Perfect Joy

 Fr. Roberto Cano, FSSP

AMDG

…And you shall be made sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy – Jn. XVI, 20

             It is said of St. Francis of Assissi that on a certain trip he made during the harsh cold of winter with his faithful companion Brother Leo that he cried out to the brother who was walking in front of him and said, “Brother Leo, write and let it be known that even if the Friars Minor were to give great example of sanctity and edification, in these perfect joy does not consist.”  And then a second time St. Francis called to his companion, “Brother Leo, and even if the Friars Minor were to give sight to the blind, cure the crippled, cast out demons, make the deaf hear, the dumb talk, or even raise the dead after four days, write and let it be known that in these perfect joy does not consist.”  Then soon afterwards St. Francis raised his voice and said, “Oh Brother Leo, even if the Friars Minor would know all the languages, sciences and the Scriptures in such a manner that they would have 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.”  A little later 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.”  And the saint continued speaking this way for the length of two miles until finally Brother Leo asked the saint in what did perfect joy consist?  St Francis responded, “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 and if we accept all this with patience, with joy, and with charity, O Brother Leo, write that this indeed is perfect joy… And now, brother, listen to the conclusion. Above all the graces and all the gifts of the Holy Ghost 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”  (cf. Flowers of St. Francis, p. I, c. 8).

            This story is taken from a work called the Flowers of St. Francis and although it makes for a somewhat lengthy introduction it highlights, nevertheless, what it is that the Church wishes us to consider on this the 3rd Sunday after Easter.  I would suggest that there are essentially two points we need to consider today: 1) that the world is not our home and thus pursuits of worldly joy by the Christian are done in vain 2) perfect joy consists in our union with God and consequently with our detachment from worldly things.  Both the Epistle and Gospel remind us of our human condition as viatores— wayfarers, pilgrims.  In fact this why St. Peter tells the Romans whom he is amongst, “Dearly beloved, I beseech you, as strangers and pilgrims, to refrain yourselves from carnal desires which war against the soul” (I Pt. II, 11).  And why Our Lord tells His disciples at the Last Supper, “A little while, and now you shall not see me: and again a little while, and you shall see me…” (Jn. XVI, 16).  This ‘little while‘ which Our Lord is referring to is our earthly life and existence according to St. Augustine.  Is it not clear then that man has a final end, a final destiny for which he has been created?  According to the ancients and to the Scholastics this final end is happiness or beatitude which is found only in God. 

            Earlier in the same Last Supper discourse Our Lord tells His Apostles, “If the world hate you, know ye that it hath hated me before you.  If you had been of the world, the world would love its own: but because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you” (Jn. XV, 18-19).  The message is quite obvious; Our Lord is telling His disciples that although they are in the world they are not of the world and this is not only true for the Apostles, but for every baptized Roman Catholic.  By Baptism we have died to the world and have since vowed to denounce Satan and his works.  Not only do we fool ourselves, but even much worse, we risk condemning ourselves by compromising our Faith by the standards of the world whose prince is the devil.  For the world would have us think that because God is in His Heaven, man is free to do what he wishes here below.  The world would say that as long as a certain person, place or thing makes us ‘happy’ it cannot be that bad.  Therefore, there are no absolutes or truth except that we must tolerate everything regardless if is truly good or evil.  Is it any wonder then why we live in a world so steeped in sin? 

            To be Roman Catholic in our day means to be counter-cultural, in other words, to go against the culture of the day which promotes disorder and licentiousness by promoting sin as if it were virtue.  The moment, dear friends, that we begin to ‘dialogue’ and accept such a culture as normal we have begun to terminate our existence as Catholics.  And this is a truth we need to instill in our children.  All too often the Catholic youth of our day are caught up in the spirit of the world and their focus becomes anything and everything but that which is most essential-the glory of God and the salvation of their soul.  Dare we ask: who are their heroes?  Who are their friends and confidants?  Who do they seek advice from?  What do they watch, read and listen to?  If the answer to any of these questions is anyone but Christ and His Holy Church then there is a problem.  It is a sign that they have begun to live their lives from someone else than God.  And a life not lived for God, is anything but that— a life.  It falls terribly short to the vocation they have received as baptized Catholics and is a sure recipe for a life of hardship and torment.  What parent here would not wish to see to his child to possess perfect joy?  I would say that everyone here would want that for their children, then if that is the case we need to begin teaching them even more diligently that perfect joy cannot be had in this life, but only in the next life. And if we are to possess perfect joy we must follow and conform ourselves to the Holy Will of God.  For the path to Heaven is through the narrow gate and the way to that Gate is the Way of Our Lord Jesus Christ!

