The Joy of Peace ©
The last time I meditated on the traditional Prayer of St. Francis, I understood it from a fresh perspective. Instead of Peace being one of its goals – along with joy, love, pardon, faith, hope and light – I began to see how Peace is the crowing gift that marks the achievement of all the rest. Or at least, that Peace blooms insofar as other virtues are seeded and nurtured.
The prayer appears to set these other virtues apart by asking the Lord for the grace to sow joy, love, pardon, faith, hope and light wherever sadness, hatred, injury, doubt, despair and darkness are found, the effect being that we become instruments of Peace.
By the end of the prayer, we discover something about the climate that fosters the development of the delicate Peace flower. That climate is a precondition or attitude of the heart. By it we know that “it is in giving that we receive; in pardoning that we are pardoned and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life” Unless we truly believe this, it is senseless to ask the divine Master for the grace “not so much to seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love”.
During the season of Advent, we do well to focus on one of the key strategies for peace, namely the deliberate sowing and careful nurturing of joy there where sadness is found.
Sadness is a soil propitious to the rampant spread of weeds that drain the life of the soul. Unchecked, it may give rise to cynicism and despair. With cynicism, there is no faith; with despair, there is no hope. Without faith and hope, there is no charity. And without charity, there can be no authentic and enduring peace.
The child in my womb leaped for joy.
Perfect joy, therefore – the joy that effectively and affectively displaces sadness – is something we sow, not only with love, but also with premeditation. But to sow we, we must first hold it in our heart. Where do we get such joy, particularly when we ourselves are inclined to grieve with sadness the numerous losses to which we are subjected in daily living.? The answer is in daily encounters with incarnated Love, the Prince of Peace.
We learn that even while in his mother’s womb, our brother Jesus had the power to fill others with perfect joy. In the case of his cousin John the Baptist, that power radiated even into the womb to Elizabeth: “The child of my womb leaped for joy.”
Judging from biblical accounts, throughout his life, Jesus possessed an amazing capacity to impart joy, even through the privation. Joy must have been one of the truly attractive things about Jesus. Along with his wisdom, it must have been the main reason why so many people followed him. Despite hard times and social oppression, Jesus preached a message of liberating joy.
Cry out with joy and gladness: among you is the Holy One of Israel
In his second life of Francis, Celano relates a significant event in the life of the saint a more recent biographer called “God’s Fool”: “One night, when he was exhausted more than usual because of the many severe pains of his infirmities, Francis began to pity himself(…)But lest that ready spirit yield(…)to the flesh(…)he prayed (and was given the promise of spiritual treasure and eternal life by the Lord.”
The result was great joy in the promises of Christ – joy and patience to endure great suffering.
Not surprisingly, “it was at this time that he composed the Praises of Creatures.” In fact, it was very natural that this joy should overflow into ecstatic praise and, if one bears in mind the wonder-filled verses of this first poem written in the Italian vernacular, thanksgiving.
In writing each strophe, Francis demonstrated that prayer is an attitude of gratitude. And it is in a spirit of genuine gratitude that prayer leads to a meaningful encounter with the Prince of Peace, the source of all life.
The sincerity and child-like exuberance with which this joy was expressed illustrates an important point about eternal life: It begins here and now. Francis was so excited about the reward that awaited him that he experienced a little piece of heaven on earth during his own lifetime, notwithstanding the crippling pain of his body. There is a story that recalls Francis’s explanation of what constitutes perfect joy. Mindful of St. Paul’s words: “I will not glory in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ”, Francis describes in it perfect joy as the ability to stay focused on our life-giving participation in the life of our Saviour, despite adversity.
Joy in Christ
If you suffer with Him, you will reign with Him.
If you weep with Him, you shall rejoice with Him;
If you die with Him on the cross of tribulation,
You shall possess heavenly mansions in the splendour of the saints
and, in the Book of Life, your name shall be called glorious among men.
From Clare of Assisi’s Second Letter to Agnes of Prague
True Joy of Spirit
The saint, therefore, made it a point to keep himself in joy of heart and to preserve the unction of the Spirit and the oil of gladness. He avoided with the greatest care the miserable illness of dejection, so that if he felt it creeping over his mind even a little, he would have recourse very quickly to prayer. For he would say: “If the servant of God, as may happen, is disturbed in any way, he should rise immediately to pray and he should remain in the presence of the heavenly Father until he restores unto him the joy of salvation. For if he remains stupefied in sadness, the Babylonian stuff will increase, so that, unless it be at length be driven out by tears, it will generate an abiding rust in the heart.”
From Chapter LXXXVIII Praise of spiritual joy; the evil of dejection “Celano, Second Life” of St. Francis of Assisi
The Perfect Joy
One day at St. Mary, St. Francis called Brother Leo and said: “Brother Leo, write this down.”
He answered: “I’m ready.”
“Write what true joy is,” he said. “A messenger comes and says that all the masters of theology in Paris have joined the Order–write: that is not true joy. Or all the prelates beyond the mountains–archbishops and bishops, or the King of France and the King of England–write: that is not true joy. Or that my friars have gone to the unbelievers and have converted all of them to the faith; or that I have so much grace from God that I heal the sick and I perform many miracles. I tell you that true joy is not in all those things.”
“ But what is true joy?”
“I am returning from Perugia and I am coming here at night, in the dark. It is winter time and wet and muddy and so cold that icicles form at the edges of my habit and keep striking my legs, and blood forms from such wounds. And I come to the gate, all covered with mud and cold and ice, and after I have knocked and called for a long time, a friar comes and asks: ‘Who are you?’ I answer: ‘Brother Francis.’ And he you.’
“But I still stand at the gate and say: ‘For the love of God, let me come in tonight.’ And he answers: ‘I won’t. Go to the Crosiers’ place and ask there.’
“I tell you that if I kept patience and was not upset–that is true joy and true virtue and the salvation of the soul.”
From Archivum Franciscanum Historicum Chapter 8 “Little Flowers of St. Francis”
Why are so glum?
When did we start devaluing those other gifts of the Spirit: play, humor, hope, idealism and joy? The Jewish Talmud holds, “We will be held accountable for neglecting to enjoy the legitimate pleasures the Lord sends.” Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J., would have agreed. He penned the simple truth, “We follow those who offer the most hope”—not fear, not despair, not depression, but hope. People do not embrace a faith and come to church to get depressed but to get hope, to share the Spirit and to be around people of hope, idealism and joy.
From The Messenger