Francis of Assisi and Perfect Happiness

Earlier this week I recorded a film from 1961, Francis of Assisi, directed by the great Michael Curtiz and starring Bradford Dillman as Francis, along with Franco Zeffirelli’s 1972 “hippie” version of the St. Francis story, Brother Sun Sister Moon with music by Donovan.  Last night on PBS I watched a documentary about Francis traveling to Egypt where he met with the Sultan of Egypt while trying to bring peace to the Crusades.  I guess you might call it a St. Francis binge.

Sunday night, TCM Imports aired The Flowers of St. Francis, a 1950 effort by Roberto Rossellini.  The script was a collaboration between Rossellini and Federico Fellini based on “The Little Flowers of St. Francis,” a text from the 14th century.  The cast was made up of real Franciscan monks, including the man who played the future saint.

There is a scene where Brother Francis and Brother Leone are walking through the countryside.  Francis tells his companion of the many things that do not bring perfect happiness, such as restoring sight to the blind, healing the crippled, casting out demons, converting heretics…

Frustrated, Brother Leone stops and says, “Please, Brother, where does perfect happiness reside?”  But Francis does not answer him.  Instead, he leads Brother Leone to a house and they ask the man who lives there for alms.  He refuses.  The friars persist and the man beats them with a club.  When the incident is over, Francis turns to Brother Leone and says,

“O Brother Leone, lamb of our good Lord, now that we’ve borne all this for the love of our blessed Christ, know that in this resides perfect happiness.  Because above all the gifts Christ bestows on his servants is the gift of triumphing over ourselves and bearing every evil deed out of love for him.  In this alone lies perfect happiness.”

For St. Francis, personal transformation is a gift.  The present of happiness that we have always had but never opened.  Winning over our faults, our weaknesses, bad habits, prejudices, fears – making better people out of ourselves, the opportunity is a very precious gift.

Bearing every evil deed doesn’t mean to go out and search for them, but to willingly bear suffering when it comes.  Francis thought like this out of  his love for God but he also loved nature and its creatures and he loved people.  He taught that we are all brothers and sisters, even Brother Sun and Sister Moon and Brother Wind, all together in the unity of existence.  He practiced poverty, giving away all material possession, and spiritual poverty in that he surrendered his entire life to God.  Gave over everything so that all he had in life was his robe and his relationship with the Lord.  In living simply and altruistically like this, Francis reminds me of the bodhisattva and the Taoist sage.

Religion  doesn’t matter.  This message is universal.  We should engrave it on our hearts, as we open our hearts to compassion to all.

This is the Way.

There is no other.

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11 thoughts on “Francis of Assisi and Perfect Happiness

  1. “Bearing every evil deed doesn’t mean to go out and search for them, but to willingly bear suffering when it comes.”

    Thank you for this post today. In the last few days, I have become willing to bear some suffering that I have not wanted to bear. I’d like to see all those movies. The only one I’ve seen is the 1972 one. One of my earliest memories from when I had just turned 2 years old (in 1951) is of looking up at a St. Francis figure that was part of a stone birdbath outside of a church in San Mateo, California. I revisited the birdbath in 2008 and was surprised to see how tiny it was.

    Gracias.

    1. You’re welcome and thank you for leaving the nice comment. I tried to watch the 1972 film once and gave up for some reason. I’ll watch it all the way through this time. I don’t suppose some people would be inspire by this quote but it inspired the heck out of me.

      1. My memory of seeing the 1972 version is very vague. I know that I would have preferred Bob Dylan to have written the sound track. At that time, I was quite wary of anything that was overtly religious, and I probably went to see the movie only because I had liked the music of Donovan previous to that. I found and still find it very difficult to listen to Donovan’s songs for this movie. They don’t mesh with what I know about St. Francis now and did not appeal to me all those years ago. Still, I am quite curious about the 1972 version and have put a copy on hold at the public library, along with “The Flowers of Saint Francis.”

        1. I tried to watch the 1972 version but quit. I’ll be watching it all the way through. Much as I love Dylan, he would have been all wrong for this. Donovan, in my opinion, was a more appropriate choice. In 2004 Donovan rerecorded the songs with just guitar, no other instrumentation. Whether or not they mesh with St. Francis, I can’t say. But I thought the songs were nice.

          1. Perhaps I will hear Donovan’s songs differently this time around. My reason for choosing Bob Dylan to write songs to go with St. Francis’ life is based on reading Salvation, by Valerie Martin, which portrays a more edgy St. Francis than the one I had been familiar with previously. Thank you again for bringing St. Francis to my attention through what St. Francis said to Brother Leone. I am seeing through new eyes as a result.

          2. Thanks for bringing “Salvation” to my attention. I was looking around for something about St. Francis to read and this just may be it.

  2. I wish this peace on you too. (I remember being awestruck the first time I watched Brother Sun, Sister Moon. Years later I watched it and thought, “oh what terrible acting. It’s so over done.” I was going to the Zen master and asking for enlightenment and when he asked me where the umbrella stand was, I couldn’t answer. It’s what one is focused on in film or the infinite, of course. Thanks for posting this. As usual you’ve hit the nail. Ouch. That’s just what I needed!) Namaste.

    1. Thank you. As I said below (or above) I haven’t seen the film all the way through. As I recall the general consensus at the time it was release was that wasn’t a very good film. Maybe now because I have an interest in St. Francis I will be able to appreciate it.

  3. Thank you for sharing, that franscis’s viewpoint resonanates with me very well. I believe he truly unlocked the key to happiness.

    No matter what, fearlessly dare to always express/be an evolved human. In the name of God, or otherwise, it doesn’t matter.

    It truly inspires me too. To truly live that life, I do think one either needs unwavering belief in some god…like those jihadists/true-believers in a good way. Or, one needs to see with wisdom there is no other “path” for true happiness. A path composed of sila/unwavering-good-actio, samadhi/focus-on-actio, panna/wisdom-to-see.

    This is well captured in one my favorite parables I shared few times,

    https://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.021x.budd.html

    All of bodhisattva literature is full of this perspective, particularly that of shantideva. It absolutely wonderful.

    1. Though, technically, I am not sure if one can be considered a true bodhisattva if their intentions for being it are external (not bodhicitta) . Nevertheless, you act like one you become one. Karma takes it’s course. In this case one would evolve to much better state, though not a true bodhisattva.

      I do think one has to see and make it their intention to actualize bodhicitta.

      The former leads to “true happiness”, the latter to become “Buddha”..actualize nirvana …a state beyond concepts such as happiness. An ultimate freedom where you are spontaneously dukkha-free, karma-free. Happiness is then just like breathing.

      For this and other reasons, It’s preferable to be a real bodhisattva…not something “similar” to bodhisattva.

      Slightly off topic, but this reminds of some Buddhist literature where there are claims of gods praying to Buddha. I do not take it literally, but I see how one who is stuck with “god” has one more leap to make.

      Don’t get me wrong, st.francis is almost god-like, it is rare to see such spirit.

      I do not have an issue with “god” , just the human made-up concepts. Infact , even this human made God is an excellent tool…as we see how some Buddhist sects like vajrayana apply it. But they see the difference between human made God and the ideal represented by Buddha. It is important not to bind … having the ultimate freedom to remain unbound.

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