Lenin, Francis, and Paul

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Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, the Russian revolutionary who founded Bolshevism which became Soviet Communism, said, “I made a mistake. Without doubt, an oppressed multitude had to be liberated. But our method only provoked further oppression and atrocious massacres. My living nightmare is to find myself lost in an ocean of red with the blood of innumerable victims. It is too late now to alter the past, but what was needed to save Russia were ten Francis of Assisi’s” (Letters on Modern Atheism).

I can’t let 1981 go by without a word about St. Francis, who was born 800 years ago this year. Francis Bernadone lived in Italy and was the founder of the Catholic order called the Franciscans. The Rule of 1221, which he wrote for the friars of the order, requires that they are “to live in obedience, in chastity and without property.”

Christmas is a time for great joy, and St. Francis is known for the delight and gratitude he seemed to have for all things. So I thought we might do well to hear a conversation he once had with Brother Leo about the source of perfect joy (taken from The Little Flowers of St. Francis):

One winter day when he and Brother Leo were walking along the road to Assisi from Perugia, Francis called out to Leo in the bitter cold five times, each time telling him what perfect joy was not: “Brother Leo, even if a Friar Minor gives sight to the blind, heals the paralyzed, drives out devils, gives hearing back to the deaf, makes the lame walk, and restores speech to the dumb, and what is more brings back to life a man who had been dead four days, write that perfect joy is not that.” And so he continued with different enumerations of success and even spiritual enjoyment. And when he had been talking this way for a distance of two miles, Brother Leo in great amazement asked him, “Father, I beg you in God’s name to tell me where perfect joy is to be found?”

And Francis replied: “When we come to the Portiuncula, soaked by the rain and frozen by the cold, all soiled with mud and suffering from hunger, and we ring at the gate of our friary and the brother porter comes and says angrily: “Who are you?” and we say: “We are two of your brothers.” And he contradicts us saying, “You are not telling the truth. Go away!” and he does not open for us, but makes us stand outside in the snow and rain, cold and hungry until night falls — then if we endure all of those insults and cruel rebuffs patiently, without being troubled and without complaining, and if we reflect humbly and lovingly that the porter really knows us. Oh, Brother Leo, write that perfect joy is to be found there!

“And if we continue to knock and the porter comes out and drives us away with curses and hard blows — and if we bear it patiently and take insults with joy and love in our hearts. Oh, Brother Leo, write down that that is perfect joy! And now hear the conclusion: Above all the graces and gifts of the Holy Spirit which Christ gives to his friends is that of conquering oneself and willingly enduring sufferings, insults, humiliations, and hardships for the Love of Christ.”

Join me in pursuing Philippians 3:10!