Perfect Joy

READINGS
Isa. 61:1-2a, 10-11
I Thessalonians 5:16-24
John 1:6-8, 19-28

Today is Gaudete Sunday (Joy) because two of the reading remind us of the importance of joy in our spiritual life. In particular, the reading from First Thessalonians tells us to “ Rejoice always’. But it does not tell us what joy is so how can we understand ‘joy’?

If we look in the pocket edition of Merriam Webster Dictionary (I know! I am ‘old school’ looking in a book rather than online ) we find joy defined as: “1. A feeling of happiness that comes from success, good fortune or a sense of well-being; 2. A source of happiness”. This definition is odd if you think about it as it defines ‘joy’ as either a feeling (feelings are fleeting and transitory) or a source (which implies a permanence).

Perhaps St. Francis of Assisi can help us? In a famous story from the Little Flowers of Francis (a very famous 13th-century biography of the saint), we find a long story about ‘perfect joy’. Please bear with its length as it gives us an insight into Christian joy: “One winter day St. Francis was coming to St. Mary of the Angels [an early church which served as home for the early Franciscans-jk] from Perugia [a city in Italy- jk] with Brother Leo, and the bitter cold made them suffer keenly. St. Francis called to Brother Leo, who was walking a bit ahead of him, and he said: “Brother Leo, even if the Friars Minor [real name of the Franciscans- jk] in every country give a great example of holiness and integrity and good edification, nevertheless write down and note carefully that perfect joy is not in that.”

And when he had walked on a bit, St. Francis called him again, saying: “Brother Leo, even if a Friar Minor gives sight to the blind, heals the paralyzed, drives out devils, gives hearing back to the deaf, makes the lame walk, and restores speech to the dumb, and what is still more, brings back to life a man who has been dead four days, write that perfect joy is not in that.”

And going on a bit, St. Francis cried out again in a strong voice: “Brother Leo, if a Friar Minor knew all languages and all sciences and Scripture, if he also knew how to prophesy and to reveal not only the future but also the secrets of the consciences and minds of others, write down and note carefully that perfect joy is not in that.”

And as they walked on, after a while St. Francis called again forcefully: “Brother Leo, Little Lamb of God, even if a Friar Minor could speak with the voice of an angel, and knew the courses of the stars and the powers of herbs, and knew all about the treasures in the earth, and if he knew the qualities of birds and fishes, animals, humans, roots, trees, rocks, and waters, write down and note carefully that true joy is not in that.”

And going a bit farther, St. Francis called again strongly: “Brother Leo, even if a Friar Minor could preach so well that he should convert all infidels to the faith of Christ, write that perfect joy is not there.”

Now when he had been talking this way for a distance of two miles, Brother Leo in great amazement asked him: “Father, I beg you in God’s name to tell me where perfect joy is.”

And St. Francis replied: “When we come to St. Mary of the Angels, soaked by the rain and frozen by the cold, all soiled with mud and suffering from hunger, and we ring at the gate of the place and the brother porter comes and says angrily: ‘Who are you?’ And we say: ‘We are two of your brothers.’ And he contradicts us, saying: ‘You are not telling the truth. Rather you are two rascals who go around deceiving people and stealing what they give to the poor. Go away!’ And he does not open for us, but makes us stand outside in the snow and rain, cold and hungry until night falls – then if we endure all those insults and cruel rebuffs patiently, without being troubled and without complaining, and if we reflect humbly and charitably that the porter really knows us and that God makes him speak against us, oh Brother Leo, write that perfect joy is there!

“And if we continue to knock, and the porter comes out in anger, and drives us away with curses and hard blows like bothersome scoundrels, saying: ‘Get away from here, you dirty thieves – go to the hospital! Who do you think you are? You certainly won’t eat or sleep here!’– and if we bear it patiently and take the insults with joy and love in our hearts, oh, Brother Leo, write that that is perfect joy!”

Joy not as giddiness, a feeling of success or comfort or being in charge but knowing God is in charge and that we a loved, guided, and strengthened daily regardless of our daily crosses. That is joy.

Enjoy Gaudete Sunday and support Mission Doctors please through prayer and donations. God bless you!

Br. John Kiesler, OFM

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