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All Good Things
February 15, 2024

Joy in Lent

It seems counterintuitive to speak about joy during Lent, a season marked by penance and sacrifice. However, this apparent contradiction is only true if we misunderstand the meaning of joy and, even further, trivialize it.

It is too easy to reduce the joy of St. Francis to a fleeting and shallow form of happiness. When we see “Francis of the Bird Bath” or images of him holding cuddly animals, we’re tempted to think about joy as a naïve kind of emotion that only exists when we’re out-of-touch, unaware of the difficulties of life, or living with our head in the clouds. Yet this cutesy version of St. Francis does not do him justice, nor help us immerse ourselves in the beauty of the Lenten season.

Francis was not ignorant of tragedy, blind to human suffering, or afraid of sadness. Francis experienced abandonment by his family and friends, suffered debilitating illnesses, lived in poverty, willingly walked into danger, and lovingly embraced the leper. Such actions do not come from passing feelings of pleasure or happiness, but from a profound sense of gratitude and the enduring joy that comes forth from it. Many people have read Francis’ beautiful Canticle of the Creatures, yet few people know that Francis wrote it while suffering from an excruciating disease that blinded him, making the light of day painful to his sight. This is the Francis that I’ve come to admire, because he has taught me that true joy is enduring. It can withstand suffering, persist beyond tragedy, and persevere in the midst of grief. Joy is not a mere feeling, it is an act of courage! Joy is not ignorance, but an abiding knowledge of the truth that God is love, that light overcomes darkness, and that death is not the end.

And so, this Lent… be joyful!

Jeffrey Papia, MBA, MTS
Chief Strategy Officer, Our Lady of Victory Human Services
Lackawanna, NY

Franciscan Joy

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