Perhaps the most enjoyable of all the tales in the Franciscan annals concern the lovable Brother Juniper, whose lavish generosity constantly exasperated his Franciscan brothers. Juniper, one of the early companions of Francis, thought nothing of giving everything away to the poor, and so his brothers were forced to forbid him from giving away his tunic to any beggars he encountered. Once, encountering a poor man, Juniper slyly told him that while he was forbidden from giving him his cloak there was nothing to say that the man couldn’t take it from him.
On another occasion, the guileless Franciscan was caring for a sick man who professed a craving for a special delicacy: pig’s feet. In response to the man’s need, Juniper went into a nearby field, spied a pig, cut a foot off of the unfortunate animal, cooked it up and served it to the man. The pig’s owner, predictably furious, berated Juniper’s superior, and called the Franciscans thieves.Genuinely surprised that someone should be so upset by his act of charity, Juniper promptly returned to the man and told him the reasons behind his actions. The irate farmer called him, according to one translation, “a fantastical fool.” So Juniper simply repeated the story with even greater passion, wondering all the while how someone could misunderstand his intentions. Finally, the man, taken with Juniper’s sincerity and charity, had a change of heart. Ultimately, he gave the Franciscans the rest of the pig.
Upon hearing the story of this “holy fool” St. Francis exclaimed to his companions, “Would that I had a whole forest of Junipers!”