Editor’s Note: As part of our “Comfort and Joy” Advent/Christmas blog series, Development Associate Sarah Sokora shares the story of St. Francis and “true and perfect joy.”
Our dear Saint Francis is known for his wild deeds, but his story of “true and perfect joy” proves that his antics are not thoughtless, but are in keeping with his profound abandonment to and love of God. The story goes that Francis called out to Brother Leo and dictated to him what true joy is, beginning that true joy is not found in all of the masters of Paris, nor all bishops and archbishops, nor even the great kings becoming Franciscans; nor is it in the conversion of all non-believers; nor even in the performance of great healings and miracles. Dejected, the brother asked, “What then is true joy?”
Francis, smiling, elaborated:
If I were to return in the dead of a wintry night, muddy and with icicles hanging from my habit and bloodying my legs, and in such a state come to the friary and be turned away and abused by my own brethren, left to stand in the cold, and yet was able to remain patient and at peace, “there would be true joy in this and true virtue and the salvation of the soul” (Francis and Clare, The Complete Works, p. 166).
I have always loved this story because it is a succinct witness to Francis’ radicalness and poverty, but it is so easy for me to miss the whole of Francis’ message. Before coming to Franciscan Mission Service, I focused on Francis’ radical abandonment to God and his conformity to the cross of Christ; his example inspires me to plunge ever more deeply into the heart of the Crucified One.
But in my time here with FMS, I have discovered another message in his story, one which calls me to rest instead of activity, to joy in a world that, for me, is often full of anxiety.
Francis sees great joy in his tale, because if he was able to maintain peace in the midst of so much uncertainty and suffering, it would be a sign of how firmly he was rooted in the promise that “nothing can separate us from the love of God,” not “anguish, or distress . . . or the sword” (Romans 8:35, 38-9). He wasn’t worried about anything; he had great faith that the God of the universe would indeed move mountains to care for his little poor son.
His story makes it obvious to me that running around and planning everything to the last detail, as I am wont to do, isn’t really the Christian way of doing things. Do you think the Apostles had a five year plan? Spending all of my time planning and trying to prevent possible disasters doesn’t leave much room for trusting God, and it definitely won’t secure my peace or bring me joy.
So this Advent season, I am trying to cultivate a spirit of Franciscan joy, a trusting, peaceful, radiant joy. Don’t worry, I’ll still be planning and scheduling (as all good development associates should), but with a more trustful and peaceful heart.
After all, Francis’ joy, the joy that drew thousands to the order, the joy that changed his age and continues to influence our own, is a simple joy in trusting and being united with God. He lived so much in the love of Christ and knew in the depths of his being that “all things work for the good of those who love God” (Romans 8:28).
This is the joy that I am trying to cultivate, the gift and the grace that I am praying for this Advent season, for myself and all of the faithful, as in eager expectation we await the coming of the One in Whom our peace resides.
Question for reflection: How can you plan a little bit less and trust God a little bit more?
Featured image: adaptation of photo by Wiki Commons user Sailko – creative commons