Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Feast of St. Francis of Assisi

"Whatever the true religion might be (if there even is one)," I used to say to myself back in my days of spiritual wandering, "then following it--in this world, at least--will have to set you apart as a pretty strange person." And so I looked into some pretty strange religions. But I eventually found the strangest of all, and that's one way I knew it was also the true one.

The great genius of Francis of Assisi is that he continually reminds us how strange--how "other-worldly"--authentic Christianity must be. If our faith fits comfortably and conveniently into the life we have decided to make for ourselves, then there's something wrong with it.

One day in winter, as St Francis was going with Brother Leo from
   Perugia to St Mary of the Angels, and was suffering greatly from the
   cold, he called to Brother Leo, who was walking on before him, and said
   to him: "Brother Leo, if it were to please God that the Friars Minor
   should give, in all lands, a great example of holiness and edification,
   write down, and note carefully, that this would not be perfect joy." A
   little further on, St Francis called to him a second time: "O Brother
   Leo, if the Friars Minor were to make the lame to walk, if they should
   make straight the crooked, chase away demons, give sight to the blind,
   hearing to the deaf, speech to the dumb, and, what is even a far
   greater work, if they should raise the dead after four days, write that
   this would not be perfect joy." Shortly after, he cried out again: "O
   Brother Leo, if the Friars Minor knew all languages; if they were
   versed in all science; if they could explain all Scripture; if they had
   the gift of prophecy, and could reveal, not only all future things, but
   likewise the secrets of all consciences and all souls, write that this
   would not be perfect joy." After proceeding a few steps farther, he
   cried out again with a loud voice: "O Brother Leo, thou little lamb of
   God! if the Friars Minor could speak with the tongues of angels; if
   they could explain the course of the stars; if they knew the virtues of
   all plants; if all the treasures of the earth were revealed to them; if
   they were acquainted with the various qualities of all birds, of all
   fish, of all animals, of men, of trees, of stones, of roots, and of
   waters - write that this would not be perfect joy." Shortly after, he
   cried out again: "O Brother Leo, if the Friars Minor had the gift of
   preaching so as to convert all infidels to the faith of Christ, write
   that this would not be perfect joy." Now when this manner of discourse
   had lasted for the space of two miles, Brother Leo wondered much within
   himself; and, questioning the saint, he said: "Father, I pray thee
   teach me wherein is perfect joy." St Francis answered: "If, when we
   shall arrive at St Mary of the Angels, all drenched with rain and
   trembling with cold, all covered with mud and exhausted from hunger;
   if, when we knock at the convent-gate, the porter should come angrily
   and ask us who we are; if, after we have told him, We are two of the
   brethren', he should answer angrily, What ye say is not the truth; ye
   are but two impostors going about to deceive the world, and take away
   the alms of the poor; begone I say'; if then he refuse to open to us,
   and leave us outside, exposed to the snow and rain, suffering from cold
   and hunger till nightfall - then, if we accept such injustice, such
   cruelty and such contempt with patience, without being ruffled and
   without murmuring, believing with humility and charity that the porter
   really knows us, and that it is God who maketh him to speak thus
   against us, write down, O Brother Leo, that this is perfect joy. And if
   we knock again, and the porter come out in anger to drive us away with
   oaths and blows, as if we were vile impostors, saying, Begone,
   miserable robbers! to the hospital, for here you shall neither eat nor
   sleep!' - and if we accept all this with patience, with joy, and with
   charity, O Brother Leo, write that this indeed is perfect joy. And if,
   urged by cold and hunger, we knock again, calling to the porter and
   entreating him with many tears to open to us and give us shelter, for
   the love of God, and if he come out more angry than before, exclaiming,
   These are but importunate rascals, I will deal with them as they
   deserve'; and taking a knotted stick, he seize us by the hood, throwing
   us on the ground, rolling us in the snow, and shall beat and wound us
   with the knots in the stick - if we bear all these injuries with
   patience and joy, thinking of the sufferings of our Blessed Lord, which
   we would share out of love for him, write, O Brother Leo, that here,
   finally, is perfect joy. And now, brother, listen to the conclusion.
   Above all the graces and all the gifts of the Holy Spirit which Christ
   grants to his friends, is the grace of overcoming oneself, and
   accepting willingly, out of love for Christ, all suffering, injury,
   discomfort and contempt; for in all other gifts of God we cannot glory,
   seeing they proceed not from ourselves but from God, according to the
   words of the Apostle, What hast thou that thou hast not received from
   God? and if thou hast received it, why dost thou glory as if thou hadst
   not received it?' But in the cross of tribulation and affliction we may
   glory, because, as the Apostle says again, I will not glory save in the
   cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.' Amen." 

The Little Flowers of St. Francis of Assisi, Chapter 8

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