The 8th grade class has been presenting
their projects on the Saints the last few weeks. So far, the presentations I have heard, speak of the martyrs. The martyrs make a powerful impression on us. Their deaths witness to us, that there is a purpose for living that is greater than this life alone. Scripture teaches us that death was not part of God’s creation, but that it entered the world through Sin. We cannot really know God’s purpose for allowing death to still exist. It does seem cruel.
I met two families this week at the hospital, who have suffered many deaths of their loved ones, some while they were still young. In pain, they have cried out; “Why God, did you take my Son, my wife?” In John’s Gospel, we even see Jesus weep at the death of his friend Lazarus (Jn 11:35). Jesus, when he first hears of his friend Lazarus’ illness, does not immediately go to cure him. Rather he seems to have delayed, until after his friend died. Jesus did not come to take away death. He came to show us a way through death, to the resurrection. Scripture further tells us that “The last enemy to be defeated is death” (1 Cor 15:26), but that even now, “All things work together for good…according to His purpose” (Rm 8:28). Today, in our imperfect world, even death serves a purpose in God’s kingdom. The reality of our death, forces us to ask the question, “What is life all about?” “Is this all there is, or is there more?” “Does heaven exist?” “Is there a God?” “How should I spend my time here before I die?”
Last week, I tried to summarize these thoughts to the 8th grade by asking them “What is the secret of life?” After hearing many very good responses from the students, and in keeping with the theme of the Saints, I presented that St. Francis taught Brother Leo one day, the “Secret of Life” by the following story. One day, on the road home, Francis was walking with Br. Leo. Francis said to Br. Leo; ‘If the Order of Friars became world famous for doing good works, and spreading the Gospel, this would not be perfect joy. Br. Leo asked, ‘Father Francis, what than would be perfect joy?’ Francis responded, ‘If all the most famous and powerful people in the land entered the Order of Friars, and worked with us proclaiming the Gospel, healing the sick, caring for the poor, and converting many souls to Christ, this would not be perfect joy!’ Br. Leo than says, ‘Please Father Francis, tell me what is perfect joy!’ Francis said; ‘Brother Leo, if we come to our friary, after this long journey, tired, wet, cold, and hungry, longing for a meal, and a warm dry place to sleep, and we knock on the door, and hear from within our brothers who ask, ‘Who are You?’ We respond that we are your brothers coming home from a long journey, and we wish for you to let us in. But instead of the welcome we long for, we hear a response from inside, go away; we do not know who you are. We are expecting no one, you must be liars and thieves, intending to harm us! If, Brother Leo, after that, we can still have peace in our heart, that is Perfect Joy!’ (I tend to tell the story a bit differently than St. Francis did! See his original in the Little Flowers of St. Francis at https://www.ewtn.com/library/MARY/FLOWERS.HTM, part I, chapter VIII.)
The secret of life is to have “Perfect Joy”! Perfect Joy is to be so grounded in eternity, that nothing in this life can distract us from the eternal realities. It is to have such a strong internal relationship with Jesus, to be so secure in an experiential knowledge of His Love, that we KNOW His Love alone is sufficient. St. Paul tells us that “Nothing can separate us from the Love of God (Rm 8:35) that “has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Rm 5:5). This Perfect Joy brings a freedom, a freedom to live fully in this life not limited by any fear; e.g. fear of what to wear or eat, fear of who will care for us, fear of what others may think, or of what others may do to us. In Perfect Joy, we become a perfect instrument in the hand of God, a saint, ready to do his will no matter what the consequences. We are not always happy in this life, but we can have a Joy that sustains us in all things; good times and in bad, even in death itself. With Perfect Joy, our life, and Our death, can give Glory to God, and proclaim his Gospel, like the martyrs. Francis found this ‘Secret of Life’, this ‘Perfect Joy’, by following “The teaching and the footprints of Our Lord Jesus Christ”. (These are Francis’s words from the Earlier Rule, chapter 1, paragraph 1.) Today, Franciscan Priests and Brothers of the First Order, Sisters of the Second Order, and lay members of the Third Order, “Follow the teaching and the footprints of Our Lord Jesus Christ” in the Spirit of St. Francis of Assisi. That is, we learn from St. Francis’ example, in the support of the communities he founded, to follow Christ more perfectly, and to find “Perfect Joy”. All of us are called to a Vocation. All of us are called to follow in the footprints of Christ. We can do that as married, or single persons, and with the support of our local churches, and our families. But perhaps, you are also called to do that as a Friar, with the support of a Franciscan Community? Come join us on our “Come and See” Retreat, this Nov 27-29 in Castro Valley, CA. ( Click here for more information on the retreat.)