The other day I heard a teisho that prompted me to recollect a tale I heard long, long ago, when I was young and quite impressionable:
One day in winter, as Francis was going with Brother Leo from Perugia to St. Mary of the Angels, and was suffering greatly from the cold, he called to Brother Leo, who was walking on before him, and said to him, "Brother Leo, if it were to please God that the friars should give in all lands a great example of holiness and edification, write down, and note carefully, that this would not be perfect joy."
A little further on, Francis called to him a second time, "Brother Leo, if the friars were to make the lame walk, if they should make straight the crooked, chase away demons, give sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, speech to the dumb, and, what is even a far greater work, if they should raise the dead after four days, write that this would not be perfect joy."
Shortly after, he cried out again, "Brother Leo, if the friars knew all languages, if they were versed in all science, if they could explain all Scripture, if they had the gift of prophecy, and could reveal, not only all future things, but likewise the secrets of all consciences and all souls, write that this would not be perfect joy."
After proceeding a few steps farther, he cried out again with a loud voice, "O Brother Leo, little lamb of God, if the friars could speak with the tongues of angels, if they could explain the course of the stars, if they knew the virtues of all plants; if all the treasures of the earth were revealed to them; if they were acquainted with the various qualities of all birds, of all fish, of all animals, of men, of trees, of stones, of roots and of waters – write that this would not be perfect joy."
Shortly after, he cried out again, "O Brother Leo, if the friars had the gift of preaching so as to convert all infidels to the faith of Christ, write that this would not be perfect joy."
Now when this manner of discourse had lasted for the space of two miles, Brother Leo wondered much within himself; and, questioning the saint, he said, "Father, I pray you teach me wherein is perfect joy."
Francis answered, "If, when we shall arrive at St. Mary of the Angels, all drenched with rain and trembling with cold, all covered with mud and exhausted from hunger; if, when we knock at the convent gate, the porter should come angrily and ask us who we are; if, after we have told him, "We are two of the brothers," he should answer angrily, "What you say is not the truth; you are but two impostors going about to deceive the world and take away the alms of the poor; begone I say;" if then he refuses to open to us, and leaves us outside, exposed to the snow and rain, suffering from cold and hunger til nightfall – then, if we accept such injustice, such cruelty and such contempt with patience, without being ruffled and without murmuring, believing with humility and charity that the porter really knows us, and that it is God who is making him to speak thus against us, write down, Brother Leo, that this is perfect joy.Mama, don't let your babies grow up hearing such nonsense. Who knows what what kinds of lives they might aspire to. They might actually – you'd better sit down, mama – take this stuff seriously.
And if we knock again, and the porter comes out in anger to drive us away with oaths and blows, as if we were vile impostors, saying, "Begone, miserable robbers! To the hospital, for here you shall neither eat nor sleep!" – and if we accept all this with patience, with joy, and with charity, Brother Leo, write that this is indeed perfect joy.
And if, urged by cold and hunger, we knock again, calling to the porter and entreating him with many tears to open to us and give us shelter, for the love of God, and if he comes out more angry than before, exclaiming, "These are but importunate rascals, I will deal with them as they deserve;" and taking a knotted stick, he seizes us by the hood, throws us on the ground, rolls us in the snow, and beats and wounds us with the knots in the stick – if we bear all these injuries with patience and joy, write, Brother Leo, that here finally is perfect joy."