One of the joys of living in Rome is the ability to travel to the birthplace and central locales of so many great saints. These last couple days, I have had the grace to make a retreat of sorts in the footsteps of St. Francis of Assisi.
I have been to Assisi several times, but it has always been in haste–this time, we were able to spend a day and a night there. What struck me most during this pilgrimage was the idea of Francis’ perfect joy. It is well documented that the merchant son long yearned for the life of the troubadour–a traveling songster. He was known to have the ability to brighten any situation, as he did, for example, when he and several companions were taken prisoner after a local battle (with indomitable spirit, he lifted his fellow prisoners’ hearts with song even while in chains).
Well I suppose I am not surprised to see this joy as a characteristic of the saints. It’s just that he lived with this joy under rather remarkable circumstances.
I often wonder about the bus driver on these tours. I mean, the ones who usually go on these types of trips aren’t usually the ones on greatest spiritual need. During the ride, we pray and sing, and perhaps Father directs a few words exhorting us to a greater faith and trust in God. All the while, the driver has to listen to all of it and who knows what he is dealing with at work, at home…He hears Father’s assurance that all things work towards the good for those who love God, and brushes it off: what does this guy know of hardships? What does he know of really having to trust?
Here’s where I turn back to our Friar. This morning, we drove to La Verna, a mountaintop property which a benefactor donated to St Francis. It was here that the Beggar lived for two years towards the end of his life, and it was here that he received the stigmata. Stepping off the bus, a wall of frozen summit air practically crushed us–it wasn’t like this at Assisi. I walked over to a quiet cave where the saint stayed while he was there. It was very damp and humid, full of puddles, hardly inhabitable even for one of Francis’ dear brother creatures. It was not far from here that he received Christ’s wounds in his own flesh. I certainly didn’t feel Christ’s wounds, but all the same, I could no longer feel my toes either (and I’m guessing shoeless Francis often dealt with this).
Amid all of this, I remembered St Francis’ ideal of perfctae laetitiae. And I remembered the bus driver. And I am sure that for all his troubles, he is devoted to the Joyful Beggar, who continues to brighten hearts even today.