“I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete”John 15:11
Most Christians are familiar with the fruits of the Holy Spirit, which include “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness.” (Galatians 5:22) Joy here is understood as that true happiness which comes not from money or possessions, but from knowing and following Christ. Jesus himself refers to this joyful, happy, or blessed state when preaching “the Beatitudes” to the crowds in what is known as the Sermon on the Mount. (Matthew 5: 1-12) Though we have come to take the common saying “money can’t buy happiness” for granted, it has certainly rung even more true in recent times, with people from all walks of life being affected by the pandemic.
St. Francis knew very well of this truth when he summoned Brother Leo to write about “what true joy is,” (Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, Vol. 1, p.166) and proceeded to describe his remaining patient and not being upset at a fellow friar who refused to take him into their home and sent him away on a freezing, muddy winter night.
I was fortunate to recently be part of a four-year-old ministry to the poor called Franciscan Joy (originally called “Franciscan Alliance”). Started as a partnership between the three branches of the Franciscans in San Antonio, TX – the Conventuals (Order of Friars Minor Conventual), the Capuchins (Order of Friars Minor Capuchin), and the OFMs (Order of Friars Minor) – the initiative is mainly spearheaded today by Grupo San Damián (The Saint Damian Group), a group of young volunteers from the St. Joseph – South San Antonio parish.
The different groups would initially come together on a monthly basis, celebrate Mass or Morning Prayer together, and then cook food for the homeless. After spending time visiting with people under bridges or anywhere around the San Antonio area and sharing a meal with them, the groups would reconvene and spend time in Eucharistic adoration, divine reading (“lectio divina”) or common prayer, followed by a meal together.
Since its foundation, the ministry has evolved to seeking out the needy and homeless, inviting them to share a meal and pray, often with joyful music playing and clothing being offered. With the recent pandemic, restrictions on the ministry led to a recent door-to-door food drive for those who have been seriously affected by the shutdowns, particularly in the poor neighborhoods of San Antonio.
Encountering people in a vulnerable state, whether they be homeless, sick, or in dire need, and who yet find the strength to smile, to be kind, and give thanks, can be a powerful and transformative experience. In this time of pandemic, the seemingly stable foundation of life for most has been shaken to its core, many have lost their lives, others have lost someone they know and love, and countless numbers of people across the world suddenly struggle to make ends meet.
One cannot help but be inspired and in awe of how the most vulnerable among us find strength in Christ, knowingly or unknowingly, to persevere in their trials.
friar Antonio Moualeu OFM Conv.