True Joy

This Lenten season is designed to prepare our souls to experience fully the joy of Easter. I can’t think of anyone better to introduce us to this counter-cultural, counter-intuitive fullness of joy than the Poverello, the little Poor One, St. Francis of Assisi. Here’s St. Francis on finding True Joy:

One day at Saint Mary’s, blessed Francis called Brother Leo and said: “Brother Leo, write.”

He responded: “Look I’m ready!”

“Write,” Francis said, “what true joy is.”

A messenger arrives and says that all the Masters of Paris have entered the (Franciscan) Order.

Write: this isn’t true joy!

Or, that all the prelates, archbishops and bishops beyond the mountains, as well as the King of France and the King of England have entered the Order.

Write: this isn’t true joy!

Again, my brothers have gone to all non-believers and converted all of them to the faith; or I have so much grace from God that I heal the sick and perform miracles.

I tell you true joy doesn’t consist in any of these things.

“What, then, is true joy?”

I return from Perugia and arrive here in the dead of night. It’s winter time, muddy and so cold that icicles have formed on the edges of my habit and keep striking my legs and blood flows from such wounds.

Freezing, covered with mud and ice, I come to the gate and, after I’ve knocked and called for some time, a brother comes and asks: “Who are you?”

“Brother Francis,” I answer.

“Go away!” he says. “This is not a decent hour for wandering about! You may not come in!”

When I insist, he replies: “Go away! You are simple and stupid! Don’t come back to us again! There are many of us here like you – we don’t need you!”

I stand at the door and say: “For the love of God, take me in tonight!”

And he replies: “I will not! Go to the Crosier’s place (the leprosarium) and ask there!”

I tell you this: If I had patience and did not become upset, true joy, as well as true virtue and the salvation of my soul, would consist in this.

Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, The Saint, The Founder, The Prophet, eds. R. Armstrong, J.A. Hellmann, W. Short, 3 vols. (New York: New City Press, 1999-2001).

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