Each month, during this Jubilee year, our community decided to focus on & practice one particular work of mercy. This month, September, is “To Bear Wrongs Patiently.” As I thought about this, I began to think, well that’s an opportunity just waiting to be plucked here in community life!
When you live with other people, you learn their peculiarities. Over time, you may notice annoying habits or irritating noises they make. Maybe the other person is moody or seemingly ungrateful. Or someone else feels you’re not doing your share of the work. It’s an environment just asking for learning to bear wrongs patiently!
Since my name in religious life became Sister “JOY” Marie, as you’d expect, I find myself pondering “perfect joy,” and how to live this through my actions and life. Remember Saint Francis’ story to Brother Leo about what is perfect joy? For Saint Francis, according to Fr Bill Short, OFM, perfect joy is, “The ability to endure mistreatment & not to be disturbed; patiently & non-violent; based on love for the other who is mistreating you1.”
This is the merciful act of “bearing wrongs patiently,” is it not??
In Saint Francis’ Rule of 1221, Chapter 22, he states:
“Let us all, brothers, give heed to what the Lord says: "Love your enemies, and do good to them that hate you." For our Lord Jesus, whose footsteps we ought to follow, called His betrayer friend, and offered Himself willingly to His crucifiers. Therefore all those who unjustly inflict upon us tribulations and anguishes, shames and injuries, sorrows and torments, martyrdom and death, are our friends whom we ought to love much, because we gain eternal life by that which they make us suffer2.”
In other words, our friends are those who cause us pain and distress. This sure sounds counter-cultural! But, “love your enemies,” certainly doesn’t follow today’s secular lifestyle either.
What does love your enemies mean? It’s not to pretend the sin never happened. It’s not to be doormat, or bend over and take it, or see no wrong. But it is to forgive nonetheless. “It is to wish their good, to refuse to let cynicism master faith, hope, and charity, to hope for the best while keeping a firm eye on reality.3”
So, is this saying we should spend our time with those that are cruel, disrespectful and mean to us, so we can get lots of practice “bearing wrongs patiently?” Didn’t I just now quote Saint Francis, “we gain eternal life by that which they make us suffer?” Yes…but. In our journey towards holiness, we really want to focus on heavenly things and many spiritual directors and writers will encourage you to avoid places and conversations that may tempt you to sin. In that case, where are we supposed to find perfect joy? I’ve always been lucky to have a generous, loving family, good friends, and worked with good, decent people. Where am I to have this virtue tested – so I can grow in holiness?
Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, who earnestly believed in God’s mercy, can help us here. It’s in the little sacrifices we make because God knows we’re not perfect! (Like when you are sacristan for last week’s benediction, and you forgot to put out the monstrance…thank you Sisters for not roasting me for that mistake!) “Saint Thérèse, Doctor of the Church, teaches us to love the love that is mercy by reinforcing the crucial role of sacrifice. She wrote that “love is nourished only by sacrifices….4””
Spiritual joy frustrates the devil. Joy bothers Satan, it counteracts his aim with a positive action and fills our heart with love to keep the devil out5.
As a final point in my thoughts about perfect joy, we see that Saint Francis requests all his companions to be joyful. In the last paragraph of chapter 7 in the Rule of 1221,
“And let them take care not to appear exteriorly sad and gloomy like hypocrites, but let them show themselves to be joyful and contented in the Lord, merry and becomingly courteous6.”
This includes to be cheerful, joyful and hospitable; a servant of God shouldn’t appear with a sad or glum face because it brings everyone down. Not that Saint Francis was always joyful; he wasn’t. But when he was around his companions, he practiced joy.
After pondering the Franciscan view of “perfect joy,” I realize this will be a task of perpetual perseverance for me. The name “Joy” will be a challenge for me to live up to. It isn’t always laughing or smiling or looking for the silver lining in every gray cloud. It is the practice of following the Gospel life, like our Holy Father, Saint Francis. And to practice a spiritual work of mercy.
1Short, Bill, OFM. "The Treasure of a Poor Man: Saint Francis of Assisi and Franciscan Spirituality. Talk #8” Now You Know Media, Rockville, MD, 20082Habig, Marion. Saint Francis’ Rule of 1221, Chapter 22. St Francis of Assisi Writings and Early Biographies: English Omnibus of the Sources for the Life of St. Francis. Franciscan Herald Press, Chicago, IL, 1983.3Shea, Mark P. "Works of Mercy: Bear Wrongs Patiently." Mark-Shea.com. 13 July 2010. Web. 8 Sept. 20164Cameron, Peter John, O.P. “First Steps on the Little Way of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux.” The Knights of Columbus Supreme Council, 20015Short, Bill, OFM. "The Treasure of a Poor Man: Saint Francis of Assisi and Franciscan Spirituality. Talk #9” Now You Know Media, Rockville, MD, 20086Habig, Marion. Saint Francis’ Rule of 1221, Chapter 7. St Francis of Assisi Writings and Early Biographies: English Omnibus of the Sources for the Life of St. Francis. Franciscan Herald Press, Chicago, IL, 1983.
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