These troubled times call us again and again to prayer, penance, and simple acts of kindness and fraternity. This is the time for spiritual discipline and spiritual exercise. This is the time to look for inspiration in the lives of the saints and to ask for their prayers. This is the time to grow closer to Christ, closer to the Church, and closer to each other. In this spirit, we turn for guidance to Saint Francis of Assisi, our spiritual father. In the Little Flowers, the timeless series of stories about the Poor Man of Assisi, Francis teaches Brother Leo, his friend and confidant, about the meaning of perfect joy. May we find such joy in smallness, in good works, and in understanding our complete dependence on the Most High God.
The Little Flowers of Saint Francis
On a cold winter’s day, Saint Francis walked with Brother Leo from Perugia to the Porziuncola, the little chapel dedicated to Our Lady of the Angels. Because of their poverty, the two friends suffered in the cold. At one point, Francis says to Brother Leo: “If God desires that the Friars Minor should serve as a great example of holiness to all peoples in all the world, please write down that this is not perfect joy. Later in the journey, Francis says to Brother Leo: “If the Friars Minor could make the lame walk; if we could straighten the crooked; if we could give sight to the blind and speech to the mute; and even if we could raise the dead, please write down carefully, that this is not perfect joy.”
Soon after, Francis says to Brother Leo: “If the Friars Minor could speak any language; if we knew everything about science; if we could explain all the scriptures; if we could predict the future; and even if we could reveal the secrets of every soul, please write down more carefully that this is not perfect joy.” After a few more steps, Francis cries out: “Brother Leo! Little one of God! If the Friars Minor could sing like angels; if we could explain the movement of the stars; if we knew all things about all animals, birds, fish, plants, stones, trees and people, please write down and note even more carefully that this is not perfect joy.” Finally, Francis cries out again: “Brother Leo, if the Friars Minor could preach in a way that converts every soul to faith in Christ, please write down and note very carefully that even this is not perfect joy.”
After walking a few more miles, and thinking about all of these sayings, Brother Leo asks: “Father Francis, I pray that you will teach me more about perfect joy.” Francis answers: “If we arrive at the Porziuncola and if we are drenched with rain and trembling with cold, covered in mud and exhausted by hunger; and if we knock again at the gate, and if we are not recognized by the porter; and if he tells us that we are impostors who seek to deceive the world and steal from the poor; and if he refuses to open the gate, and if he leaves us outside, exposed to the rain and snow, suffering from cold and hunger; and if we embrace this contempt, cruelty, and injustice with patience, without complaining; and if we believe in faith, love, and humility that the porter knows us but was told by God to reject us, then my good friend, Brother Leo, please write down that this is perfect joy.”
Saint Francis then says: “Brother Leo, if we knock again and if the porter drives us away with curses and blows, and if he accuses us of robbery and other crimes; and if we embrace this with patience and without complaining; and if we believe in faith, love, and humility that the porter knows us but was told by God to reject us again, then my dear friend, please write down and note carefully that this is also perfect joy.” Saint Francis then says: “If urged by cold and hunger, we knock again and call again to the porter; if we plead with him to open the gate and give us shelter out of love for God; and if he returns more angry than ever, and if he calls us rascals and beats us with a knotted stick; and if he throws us to the ground, rolls us in the snow, and beats us again with a knotted stick; and if we suffer these injuries with patience and without complaining; and if we think upon the sufferings of the Crucified Christ, then my most beloved friend, please write down and note carefully that this, too, is perfect joy!”
At last, Saint Francis says: “Brother Leo, listen to me. Above all gifts of the Holy Spirit that Jesus gives to his friends is the grace to overcome oneself, to accept willingly out of love for him, all contempt, all discomfort, all injury, and all suffering. In this and all other gifts, we should never boast because all gifts are gifts from God. Remember the words of Saint Paul: ‘What do you have that you did not receive from God? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if it was not a gift (1 Corinthians 4:7)?’ Only in the Cross of affliction and suffering, we can truly glory because Saint Paul says again: ‘May I never boast of anything except the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world (Galatians 6:14).’ Amen.”
Brother Leo died in 1271. He is remembered as the friend, secretary, and confessor of Saint Francis of Assisi. Although little is known about his early years, Brother Leo was one of the first followers of Saint Francis, and he became especially close to him during the final years of the saint’s life. After Francis died in 1226, Brother Leo resisted efforts to relax the disciplines of the Rule of the Friars Minor. He died at the Porziuncola as a very old and holy man. Brother Leo is buried in the crypt of the Basilica of Saint Francis, one of the four friars whose graves surround the tomb of the Poor Man of Assisi. This is perfect joy!
Glory to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen. Saint Francis of Assisi, pray for us! Saint Clare of Assisi, pray for us! Our Lady of the Angels, pray for us! Brother Leo, pray for us!
About the Presenter
Cliff Garvey is a co-founder of the Assisi Project. He is a graduate of the University of Southern Maine, Saint John Seminary College, and the Catholic University of America. Cliff is a writer, spiritual director, retreat leader, and university lecturer. He also serves as Associate Minister of the Catholic Community of Gloucester & Rockport in Massachusetts where his ministry focuses on adult faith formation. Thank you for listening to the Little Flowers of Saint Francis: Perfect Joy. The Assisi Project Podcast is produced by the Assisi Project, Inc. For more information about the Assisi Project: A Fellowship of Franciscans in Spirit and our programs and ministries for adults of all ages and backgrounds, please contact Cliff at firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyright 2022. All rights reserved. May the Lord give you peace!
Art Credit: Detail from Life of Francis: Perfect Joy by Jose Benlliure (1858-1937)
Founded in 2007, the Assisi Project is a Fellowship of Franciscans in Spirit with friends and followers throughout the world. We are dedicated to helping Christian believers of all ages more faithfully live the Gospel of Christ in the spirit of Saint Francis and Saint Clare of Assisi. The Assisi Project is a non-profit, tax exempt charitable organization. All are welcome to support our ministry via PayPal or AmazonSmile (see links below); or by sending a tax-deductible donation to the Assisi Project, Post Office Box 3158, Gloucester, Massachusetts 01931-3158. For more information about the Assisi Project, please contact Cliff Garvey at email@example.com. May the Lord give you peace!
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