The good Lord knows our hearts and our struggles, and he consoles us, though not to make us complacent, but just enough to help us go on and spur us to take up our cross and follow him for another day. He knows that after almost twenty years on this journey of seeking the footprints of St. Francis, there are times when I doubt, when my heart is full of worry about whether what has become of me as a friar carries any Franciscan meaning, whether I am about the Franciscan vocation that the Lord himself once gave me the grace to set out upon in a simpler, easier time.And so today he gives me the tender consolation of having the experience that our holy father St. Francis told us to call true and perfect joy.
Here in Rome there are, on a certain regular schedule, these little get-togethers for the (male, as far as I can tell) English-speaking religious who serve in the various generalates of the different religious orders. It's usually an hour or two of drinks and snacks followed by an outing to a pizzeria. No big deal. A little salutary fellowship for guys living in a strange land. During my first year in Rome I went to a few of them. On one I got to visit the legendary generalate of the Jesuits, where one may see, among other things, the oft-photographed sight of the fire extinguisher next to the statue of St. Ignatius that bears on its base his quote, "Go and set the world on fire." I went to a lovely cookout at the generalate of the Crosiers. So nice. Homemade baked beans and all.
Starting my second year, I wanted to try to be attentive to these events. After all, as the Holy Spirit reminds me from time to time, I could use an English-speaking spiritual director and thus I ought to do my part in helping the Spirit arrange for me to meet one. So I sent my positive RSVP for the first one of the notional fall season, which was scheduled for today.
Two buses and a good climb up a hill and I arrived at the place. I was a little early, so I paced about between the cloister and courtyard that was open to the public, praying my vespers. Just as I was finishing the intercessions, a guy emerged from the house, probably a religious and probably an American, though I couldn't be sure about either. He didn't have a habit on. Neither did I.
He said to me in Italian that they were about to lock up. I said after him, in English, that I was there for the party. After he had gotten all the tourists and kids to leave, he locked the gate. By now I had prayed the Our Father and the Collect. He turned back. I thought that upon seeing me still inside he might give me the fraternal solidarity of a knowing smile--thinking that I would understand the relief of a delicate pastoral task squared away--and then take me in to the party. Instead, he let out an exasperated sigh. He turned to reopen the gate and then motioned to me to use it. I approached and said again, in English, that I thought there was a party. He said, not without a touch of sarcasm,
"Yes, there's a party" and then continued in Italian,
"Buona sera" and motioned for me to leave.
And so I left, walking down the hill and making my way to the stop of the first of two buses home, thanking the Lord for giving me the consolation of the true and perfect joy of feeling for once like a real Franciscan.
"Then what is true joy?" [asked Br. Leo]
"I return from Perugia and arrive here in the dead of night. It's winter time, muddy, and so cold that icicles have formed on the edges of my habit and keep striking my legs and blood flows from such wounds. Freezing, covered with mud and ice, I come to the gate and, after I've knocked and called for some time, a brother comes and asks: 'Who are you?' 'Brother Francis,' I answer. 'Go away!' he says. 'This is not a decent hour to be wandering about! You may not come in!' When I insist, he replies: 'Go away! You are simple and stupid! Don't come back to us again! There are many of us here like you--we don't need you!' I stand again at the door and say: 'For the love of God, take me in tonight!' And he replies: 'I will not! Go to the Crosiers' place and ask there!
I tell you this: If I had patience and did not become upset, true joy, as well as true virtue and the salvation of my soul, would consist in this." (FA:ED 166-7)