On Christmas in the year 1223, St. Francis of Assisi desired to “enact the memory of that babe who was born in Bethlehem: to see as much as is possible with (his) own bodily eyes the discomfort of his infant needs, how he lay in manger, and how, with an ox and an ass standing by, he rested on hay.”*
St. Francis wanted to experience in his body whatever Christ experienced, trying to make the Incarnation real. Thus, he created the very first nativity scene in the tiny Italian town of Greccio. In a cave, he set up a stable with live animals and a babe in a manager to bring people's hearts and minds towards the poor Christ Child and his Holy Family.
This year, we celebrate 800 years of nativities! Christians today continue the tradition started by St. Francis of erecting the Christmas crèche in our homes and churches. (Did you know the word crèche comes from the name Greccio?) As we celebrate this special anniversary, we are called to slow down and take notice. To look upon the poverty of Christ in the manger and allow our hearts to be moved.
"Love cannot be given or received from a drive-through window. Love takes time; it cannot be rushed, and the Saint Francis understood this," said Fr. Alejandro Lopez, pastor of Mary, of God parish. "He wanted everyone to slow down and contemplate the Great Mystery of the Incarnation. To allow the simplicity, the poverty and the humility of God in the person of the Son to move us to love. To love God, for loving us so much, and love our neighbor."
On Christmas in the year 2023, let us remember that God loved us first and that love then moves each of to be loving to others. Moving us to recognize Christ not only in the manger figure, nor on the Altar, but also in one another, especially others who are poor and vulnerable. May the Lord transform us all through the inspiration of our Holy Father, St. Francis!
*From “The Life of St. Francis” by Thomas of Celano, in Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, Volume I: The Saint, Chapter XXX, Page 255
SAVE THE DATE!
Exert from "A Multifaceted Centenary in Which Several Centenaries Will Be Celebrated"
by the Conference of the Franciscan Family
When Thomas of Celano presents the story of the celebration of Christmas at Greccio, he talks about the reasons Francis of Assisi had for to setting up the manger and celebrating the Mass in a cave. The Poverello stopped at Greccio because he wanted to contemplate the realness of the Incarnation, namely, the simplicity, poverty and humility of the Son of God “who gave Himself for us with supreme and indescribable love” (1 Celano 30: 87, FF 471). We find the same dynamic in his contemplation of the Eucharist.
In fact, Francis invites us not only to see with our physical eyes but with our spiritual eyes as well, so that we might contemplate the humility and the real manifestation of divine love present in the Eucharist: “Behold, each day He humbles Himself as when He came from the royal throne into the Virgin’s womb; each day He Himself comes to us, appearing humbly; each day He comes down from the bosom of the Father upon the altar in the hands of a priest” (Admonitions I, 16-18, FF 144).
[W]e are invited to pause before the mystery of the Incarnation in order to contemplate the depth of God’s love for humanity. The Son of God becomes the Son of man; he becomes one of us, our brother (cf. Second Version of the Letter to the Faithful 56, FF 201). Our faith in the Incarnation prompts us to discover the seeds of the Word present in all cultures and in contemporary society, so that we might bring to bloom the seeds of humanity we find there.
Moreover, it urges us not only to defend life but also to become instruments of life and humanity in our families and fraternities, reaching out to those who are seen as social rejects, who are no longer considered human. The concrete way that Francis of Assisi celebrated the mystery of the Incarnation at Greccio, invites us to more fully realize “that we have been entrusted with a treasure which makes us more human and helps us to lead a new life. There is nothing more precious which we can give to others” (Evangelii gaudium 264).
On Christmas day, the Poverello, together with his brothers, prayed: “This is the day the Lord has made let us rejoice and be glad in it. For the Most Holy Child has been given to us and has been born for us on the way and placed in a manger because he did not have a place in the inn” (Office of the Passion XV, 5-7, FF 303). As we celebrate the centenary of the manger at Greccio, we are invited to think about the place that Jesus occupies in our hearts, and even more, whether we have a place in our hearts for those with whom Jesus wanted to be identified: “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Mt 25:40).
By his Incarnation, Christ Jesus eliminated any distance that separated him from humanity. He calls us to do the same, that is, to be close to our brothers and sisters to welcome them, to touch them with mercy, as the Magisterium of the Church reminds us: “With the simplicity of that sign, Saint Francis carried out a great work of evangelization... In a particular way, from the time of its Franciscan origins, the nativity scene has invited us to ‘feel’ and ‘touch’ the poverty that God’s Son took upon himself in the Incarnation. Implicitly, it summons us to follow him along the path of humility, poverty and self-denial that leads from the manger of Bethlehem to the cross. It asks us to meet him and serve him by showing mercy to those of our brothers and sisters in greatest need” (Admirabile signum 3).