True and Perfect Freedom

Allow me to share with you the story of a horrible commute:

I had woken up late and was hurrying to catch the train. In my rush, I forgot the morning paper, my coffee, and my lunch. On my way to the train station, I was stopped by every red light. As I got to the parking lot, I was stopped by the train crossing gates as I watched my train go by. I eventually found a parking spot, and as I was walking to the station, it began to pour. I discovered that I had left my umbrella at home too.

 Now, if I was able to handle all that adversity without losing patience or becoming upset, St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226) would have called this "true and perfect joy."

I think he could have also called it "true and perfect freedom."

Freedom is the ability to be compassionate in the face of suffering; it is the ability to be loving in the face of hate; it is the ability to be joyful in the face of sorrow; it is the ability to be non-violent in the face of violence.

St. Francis knew such freedom because he was able to live a life of poverty; that is, he was willing to live a life centered totally on God. This focus allowed him to see himself as something more than the son of a wealthy cloth merchant or as a young man who dreamed of being a knight. This God-centered life--this life of poverty--allowed him to see everyone and everything as reflecting the Divine goodness.

Freedom is an action: it is the act of choosing to see the good that is at the root of all things. But finding the good in the root of things can be extremely difficult. I can too easily fall in the habit of making it a platitude; worse, I might doubt that it is even true. Here are a few tips to help you see the good in all things:

  • Remember that you only know part of the story. You don't know everything.
  • Remember that you might be wrong. We are all fallible. What you think you know might not accurately reflect reality.
  • Remember that you are fundamentally good. Yes, you might do bad things, and that goodness might be deeply buried. But that does not negate the existence of your essential goodness.
  • Remember to look for beauty. The more you look for beauty, the more you will find it, even in the mundane things.

If I can remember these things--and not just pay lip service to them--I will know true and perfect joy, just as St. Francis did 


Bartolome Esteban Murillo (1617-1682). St. Francis of Assisi at Prayer (1645-1650), oil on canvas.

Bartolome Esteban Murillo (1617-1682). St. Francis of Assisi at Prayer (1645-1650), oil on canvas.