Perhaps no one lived more fully in the heavenly kingdom of Jesus’ beatitudes than Giovanni. He was born in a wealthy Italian family in 1182. Then as a young man he heard a sermon in which Jesus says, “Go to the lost sheep… proclaim the message, ‘The Kingdom of the Heavens has come near. Heal the sick… Freely you have received, freely give.’” (Matt. 10:6-8) Immediately, he literally took the fancy clothes off of his back and set them at the feet of his father and followed Jesus.
From that day on Giovani traveled the countryside barefoot, sharing the Good News of Jesus to lepers, the poor and needy, birds and wolves, and anyone who would receive him. He gathered many fellow disciples as together they sought to imitate the life of Christ in perfect joy.
He became known to the world as St Francis of Assisi, the founder of the Franciscan Order of Preachers. Many people know him as a gentle lover of animals and have a pretty statue of him holding a bird in their garden, but few appreciate, much less seek to imitate, his fervent devotion to Christ. He found perfect joy in serving people, enduring trials, and doing all things for the love of Christ.
Merry Abandonment and Instant Obedience
Richard Foster commented about St. Francis and his life of perfect joy in Christ:
Two things immediately strike me about the life of St. Francis: his merry abandonment and his instant obedience.
Francis was called ‘God’s troubadour,’ so marked was he by a carefree, happy exuberant abandonment to God. He tramped the villages and towns of his day, joyfully announcing the presence of the kingdom of God and wonderfully demonstrating its life and power. He also obeyed, without hesitation, any word he believed to be the command of Jesus Christ. The two are connected, of course. Only as we let go of all other loyalties and securities are we free to live obedient lives. Merry abandonment, instant obedience: excellent virtues for us to strive for in our world of a thousand competing loyalties. (Devotional Classics, p. 319)
The Story of St. Francis’ “Perfect Joy”
One day Francis was on a long journey with Friar Leo in the winter and it was so cold that their bodies shivered and ached. He asked Friar Leo about perfect joy. Is perfect joy in setting an example of holiness? Is perfect joy in performing miracles? Having great knowledge? Preaching the gospel? He went on and on like this asking him, “Where is perfect joy?… Where is perfect joy?…” And all the time as they’re walking in the snow and bitter cold!
Finally, Father Leo pleaded, “Father, I pray you in the name of God to tell me, where is perfect joy?!”
If we arrive at our host’s house soaked by the rain, frozen, muddy, and afflicted with hunger, knock on the door and the doorkeeper says, “Who are you? I don’t know you!” And he closes the door in our faces so that we must stay outside all night long, freezing to death. If we endure this mistreatment without disquieting ourselves and without murmuring, but think humbly and charitably about the doorkeeper, believing that God is in charge. If we bear these injustices patiently and with cheerfulness, thinking on the sufferings of Christ for us. O Friar Leo, write it down that here is perfect joy!
Above all the graces and gifts of the Holy Spirit, which Christ grants to His friends is that of self-conquest and of willingly bearing sufferings, injuries and reproaches and discomforts for the love of Christ. This is why the Apostle says: “What do you have that you did not receive from God?” (1 Cor. 4:7) and “I would not glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Gal. 6:14)” (Adapted from The Little Flowers of St. Francis of Assisi, pp. 19-21)