This is the fourth episode of an ongoing series. For the previous episode, click here.
When most people think of the essentials of living a Franciscan life there are a few things that come to everyone’s mind: humility, simplicity, fraternity, care for creation, and an intimate prayer life, to name a few. And these are all absolutely right. But having lived this life for almost six years, I can say that there is one often-forgotten aspect that might be most essential of all: joy.
What made St. Francis so inspiring to his early followers, and what has kept this order alive for more than 800 years, is the joy he experienced in life, in prayer, and in his interaction with the world. It’s been said that St. Francis never truly got over the fact that God loved him, that he lived until the moment he died with the unbridled joy of one who has recently fallen in love. Christian life for him was not one of sadness or stoicism, it was a life of profound thanksgiving and constant rejoicing as a result of Jesus’ sacrifice for our sake. While some may not see this in his life of mostly ascetic prayer and fasting, the joy of being a son of the Father was the very reason for everything he did. Even in suffering, there can be laughter and rejoicing because of our eternal destination.
There are few people I know that live with as much optimism and joy as Br. Angel Vazquez, OFM, one of our student friars studying in Chicago. Angel is the type of brother who is always at the center of a loud conversation, always with a smile on his face, and always bringing levity to a tense situation. I had the joy of living with Angel for a year and enjoyed his presence greatly. He lives his emotions on his sleeves and doesn’t hold back, and is a great instigator of friar game nights and outings to keep us a lively bunch. In a world where everything means so much and we’re given so much serious responsibility in people’s lives, it is Angel’s joy that reminds me how essential it is to our charism: we could not do the things we do unless we had the joy of being loved by God. Unless we’re able to step back from time to time and laugh until our stomachs hurt, we’ll never make it in this life.