoyment. And when he had been talking this way for a distance of two miles, Brother Leo in great amazement asked him: “Father, I beg you in God’s name to tell me where perfect joy is then to be found?”

And Francis replied: “When we come to the Portiuncula, soaked by the rain and frozen by the cold, all soiled with mud and suffering from hunger, and we ring at the gate of our friary and the brother porter comes and says angrily: ‘Who are you?’ and we say: ‘We are two of your brothers.’ And he contradicts us, saying, ‘You are not telling the truth. Rather you are two rascals who go around deceiving people and stealing what they give to the poor. Go away!’ and he does not open for us, but makes us stand outside in the snow and rain, cold and hungry until night falls—then if we endure all of those insults and cruel rebuffs patiently, without being troubled and without complaining, and if we reflect humbly and lovingly that the porter really knows us. Oh, Brother Leo, write that perfect joy is to be found there!

“And if we continue to knock and the porter comes out in anger, and drives us away with curses and hard blows saying ‘Get away from here! Who do you think you are?’ and if we bear it patiently and take the insults with joy and love in our hearts. Oh, Brother Leo, write down that this is perfect joy! . . . And now hear the conclusion: Above all the graces and gifts of the Holy Spirit which Christ gives to his friends is that of conquering oneself and willingly enduring sufferings, insults, humiliations, and hardships for the love of Christ.” [2]

Now that is an alternative universe! Here we see a truly nonviolent and liberated man. Clearly this is a different kind of “I” that is speaking here, an “I” hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3:3). Rediscovering this joyous and free True Self is the goal of all transformation and journeys toward holiness.

Gateway to Silence:
Help me do what is mine to do.

[1] The Assisi Compilation, chapter 83. See Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 2 (Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 2000), 186.
[2] The Little Flowers of St. Francis, chapter 8. See St. Francis of Assisi: Omnibus of the Sources, ed. Marion A. Habig (Franciscan Herald Press: 1973), 1318-1320.

Adapted from Richard Rohr with John Feister, Hope Against Darkness: The Transforming Vision of Saint Francis in an Age of Anxiety (St. Anthony Messenger Press: 2001), 118-119.

Image credit: Saint Francis Mourned by Saint Clare (detail), Giotto di Bondone (1267-1337), The Legend of St. Francis, Basilica di San Francesco, Upper Church, Assisi, Italy.
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