            This brings us to the second point we need to consider that perfect joy consists in our union with God and detachment from worldly things.  Why is this so?  Because joy is had whenever the will rests in the object that is sought, that is to say, whenever the will has come to possess its object.  Think of the natural world whenever a man sets a goal for himself joy is not had until he has acquired it.  Now in the supernatural life God is only possessed when there is sanctifying grace in the soul which allows the soul to participate in the divine nature.  When the soul is filled with sanctifying grace a number of supernatural habits are infused into the soul, namely, the infused theological virtues (faith, hope and charity), the infused moral virtues (prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance) and the gifts of the Holy Ghost (fear of the Lord, fortitude, piety, counsel, understanding, knowledge and wisdom).  The most important of these being the theological virtue of charity for as St. Paul says, “And now there remain faith, hope and charity, these three: but the greatest of these is charity” (I Cor. XIII, 13).  And St. John elsewhere, “God is charity: and he that abideth in charity abideth in God, and God in Him” (I Jn. IV, 16).  Charity is the supernatural virtue by which we love God and neighbor for God’s sake and in order to love Him supernaturally we need a habit infused into our soul to do so and this is what the virtue allows us to do.  Thus, when we possess the virtue of charity, we possess the Blessed Trinity in our souls and the effect of that possession is spiritual joy.  It is not yet perfect joy as that can only be had when one comes to possess the very vision of God known as the Beatific Vision which is only possible in Heaven.     

            That having been said, what is the logical conclusion from these principles?  First and foremost, a soul that is without charity is a soul that is empty of the joy of God.  The natural consequence is that such a soul will seek to fill that void with a joy that is passing and false.  Is there any suprise then why we see so many broken homes and relationships, drug use and depression in our society?  St. John of the Cross teaches that, “The more a person rejoices over something outside God the less intense will be his joy in God.”  Which is catastrophic for any soul since each and every soul is created by God and for God.  The same saint tells us that desires beget desires meaning that once a person begins to lead a life of sin it will only lead to further sin until that person humbly accepts the grace of conversion.  The second point to consider is that a soul who does posses charity and therefore spiritual joy will also experience sorrow and trials.  This is clear from Our Lord’s words, “If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you…you shall be made sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy…in the world you shall have distress” (Jn. XV, 20; XVI, 20, 33).  No matter how much we try or attempt to kick against the goad, we cannot and will not escape that dreadful word: suffering!  Yet as we noticed in the life of St. Francis of Assissi and indeed all the saints suffering is their crown of glory.  For in suffering do we imitate and participate in the Passion of Christ, but just as importantly we are purified and detached from the things of this world.  And this brings us to our final point if our joy isn’t continuing to increase it is because our charity isn’t increasing either.  This is often the result of human attachments to created goods.  To define it in simple terms we can say that an attachment is a willed seeking of something finite for its own sake.  The word attachment often has a connation for only sinful things but it is possible to be attached to a thing which is good in of itself as would be food, a spouse, children, parents, a job, a home etc.  The solution is detachment which frees the soul from lesser goods that are not God.  Granted this does not mean to not love the things mentioned, but always with a love that is ordered and subordinate to the higher love which we owe Almighty God.  Detachment has as its finality perfect charity and is a holy indifference towards created goods.  Thus, whatever trials or tribulations that can befall us or our loved ones has to be viewed with a certain indifference that it will be as St. Paul says, “We know that to them that love God all things work together unto good: to such as, according to his purpose, are called to be saints” (Rom. VIII, 28).  A dread for suffering, then, has to be alien to us because it is through suffering that we find our joy.

            As we approach closer to the month of May, the month dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, we cannot fail to invoke and contemplate her, who is Causa nostrae laetitiae—the cause of our joy.  Our Lady who had the great joy to bring the Savior into the world also had her soul pierced by a sword of incomparable suffering.  If then we are weary or better yet afraid to embrace the Cross of Christ let us then have recourse to her.  The Easter season in a most fitting manner unfolds the divine plan for us, namely, resurrection through crucifixion. 

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