Saint Francis of Assisi Teaches a Brother About Perfect Joy

St. Francis of Assisi

One winter’s day, as St. Francis was going from Perugia with Friar Leo to St. Mary of the Angels, suffering sorely from the bitter cold, he called Friar Leo, that was going before him, and spake thus, “Friar Leo, albeit the friars minor in every land give good examples of holiness and edification, nevertheless write and note down diligently that perfect joy is not to be found therein.” And St. Francis went his way a little farther, and called him a second time, saying, “O Friar Leo, even though the friar minor gave sight to the blind, made the crooked straight, cast out devils, made the deaf to hear, the lame to walk, and restored speech to the dumb, and, what is a yet greater thing, raised to life those who have lain four days in the grave; write – perfect joy is not found there.” And he journeyed on a little while, and cried aloud, “O Friar Leo, if the friar minor knew all tongues and all the sciences and all the Scriptures, so that he could foretell and reveal not only future things, but even the secrets of the conscience and of the soul; write – perfect joy is not found there.” Yet a little farther went St. Francis, and cried again aloud, “O Friar Leo, little sheep of God, even though the friar minor spake with the tongue of angels and knew the courses of the stars and the virtues of herbs, and were the hidden treasures of the earth revealed to him, and he knew the qualities of birds, and of fishes, and of all animals, and of man, and of trees, and stones, and roots, and waters; write – not there is perfect joy.” And St. Francis went on again a little space, and cried aloud. “O Friar Leo, although the friar minor were skilled to preach so well that he should convert all the infidels to the faith of Christ; write – not there is perfect joy.” And when this fashion of talk had endured two good miles, Friar Leo asked him in great wonder and said, “Father, prithee in God’s name tell me where is perfect joy to be found?” And St. Francis answered him thus, “When we are come to St. Mary of the Angels, wet through  with rain, frozen with cold, and foul with mire and tormented with hunger; and when we knock at the door, the doorkeeper cometh in a rage and saith, ‘Who are ye?’ and we say, ‘We are two of your friars,’ and he answers, ‘Ye tell not true; ye are rather two knaves that go deceiving the world and stealing the alms of the poor; begone!’ and he openeth not to us, and maketh us stay outside hungry and cold all night in the rain and snow; then if we endure patiently such cruelty, such abuse, and such insolent dismissal without complaint or murmuring, and believe humbly and charitably that that doorkeeper truly knows us, and that God maketh him to rail against us; O Friar Leo, write – there is perfect joy. And if were persevere in our knocking, and he issues forth and angrily drives us away, abusing us and smiting us on the cheek, saying, ‘Go hence, ye vile thieves, and get ye gone to the workhouse, here ye shall neither eat nor lodge;’ if thus we suffer patiently with love and gladness; write, O Friar Leo – this is perfect joy. And if, constrained by hunger and by cold, we knock once more and pray with many tears that he open to us for the love of God and let us but come inside, and he more insolently than ever crieth, ‘These be impudent rogues, I will pay them out as they deserve,’ and issues forth with a big knotted stick and seizes us by our cowls and flings us on the ground and rolls us in the snow, bruising every bone in our bodies with that heavy stick – if we, thinking on the agony of the blessed Christ, endure all these things patiently and joyously for love of Him; write, O Friar Leo, that here and in this perfect joy is found. And now, Friar Leo, hear the conclusion. Above all the grace and the gifts of the Holy Spirit that Christ giveth to His beloved is that of overcoming self, and for love of Him willingly to bear pain and buffetings and revilings and discomfort; for in none other of God’s gifts, save these, may we glory, seeing they are not ours, but of God. Wherefore the Apostle saith, ‘What hast thou that is not of God, and if thou hast received it of Him, wherefore dost thou glory as if thou hadst it of thyself?’ But in the cross of tribulation and of affliction we may glory, because this is ours. Therefore the Apostle saith, ‘I will not glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ’”

* This excerpt is from “The Little Flowers of St. Francis” by Brother Ugolino


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