Little is known about the early life of Brother Juniper who may have been born in 1210 and died in 1258. He was among the first followers of Saint Francis of Assisi and he comforted Saint Clare of Assisi at the end of her life. More than eight centuries after his passing from this life, Brother Juniper is still remembered for his generosity, simplicity of life, and devotion to living the Gospel life. Many editions of the “Little Flowers of Saint Francis” include a compilation of legends that appear under the title of the “Life of Brother Juniper.” Although these stories may seem amusing or even childlike, they have much to teach us about discipleship, forgiveness, and reconciliation. As we prepare for his feast day on January 29th, the let us cry out: “Brother Juniper, pray for us!”
From the Life of Brother Juniper
The Gift of a Pig’s Foot
One of the chosen disciples and first companions of Saint Francis was called Brother Juniper, a man of profound humility, deep faith, and expansive charity. About him, Saint Francis once said to his faithful followers: “Each of you could be good friars if you could conquer yourself and the world like Brother Juniper.”
Once at the Little Portion, it came to pass that Brother Juniper, motivated by concern and inflamed by love for God, went to visit a sick brother. With great compassion, he asked: “How can I serve you?” The patient replied: “I would be greatly comforted if you could find for me a pig’s foot to eat.” Brother Juniper immediately said: “Leave it to me! You will have it soon enough!” He went quickly to the kitchen, borrowed a knife, and ran away with a fervent spirit into the wood where the pigs were kept. He threw himself upon one of the pigs, cut away its foot, and left it with just three legs. Brother Juniper returned to the convent, washed and dressed the pig’s foot, and cooked it. He presented it with much love to the patient who ate it joyfully. He was much consoled by the patient’s joy and he recounted his assault on the pig and its foot.
Meanwhile, the keeper of the pigs, who watched the pig lose his foot, angrily confronted the friars. He called them liars, thieves, rascals, hypocrites, and good-for-nothings. He cried: “Why did you cut off my pig’s foot?!” Because he heard this commotion, Saint Francis arrived at the scene and promised to compensate the keeper for the bleeding pig. But he was not pacified, remained furious, and still muttered many insults and threats. He repeated over and over how a malicious friar had cut off his pig’s foot. He listened neither to apologies or pledges, departed angrily, and left the friars feeling quite upset.
Saint Francis, full of wisdom, pondered and prayed about the events of the day. He said to himself: “Did Brother Juniper do this thing with careless and foolhardy zeal?” He summoned the accused friar and said to him: “Did you cut off the foot of a pig?” And Brother Juniper, who believed he had committed a great act of charity, said: “Yes, Sweet Father Francis, I cut off the pig’s foot. I did so out of concern for our sick brother. Considering the consolation and pleasure that it brought our poor brother, I would have cut off the feet of one hundred pigs. I believe that my actions were also pleasing to Almighty God.”
In just anger and displeasure, Saint Francis replied: “Brother Juniper, why did you cause such scandal? This is a dangerous mistake in judgment. It is with good reason that the pig keeper complains and rails against us. At this moment, he is spreading an accusation of wrong-doing among our friends and neighbors throughout the town. So, I command you by holy obedience to run after the keeper, overtake him, throw yourself at his feet, confess your fault, and promise to satisfy his complaint so that he has no reason to accuse us.”
Brother Juniper was astonished by these words. He was full of wonder that anyone could be so angered by an act of charity. He believed that worldly goods, like a pig’s foot, meant nothing unless they could be shared lovingly with others. But Brother Juniper said: “Father Francis, doubt not! I will compensate the man and make him happy again. But why should I be troubled by conscience? This pig’s foot belonged more to God than to him. My actions were motivated by charity alone.” With these words, he ran away and found the pig keeper. The man had not yet recovered his equanimity. He was still angry beyond measure. But with fervor and joy, Brother Juniper explained his actions as if he had done a great service for the man for which he should be rewarded. Full of anger and beside himself with fury, the pig keeper attacked the friar with bad names and profanities. He called him a fool, a madman, a robber, and the worst of brigands.
Brother Juniper cared nothing for these insulting words. Indeed, he rejoiced in being accused and abused. He still believed that he should be praised and not blamed for cutting off the pig’s foot and feeding his sick brother. He told the story again, embraced the pig keeper, and pleaded that he had done it solely out of charity. He invited and exhorted the keeper to do the same thing to his other pigs. He said these things with so much affection, conviction, humility, and simplicity that the man recovered his senses. In tears, the pig keeper fell to his knees, confessed his anger and harsh words, and apologized for his confrontation with the friars. He went into the forest, caught and killed the three-legged pig, and cooked it. He carried with great care and deep emotion to the Little Portion and presented it to the brothers as compensation for his anger.
Afterward, Saint Francis considered the simplicity of Brother Juniper and his lasting patience under adversity. He gathered together the brothers and said to them: “My brothers, may God bless us with a whole forest of such Junipers!”
The Assisi Project
Saturday Morning with Saint Francis
Saturday, January 26, 2019
Founded in 2007 by Father Jim and Cliff Garvey after their first pilgrimage to Assisi and Rome, the Assisi Project is a Fellowship of Franciscans in Spirit with friends and followers in the United States, Canada, Africa, and Europe. Our mission is to help adults of all ages more faithfully live the Gospel of Christ and grow closer to the Church through the inspiration and intercession of Saint Francis and Saint Clare of Assisi.
The Assisi Project meets on the last Saturday of every month in Saint Ann Church (located at 74 Pleasant Street in Gloucester, Massachusetts) for the Celebration of Mass, formation, fellowship, and faith sharing. Our next “Saturday Morning with Saint Francis” is January 26th beginning at 8:00am. This month, we will continue our reading and reflection on the saints, including Brother Juniper and Angela of Foligno. All fellow parishioners are invited to join the Assisi Project! You do not need to travel with us to Assisi to be a member of the Assisi Project!
Members of our fellowship all around the world, who range in age from 16 to 93, also pray for those who ask for our prayers. If you would like to join us or if you would like us to pray for your special intention, please contact Cliff at firstname.lastname@example.org. Saint Francis of Assisi, pray for us! Saint Clare of Assisi, pray for us! Our Lady of Angels, pray for us! All are invited! All are welcome! May the Lord give you peace!
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!
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