Brother Juniper was one of the original companions of St. Francis and
” a man of such unshakeable humility, patience, and self-contempt, that the rising waves of temptation and tribulation could not move him.”
Brother Juniper evidently attained such a degree of holiness that he was quite indifferent to the opinion or regard of others. This was fortunate, since “he was considered stupid and foolish by those who did not know how perfect he was.”
Apart from the stories in his brief “Life,” little is known of his biography. In these stories, he appears to function as a kind of living parable. Francis and his followers were regarded by the world as “fools for Christ.” Just so, the exasperating foolishness of Juniper served among the friars as a standard by which to measure their own compromise with the wisdom of the world.
Over and over again, Juniper tested the patience of his brothers. And not infrequently, after one of his escapades, “the friars were very much shocked and scandalized, and they rebuked him forcefully, calling him a lunatic and a fool and a disgrace to the order of St. Francis, and declaring that he should be put in chains as a madman,” At the sight of the poor, for instance, he was filled with such compassion that he would hand them his garment or rip off a sleeve or a cowl to give them. Not content with giving away his own habit, he would freely dispense his books, altar vestments, or anything else he could lay his hands on. As a result, “when poor people came to Brother Juniper to beg, the friars used to take and hide the things they wanted to keep.”
One time, he set out to surprise the brothers by preparing a feast. After filling pots with water, he tossed in everything – “chickens with feathers and eggs in shells” – so that everything could cook together. When he set down before the friars “that hodgepodge of his, which not a single hog in the city of Rome would have eaten.” they scolded him severely. Juniper displayed such humble abasement that the guardian was moved. Such an edifying example of simplicity, he said, was worth the waste of food.
So on this, and many other occasions, Juniper’s foolishness ultimately bore such a lesson in charity, faith or humility, that Francis himself was moved to observe on one occasion, “My Brothers, if only I had a great forest of such junipers.”
He died in Rome in 1258.
Once when Brother Juniper was praying – and perhaps he was thinking of something extraordinary – a hand appeared to him in the air, and he heard a voice saying to him: “Oh Brother Juniper, without this hand you can do nothing.” He quickly arose and ran through the friary, gazing up at heaven, dancing and shouting in a loud voice: “Indeed that is true, Lord! Indeed that is true!” And he kept on shouting that for a long time.– From the Life of Brother Juniper