Francis’s spiritual insight

St. Francis’s teaching to Brother Leo on perfect joy is that it comes only in accepting the world as it is, though especially when it’s most vexing or horrible. This sort of acceptance is not resigned indifference or pollyannic optimism but an interior strength which manifests fullness of inner vitality and inability to be overcome by the world. Francis quotes Paul who says that he boasts, i.e. he proclaims his own excellence by the cross of the Lord, which is why his whole argument for accepting the world even at its most horrible is that this alone manifests our own greatness.

Francis’s happiness is consistent with stoicism – if joy is the full radiance of human independence and life it cannot be something we could lose by a change in the exterior world, and very little of the exterior world is in our command. The trust in providence is also consistent with stoicism. The comparison breaks down in Francis central desire for the cross, i.e. for a desire to be conformed to Christ, in whom human suffering becomes not merely a human perfection but a divinizing one. This difference allows the acceptance of life to be not merely a human perfection but an ontologically transformative one.

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