By Cliff Garvey
In the Mirror of Perfection, one of the ancient sources of information and enlightenment about Saint Francis of Assisi and his first followers, we read this: “Saint Francis often said that a good Lesser Brother should emulate and possess the virtues of these holy brothers: Brother Bernard’s perfect faith and love of poverty; Brother Leo’s simplicity and purity; Brother Angelo’s courtesy, the first nobleman to enter the Order; Brother Masseo’s gracious demeanor and common sense; Brother Rufino’s life of constant prayer, who whether awake or asleep seemed to be praying with his mind ever-fixed on God; Brother John’s courage; Brother Roger’s charity; Brother Lucido’s wisdom because he moved from place to place saying ‘Our home is never here, but in heaven alone’; and Brother Juniper’s perfect state of patience which was attained by keeping the truth of his lowliness always before him, and whose only desire what to follow Christ on the way of the cross (Mirror of Perfection, 85).”
The last of these first followers, Brother Juniper, merits some special consideration as we mark his feast day on January 29th. Little is known about him. We do not know for sure where he was born. We do not know much about his childhood or adolescence. We do not know whether he was rich or poor. We do not know whether he was born into the noble class, the merchant class, or the laboring class. We do not know whether he was a craftsman or tradesman, a farmer or day laborer, a lawyer, doctor, or priest. We know only that Brother Juniper was received into the Order of Friars Minor by Saint Francis himself. We know that years later, as Saint Clare lay dying, Brother Juniper was at her bedside to console and pray for her. We also know that he is buried in the Church of Saint Mary of the Altar of Heaven in Rome. And we know that about him, Saint Francis once said: “I would pray to God for a great forest of such junipers.”
As we can see from a brief excerpt from the Mirror of Perfection, Saint Francis was surrounded by a company of truly holy men (and women) during the early years after his conversion. Among them, Brother Juniper stands out. If we read the “Life of Brother Juniper”, which is often included in older editions of the “Little Flowers of Saint Francis”, then we know that Brother Juniper is known by history as something of a clown, jester, or simpleton. He was the proverbial fool for Christ. In Robert Ellsberg’s “The Franciscan Saints”, we read that Brother Juniper “evidently attained such a degree of holiness that he was quite indifferent to the opinion or regard of others…This was fortunate, since he was considered stupid and foolish by those who did not know how perfect he was (29).”
Consider that word: “perfect.” In our time, something is perfect when it is absolutely good; free from flaws or defects; precise and exact in condition, correctness, and quality. To be perfect is to be flawless. In their time, however, nobody regarded Brother Juniper in this way. Instead, Juniper is remembered as perfect in the sense that he was truly human; he was created and loved by God; and like us; and he was a sinner who depended on God’s mercy. At the same time, Juniper was perfect in the sense that he was as good as it is possible for a human being to be. He was perfect in the sense that he was able to live the Gospel of Christ and preach it with every thought, word, and deed, in all its beauty, truth, and wisdom. Again, Brother Juniper was as good as it was possible to be.
Keep in mind that like all human beings, Brother Juniper was imperfect: battered and broken just like us. But somehow, he attained a sinner’s perfect love for Christ and for his neighbor. By all accounts, Brother Juniper achieved this state of imperfect perfection through prayer and patience. Like perfection, “patience” is another word that is easy to talk about but seemingly impossible to practice. Nevertheless, the scriptures are filled with references and exhortations to patience. Consider these few examples:
A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an insult (Proverbs 19:11).
With patience, a ruler can be persuaded; a gentle tongue can break a bone (Proverbs 25:15).
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22).
As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience (Colossians 3:12).
May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to God, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in life (Colossians 1:10-12).
