Servant of God Brother Juniper (d. 1258)
"Would to God, my brothers, I had a whole forest of such Junipers," said Francis of this holy friar. We don’t know much about Juniper before he joined the friars in 1210. Francis sent him to establish "places" for the friars in Gualdo Tadino and Viterbo. When St. Clare was dying, Juniper consoled her. He was devoted to the passion of Jesus and was known for his simplicity. Several stories about Juniper in the Little Flowers of St. Francis illustrate his exasperating generosity. Once Juniper was taking care of a sick man who had a craving to eat pig’s feet. This helpful friar went to a nearby field, captured a pig and cut off one foot, and then served this meal to the sick man. The owner of the pig was furious and immediately went to Juniper’s superior. When Juniper saw his mistake, he apologized profusely. He also ended up talking this angry man into donating the rest of the pig to the friars! Another time Juniper had been commanded to quit giving part of his clothing to the half-naked people he met on the road. Desiring to obey his superior, Juniper once told a man in need that he couldn’t give the man his tunic, but he wouldn’t prevent the man from taking it either. In time, the friars learned not to leave anything lying around, for Juniper would probably give it away. He died in 1258 and is buried at Ara Coeli Church in Rome.
It is said that St. Francis once described the perfect friar by citing "the patience of Brother Juniper, who attained the state of perfect patience because he kept the truth of his low estate constantly in mind, whose supreme desire was to follow Christ on the way of the cross" (Mirror of Perfection, #85).
The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Mark (4:26-34)
Jesus said, This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces corn— first the stalk, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come. Again he said, What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade. With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything.
(Homily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)
One might say that the story of each human life and, indeed, of all human history, is the story of hope. How sad, unusual and even unnatural it is to come across a person who has no hope. The normal thing is that a young person grows with hope as he thinks of his future and what he might do with his life. Hope drives his efforts at study, sport, friendships and other spheres of his activity as he looks forward to a career, a future family and a life of doing worthwhile things. Countless millions have some hope in their hearts, and even in the midst of poverty and suffering they hope to improve their lot. Hope is a natural gift and it is the engine of great things in the life of both the individual and the world. But what happens? The likelihood is that hopes will experience disappointment. A person will have to adjust his hopes to the limits and realities of what he manages to achieve. Importantly, there is the danger that, due to disappointment and many failures, hope can weaken and even become minimal. Thus there are many who reach something of a plateau in life, and beyond that they hope for little. They “retire.” There is hope there, but they do not hope for very much, and so they do not do very much. Life becomes very ordinary in the sense that it lacks dynamism and striving. It ceases to be a life of real work. It ceases to be a life of joy. The core of the problem would seem to be that no reason is seen to hope, that life appears as a great brute fact that must be accepted, offering little reason for high hopes. The person is now “over the hill.” His dreams have gone because of the hard surface of reality. Inasmuch as hopes and dreams are quite evidently central to a fulfilled life, how can a person maintain his hopes undimmed to the end? Instead of passing from this life with his hopes worn down to the barest flicker, how can he reach his end with his hopes higher than ever? I tend to think that this is a very fundamental issue for happiness, goodness, joy and fulfilment in life.
To begin with, if in reality our hopes are dependent entirely on ourselves, ordinary human reflection will suggest that they rest on a very insecure foundation. Goals that are chosen on the simple basis of personal preference or personal ability are tenuous because, obviously, there are so many factors beyond this basis that will affect the goals in question. Napoleon Bonaparte chose his goals — to be master of Europe — on the basis of preference and ability, but there were many other factors which resulted in these goals being denied him. If hope is to remain undimmed and indeed grow, then while to an extent is must depend on ourselves and on what we choose to do, it cannot depend entirely on ourselves. What, then, is the ultimate basis of true and enduring hope? It has to be God and his holy will. All things depend on God. He is ever active in sustaining the world and bringing to fruition his Plan. The inspired Scriptures show us that God has a Kingdom that he is developing, and that Christ has established this Kingdom here on earth. Jesus himself is the heart of the Kingdom of God, and we enter that Kingdom and become its citizens by entering into union with the person of Jesus, whose body is the Church he founded on Simon Peter. This glorious Kingdom is growing, due to the power of God. This brings us to our Gospel passage today (Mark 4: 26-34), in which our Lord describes what the Kingdom of God is like. “It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade.” Our best hopes ought be in God, who will assuredly attain his goals. Our goal ought be to devote our lives and energies to playing a modest, though whole-hearted part in God’s work. The ultimate basis of true hope is God and what he is doing. Thus, even apparent failure will not diminish our hopes. In the midst of the many failures in life, our hope will remain undimmed right to the end, for it is based on God and his almighty will.
The Christian contemplates Jesus his divine Master — hanging from the Cross. That is what his earthly ministry led to. It looked like a spectacular failure. But to the last, the vision and the confidence of our Lord remained undimmed. In Christ, an amazing reversal becomes manifest. Failure and reversal is no reason at all for the loss of hope. Rather, it is the reason for hope. The Cross is the path to glory, and in God’s saving plan, the glory did not come without the Cross. It was necessary that the Son of Man suffer in order to enter into his glory. All this is to say that the natural life of hope finds its surest and truest home in the Christian life. Every person is called to place his or her hopes in the surest basis of all — the person and teaching of Jesus Christ.