The miracle of Greccio: A real Franciscan Christmas
From the Life of St. Francis by friar Julian of Speyer (chap.X, 53-55, written ca.
"Moreover, something marvelous happened three years before the blessed passing of Blessed Francis and, although many other things have been neglected, I think it is worthy of being recalled. The holy man assiduously meditated particularly on the things that were done in the time of Christ, and did not wish, if he could help it, to neglect even a jot or tittle of what was narrated in the books of the holy Gospel. Quite the contrary, he considered everything written about Christ, but above all the vicissi-tudes of his life, and longed to experience the very sweet yoke and light burden of the Master him-self. Therefore, desiring to represent as faithfully as possible the lowly poverty of the infancy of the Savior born at Bethlehem, when the Feast of the Nativity was at hand, the man of God sent word to a reli-gious nobleman in the town of Greccio named John, who provided an ox and an ass, with a stable, in anticipation of the joys of the coming celebration. "Finally, the holy night arrived. Blessed Francis was there with many of his brothers gathered around him. The hay in the manger is prepared, the ox and the ass are arranged around the manger, and the vigil celebration begins with joy. A great multitude of people stream together from various places, the night is filled with an unaccustomed joy and made luminous by candles and torches. And so, with a new ritual, the festival of a new Bethlehem is celebrated." The brothers also paid their debt of praise to the Lord, and all present acclaimed him with new songs of praise. Blessed Francis, however, was standing before the manger full of sighs of joy and suffused by an indescribable sweetness.
Finally, when Solemn Mass was celebrated above the manger, the holy Levite of God dressed in festive vestments proclaimed the gospel with a sonorous voice and then with a voice flowing with honey he preached to the people about the poor King born in Bethlehem. Truly, he was so overcome by sweet devotion toward the infancy of that King, that whenever he had to speak the name of Jesus Christ, he would, as if stuttering, call him "the babe of Bethlehem", out of an excess of loving tenderness. Lest it be thought that these things happened without divine approval, a miraculous vision was shown to a certain virtuous man, who saw Blessed Francis go up to the manger and waken, as if from a deep sleep, a child who seemed to be laying there lifeless. It is therefore believed, and not without reason, that the Lord Jesus aptly revealed his infancy in this vision to the one who reflected upon it. He who was asleep or dead in the hearts of many, owing to forgetfulness, was awakened and recalled to memory by the teaching and example of Blessed Francis. The solemnities were completed with great exultation, and everyone happily returned to their homes." Unfortunately, by contrast, we know only too well that some people in our society do not even want to look at the crib scene. The crib scene recalls for us one of the two greatest events of all history - God-becoming-man (and God being our Redeemer). The crib carries the message: "I bring you news of great joy - you are loved."
When Blessed John Duns Scotus, ofm, was beatified, they wrote on the medal struck for the occasion: "Incarnatio - Summum Opus Dei" ["The Incarnation - the Greatest Work of God!"] This awesome fact manifests one of the key elements of our rich franciscan theology. We always have a choice: to look at the crib scene, or to be a part of the scene, as Francis did. There we see and experience the powerful messages and examples of poverty/humility/dependency/love. As St. John's gospel starts out (in his prologue), after Christ becomes man, he says: "he came unto his own, and his own received him not"! What an indictment! But we gather to let the whole world know that we want to accept him, to receive Him - - as our Priest (who offered the great sacrifice once and for all to redeem us) - as our Prophet (our teacher, by his words and his example, of how life should be lived; what's impor-tant, etc.) - as our King; a King with his Kingdom (the Prince of Peace as we express in our songs). And we receive Communion as the seal on this acceptance - we accept him as Priest, Prophet, and King in our own lives once again. Francis did not just want to look at a crib scene; he wanted to become a part of it!! In fact, we come to realize that for Francis the crib was not just for Christmas! It can be for our prayerful appreciation every day of the year.
The Canticle of Brother Sun by Saint Francis of Assisi
Most high, all-powerful, all good, Lord!
All praise is yours, all glory, all honor and all blessing. To you, alone, Most High, do they belong. No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce your name.
All praise be yours, my Lord, through all that you have made, And first my lord Brother Sun, who brings the day; and light you give to us through him. How beautiful is he, how radiant in all his splendor! Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.
All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Moon and Stars; In the heavens you have made them, bright and precious and fair.
All praise be yours, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air, And fair and stormy, all the weather's moods, by which you cherish all you have made.
All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Water, so useful, lowly, precious and pure. All praise be yours, my Lord, through Brother Fire, Through whom you brighten up the night. How beautiful is he, how joyful! Full of power and strength.
All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Earth, our mother, Who feeds us in her sovereignty and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.
All praise be yours, my Lord, through those who grant pardon For love of you; through those who endure sickness and trial.
Happy those who endure in peace,
By you, Most High, they will be crowned.
All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Death, From whose embrace no mortal can escape. Woe to those who die in mortal sin! Happy those She finds doing your will! The second death can do no harm to them. Praise and bless my Lord, and give him thanks, And serve him with great humility.
Most high, all-powerful, all good, Lord! All praise is yours, all glory, all honor and all blessing.