Even if we are not scripture scholars, we might be interested in how the ancient texts express the virtue of patience because the etymology of the word (in English at least) dates back only to the lifetime of Saint Francis. Overall, patience finds its linguistic roots in the Latin word “patientia” which means the willingness to bear adversity; the calm endurance of misfortune; the ability to cope with hardship; and the acceptance of suffering. In this context, it is important to understand that Brother Juniper was not simply someone who bore the small annoyances of daily life without anger or anxiety. Rather, Brother Juniper was among the holy ones. He was as good as a person could possibly be. And he practiced a sinner’s perfect patience in that he was somehow able to carry the cross suffering and trial with contentment because of his close and friendship with the Poor Christ. This friendship was forged and strengthened through prayer and good works. It was shared with compassion, generosity, and love of neighbor. And it was made manifest in ways that often invited the scorn of the wise, but nourished the souls of the poor in spirit.
Finally, it was not by accident that he was called Brother Juniper. The juniper tree is a close cousin of the cypress tree. In the scriptures, such trees spread across the land and grow even in the worst conditions. Such trees offer shelter to the weary and food to the hungry. They grow tall and withstand the strongest of stormy winds. Their fragrance can lift high the lowest of spirits. And they are evergreen. Let us pray that the same may one day be said about us: that our work together spread across the land; gave generously to the poor; stood firm in our faith; and lifted the spirits of our families, friends, and fellow parishioners. And as it was said about Brother Juniper, so may it one day be said about us: “I would pray to God for a great forest of such junipers.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Cliff Garvey is co-founder and spiritual director of the Assisi Project. During the past eleven years, he has visited Assisi twenty-six times. Cliff also serves as a pilgrimage and retreat leader, university lecturer, and as Associate Minister of the Catholic Community of Gloucester & Rockport in Massachusetts, USA. For more information about the Assisi Project, please contact him at email@example.com.
The Assisi Project
Winter Day of Prayer & Reflection
Prayer & Healing with the Children of Fatima
Saturday, February 23rd
Francisco Marto (1908-1919) and Jacinto Marto (1910- 1920), brother and sister, and their cousin, Lucia dos Santos (1907-2005), were children from a small village near Fatima in Portugal, who were blessed to give witness to several apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary under the title of Our Lady of Fatima. Much is known and much is often misunderstood about the apparitions and their meaning. But we can learn a great deal from these children, especially Francisco and Jacinto, about life, love, prayer, and healing.
In commemoration of the Feast of Saints Francisco Marto and Jacinto Marto (February 20th), all are invited to join Father Jim and Cliff Garvey for a “Winter Day of Prayer& Reflection: Prayer and Healing with the Children ofFatima” on Saturday, February 23rd in Our Lady of Good Voyage Church. During this special four-hour morning retreat, we will explore the different but complimentary spiritual lives of the Children of Fatima. We will also consider what these young saints can teach us about coping with illnesses of mind, body, and spirit.
Our day of prayer and reflection will proceed according to the following schedule: Celebration of Mass at 8:00am; First Reflection & Faith Sharing at 9:00am; Eucharistic Adoration & Rosary at 10:00am; Second Reflection & Faith Sharing at 11:00am; Angelus & Closing Prayers at 12:00pm. After our program, all are invited to join us for a delicious potluck lunch in the parish hall.
Throughout the morning, there will be scheduled breaks and time for faith sharing, fellowship, and questions. Coffee, tea, bottled water, and refreshments will be available throughout the morning. During Mass, a collection will be taken up in support of the adult and youth faith formation programs in the Catholic Community of Gloucester & Rockport. If you would like to participate in this special event, please contact Cliff Garvey at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please join us! Bring a friend! All are invited! All are welcome!
Founded in 2007, the Assisi Project is a Fellowship of Franciscans in Spirit with members, friends, and followers in the United States, Canada, Europe, and Africa. We are dedicated to helping Christian believers of all ages to more faithfully live the Gospel of Christ in the spirit of Saints Francis and Clare of Assisi. For more information about the Assisi Project and upcoming opportunities for faith formation, prayer, and pilgrimage in the Franciscan spiritual tradition, please contact Cliff Garvey at email@example.com. May the Lord give you peace!
Follow us on Twitter: @Assisi_Project