A Message from Father Nick 40

Joy to the world

     Great saints help to deepen our faith, and perhaps no saint has influenced our response to Jesus more than Francis of Assisi. His own profoundly empathetic faith led him to share his Master’s suffering even to the point of stigmata, and the mystery of Christ’s nativity overwhelmed him with joy. Francis was convinced that God’s gift of his Son brought about the transformation of our whole humanity. For him, Christ’s presence was a constant experience to be welcomed with love.

     It was Francis who “invented” the crib by arranging a living tableau on Christmas Eve 1223, on the hillside at Greccio. As Omer Engelbert retells it,
“The people of the country had joined with the friars of the surrounding hermitages, bearing torches and candles to lighten the darkness of this night which, like a star, has shone for centuries and will shine forever. Winding up the mountain, the procession wended its way towards the spot where – between a great ox and a little donkey – the Crib was set up. Under the great trees it was as light as day, and from rock to rock the echo reverberated of the chanting of the friars, mingled with the pious refrain of the crowd. Standing before the Crib, torn with compassion and filled with unspeakable joy [Francis] awaited them.”

     Francis, who was never ordained a priest, assisted as a deacon. His friend and follower Thomas of Celano describes the saint’s unusual ministry of the Word. As Francis sings the gospel, we are told he has,
“…a powerful voice, a pleasant voice, a clear voice, a musical voice, inviting all to the highest of gifts. Then he preaches to the people standing around him and pours forth sweet honey about the birth of the poor King and the poor city of Bethlehem. Moreover, burning with excessive love, he often calls Christ the ‘babe from Bethlehem’… Saying the word ‘Bethlehem’ in the manner of a bleating sheep, he fills his whole mouth with sound but even more with sweet affection. He seems to lick his lips whenever he uses the expressions ‘Jesus’ or ‘babe from Bethlehem, tasting the word on his happy palate and savouring the sweetness of the word.”

     At least one person present believed that he saw Francis actually holding the babe from Bethlehem in his arms. Hay from the holy site was treasured, and an altar consecrated there. As Thomas concludes,

“This was done
so that where animals once ate the fodder of the hay,
there humans henceforth
for healing of body and soul would eat the flesh
of the immaculate and spotless lamb,
our Lord Jesus Christ,
who gave Himself for us
with supreme and indescribable love,
who lives and rules with the Father and the Holy Spirit as God,
eternally glorious forever and ever.

Amen. Alleluia, Alleluia.”