St. Francis, the Incarnation, and Greccio
Francis and his brothers were dedicated to prayer and contemplation and stayed frequently at hermitages where the brothers would care and support each other in their physical and spiritual needs. In 1223, Francis had spent weeks in prayer at the hermitage in Greccio spiritually preparing for Christmas. In the 1200’s most of the local lay people had joined his order of penitents (they were likely some of the first Secular Franciscans!) and were engaged in the local fields as farmers and shepherds.
As Christmas of 1223 approached, and after Francis had spent such time in prayer preparing for this very special feast of the Incarnation, he arranged for a living nativity scene in order to give emphasis on to the birth of Christ. Thomas of Celano, an early biographer of Francis, says that it is here, in the birth of Jesus, that the intimate link between creation and Incarnation become 'visible.' Francis saw the most profound revelation of God’s love for humanity in the Incarnation. Through the Christmas scene he created at Greccio with the participation of the local people, Francis wanted to show everyone how God entered into our everyday world of creation through the Incarnation. The Incarnation made all of creation holy.
At midnight Mass, Francis put on the vestments of the Deacon, for he was one, and preached on the humility of God's entrance into time, and on the poverty of Jesus.
Thomas of Celano tells of Francis speaking ‘charming words’ overflowing love. Unlike most medieval preaching which tended to be harsh, Francis spoke so tenderly that is ‘mouth was filled more with sweet affection than with words.’ Francis stood by the manger, overcome with love, and filled with a wonderful happiness. Thomas describes a ‘wonderful vision’ seen by a virtuous man present that night: he saw Francis rousing the Child, as if from a deep sleep. To Thomas, this image was entirely fitting as it illustrated how Francis awoke the love of the Holy Child in the hearts of the people in a way that would make an indelible mark on their hearts and memories.
During this holy Advent and Christmas season, may our own hearts be awakened to the love of our sweet Lord and be indelibly marked with that love. May we, as Secular Franciscans, be emboldened to take that wonderful Love out into the world.
Pace e bene +
Laura Chun, OFS
Minister, San Luis Rey Fraternity
Secular Franciscan Order
Old Mission San Luis Rey
4050 Mission Avenue
Oceanside, CA 92057
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