Introduction to Perfect Joy by Julie
This is the story of “Perfect Joy” as St. Francis of Assisi sees it. To him, perfect joy is not about things outside of us being all hunky dory. To him, perfect joy a stance we take.
Think about a baseball player. Imagine someone who is in the position of short stop. What is his position when he is waiting for the player at bat? Imagine a softball player who is the catcher. What is her stance after she signals to the pitcher and readies herself to catch the ball? Imagine the player who is on 3rd base, pacing around the base as she waits for the action to start. You’ve just imagined three different baseball or softball players in three different stances. Perfect joy is a stance so just like in baseball, if you have the right stance as you wait for what is coming at you, you are more likely to do react in a certain way, the right way when the ball comes to you. What if that player on 3rd base drags a chair from the dugout and sits down, staring off into space when the batter is up? How prepared will she be when bat snaps, contacts the ball and sends it flying into the outfield? If we approach life from this correct stance, that is, from the stance St. Francis describes below, we will be ready to take on the fly balls, fowl balls or grounders that come our way. Perfect joy is not dependent on the outside circumstances around us but is dependent on us maintaining the correct stance.
Here is the story of Perfect Joy. Because of where and how many times it shows up in the 800 year old documents, it is considered to be an authentic story that was told about Francis in the time of Francis.
The Story of Perfect Joy
This famous story is told of St. Francis of Assisi, that he was traveling with his assistant, Br. Leo. It was winter and they both shivered from the cold. Francis called to Leo: “Brother, if it were to please God that the friars 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, Francis added: “Brother Leo, if the friars 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.”
As they walked, Francis kept adding to this litany, describing places where perfect joy would not be found. Finally after several miles it is said that Br. Leo “wondered much within himself,” and then blurted out: “I pray thee, teach me wherein is perfect joy.”
Francis, thinking perhaps “Thought you’d never ask!” answered Leo, “If, when we shall arrive at our destination, 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 you say is a lie. You are two impostors going about deceiving the world, and taking alms from 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 until nightfall, then, if we accept such injustice, such cruelty and 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 makes him to speak thus against us, write down, Brother Leo: This is perfect joy.”
Francis wouldn’t leave it alone, adding further: “And if we knock again, and the porter comes out in anger to drive us away with oaths and blows, as if we were vile impostors, saying, ‘Begone, miserable robbers, for here you shall neither eat nor sleep!’ If we accept all this with patience, with joy, and with charity, O Brother Leo, write that this indeed is perfect joy.”
As you can see, perfect joy is not reliant on the outside circumstances. It is a stance one takes. Here are some questions to consider in regards to this story:
Questions for Reflection
1.It is a story about rejection. Francis expects his own followers, those who claim to be following Christ and wanting to do it in the same way Francis did, to accept him and offer him kindness and hospitality. They don’t accept him. They don’t believe he is Francis and clearly, they haven’t taken to heart any of his teachings about hospitality if they are so ready to reject him. With his teachings, even if they thought he was a homeless person wandering around, they should feel obligated to receive him as a guest since the poor are Jesus in disguise.
Question for you: When have you felt rejected by those who were supposed to claim you and care for you? This could be a small incident or a big incident. What was your response? Even if you still feel hurt by it today, how can you adjust your response and adjust your stance so that when the memory comes back to you, you have a new stance, one of perfect joy?
- It is a story in which we can easily imagine ourselves as the ones who are not opening the door to another.
Question for you: Describe an incident where you kept a “door closed” when you could have easily opened it. Why do we as humans like to close the door on others? How do we open the doors wider to Sardis Baptist Church? Who is out there who needs to know that we are here, that the door is open and that we would welcome them?