If you ask what is the characteristic
virtue of St. Francis of Assisi, most people would reply, "JOY."
And, they would be correct. Down through the centuries, the Little
Poor Man's legacy of JOY has inspired countless believers to seek
and find the precious jewel of Gospel JOY.
But what exactly is JOY? The
dictionary defines JOY simply as a very glad feeling; happiness,
delight. It was certainly that for St. Francis. Even before his
conversion, the son of Pietro di Bernardone was an amiable, happy
person, pleasant to be with and knowing how to enjoy the good things
of life. After his conversion, God's grace built on Francis' happy,
amiable nature and made of him a saint whose name is synonymous with
What is JOY? A fruit of the
Holy Spirit, the Apostle Paul declares. The Gospels recount
that our Lord Himself rejoiced in the Holy Spirit.
(cf. Luke 10:21)
As St. Francis, striving to imitate his Divine Teacher, surrendered
more and more to the Spirit of the Lord and His holy way of
working, Christ-like JOY became the fruit that he produced more
and more abundantly.
What is JOY? The saintly abbot,
Blessed Columba Marmion, describes it as the echo of God's life
in us. As God progressively took possession of St. Francis'
life, His "echo" began to resound ever more clearly in and through
the Little Poor Man. This echo of joy was so compelling that soon
Francis was joined by a generous, happy band of followers, whom
people simply called the "Joyful Penitents from Assisi."
What is JOY? St. Thomas Aquinas
states that it is delight in the good possessed And what
"good" did St. Francis possess which gave him such an overflowing,
unfailing delight? GOD! In stripping himself of all earthly wealth
and detaching himself from all temporal ambition, Francis discovered
the treasure hidden in the field of the world. The ideal of
Gospel poverty — living without any possessions of his own —
prepared Francis to possess the real Good which is God. It opened
him to receive the great gift Jesus had promised to share with His
followers: that my joy may be in you so that your joy may be
(cf. John 15:11)
The exercise of the "little"
virtue of JOY is an invitation to plumb the depths of the Christian
mystery. It means learning how to enjoy the good things life offers
with a JOY that is pure, humble and grateful. It is allowing the
Holy Spirit to tend the acres of our interior life, in order to
bring forth the precious fruit of JOY. It is a letting go of earthly
ambitions, an emptying of self so that we are able to possess the
true Good who gives real JOY.
because it is JOY which is constantly
returning to the fountainhead of all JOY — the death and
Resurrection of the One who assured us that this kind of JOY no
one will take away from you.
(cf. John 16:22)
St. Francis teaches one more very
important lesson about the jewel of JOY. The complete JOY
of the follower of Jesus is found in the perfect JOY of one
who remembers and shares in the Passion of the blessed Christ. It is
JOY which is constantly born anew
As long as we live on earth, as long
as we walk by faith, there will be trials and struggles, temptations
and sorrows, tears and sufferings. But, there can always and
everywhere be JOY, the JOY St. Francis knew when, in his PRAISES OF
GOD MOST HIGH, he proclaimed: You, O God, are JOY!