Greccio: Francis remembering the Christmas

Greccio – the story of a living crib.
Members of ofs have extracts from the story of how Francis celebrated Christmas, 1223, at Greccio, in our handbook.
Thomas of Celano is the source for this account. Thomas wrote this first legend of Francis, sometimes called the first life of Francis, because Pope Gregory asked him to compose the life required as part of a canonisation process.
Celano introduced the episode by recalling how Francis was increasingly preoccupied with the humility of the Incarnation (and the charity of the Passion). Francis would receive the stigmata in 1224, which we believe is an indication of his close communion with God.
Celano descibes how Francis was affected by the discomfort of the manger and the presence of the animals at Bethlehem. He wanted to rekindle the sense of the humanity and vulnerability of the baby Jesus, to warm our hearts. Babies warm the hearts of all around them.
Throughout the book, Celano writes about Francis as a new type of Christian who did things that were new. Here he writes about Greccio as “this new mystery of new joy”. The episode resonates with a spirit of exultant jubilation among those who attend. There is a wonderful sense of light in the account: the local people brought candles and torches to light up that night whose shining star enlightened every day and every year. But also, Celano describes how the scene gave pride of place to simplicity, poverty and humility.
The account includes a detail and an observation. There was someone who saw “a little child lying lifeless in the manger and he saw the holy man of God approach the child and waken him from a deep sleep. Nor is this vision unfitting, since in the hearts of many the child has been given over to oblivion”.
I genuinely enjoy the festive atmosphere in all our towns and cities, in the exuberant lights that deck so many houses. However, I feel that Celano’s words are just as true today – there are hearts oblivious to the true story of the first Christmas. The liturgy for Advent is beautiful. It is all about preparing our hearts to receive Christ anew and reminding us of the future coming of the glorious Christ. For Christians, preparation means looking into our hearts, examining our lives, so, in this, Advent is like Lent. The 12 days of Christmas are the period for us to celebrate, after we have made as good a preparation as we can, spiritually and physically.
Snow has come early with its beauty and the inevitable disruption. With snow comes a different perception of our surroundings that always feels new and unexpected. Perhaps it can enkindle the soul that wants to look inside with new, clear eyes, to find what might be brought into light for good; what needs to be examined and maybe restored; and what should be given up, abandoned.
Paula, ofs.

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Advent Readings

Tomorrow Advent starts – this year we have the shortest number of days possible for this lovely season. Blessed Advent to All.
During Advent I intend to post a few readings and, as the weeks go by, I hope to share a few thoughts on these. These Christmas readings are a taster.
Also, I hope very soon to have time to report at least the highlights of a particularly busy time since late Summer as there is much to share.
From Francis’ Later Admonition and Exhortation:
The most high Father made known from heaven, through His holy angel Gabriel, this Word of the Father – so worthy, so holy and glorious – in the womb of the holy and glorious Virgin Mary, from whose womb He received the flesh of our humanity and our frailty. Though He was rich, He wished, together with the most Blessed Virgin, His mother, to choose poverty in the world beyond all else.
Preface III of the Nativity of the Lord includes:
For through him the holy exchange that restores our life has shone forth today in splendour: when our frailty is assumed by your Word not only does human mortality receive unending honour but by this wondrous union we, too, are made eternal.
A poem by William Alabaster 1567 – 1640
Incarnatio est Maximum Dei Donum (The Incarnation is the Greatest Gift of God)
Like as the fountain of all light created
Doth power our streams of brightness undefined
Through all the conduits of transparent kind
That heaven and air are both illuminated
And yet his light is not thereby abated;
So God’s eternal bounty ever shined
The beams of being, moving, life, sense and mind,
And to all things Himself communicated.
But see the violent diffusive pleasure
Of goodness, that left not, till God had spent
Himself by giving us Himself His treasure
In making man a God omnipotent.
How might this goodness draw our souls above
Which drew down God with such attractive love.

Paula ofs

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First World Day of the Poor: Encountering Christ



Encountering Christ: “A Renewed Personal Encounter with Jesus Christ”
Pope Francis declared last Sunday, 19th November, the Thirty-Third (and penultimate) Sunday of Ordinary Time, to be the first World Day of the Poor.

In November last year, on the Solemnity of our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, Pope Francis published his Apostolic Letter “Misericordia et Misera” to conclude the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy [Misericordia et misera is a phrase used by Saint Augustine in recounting the story of Jesus’ meeting with the woman taken in adultery (cf. Jn 8:1-11)]. In that letter [Section 21] the Pope wrote: “… I had the idea that, as yet another tangible sign of this Extraordinary Holy Year, the entire Church might celebrate, on the Thirty-Third Sunday of Ordinary Time, the World Day of the Poor. This would be the worthiest way to prepare for the celebration of the Solemnity of our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, who identified with the little ones and the poor and who will judge us on our works of mercy (cf. Mt 25:31-46). It would be a day to help communities and each of the baptized to reflect on how poverty is at the very heart of the Gospel and that, as long as Lazarus lies at the door of our homes (cf. Lk 16:19-21), there can be no justice or social peace. This Day will also represent a genuine form of new evangelization (cf. Mt 11:5) which can renew the face of the Church as She perseveres in her perennial activity of pastoral conversion and witness to mercy.”

Then, in June this year, on the memorial of St Anthony of Padua, the Pope released a message “First World Day of the Poor” in which he developed his ideas about this day.

Resources have been prepared by Caritas Social Action Network, at, we understand, the request The Bishops Conference of England and Wales.

Beyond these useful resources, we may well, as secular franciscans, address the deeper teaching of Pope Francis in this message, and in “Misericordia et Misera”, that this day “will also represent a genuine form of new evangelization (cf. Mt 11:5) which can renew the face of the Church.”

St Francis and the Lepers: “Transformative Power”
Pope Francis refers to St Francis: “He was not satisfied to embrace lepers and give them alms, but chose to go to Gubbio to stay with them.  He saw this meeting as the turning point of his conversion …”. The Pope then alludes to the transformative power of this experience. We are called to “a true encounter with the poor and a sharing that becomes a way of life”.

Pope Francis continues: “If we truly wish to encounter Christ, we have to touch his body in the suffering bodies of the poor, as a response to the sacramental communion bestowed in the Eucharist. Saint John Chrysostom’s admonition remains ever timely: “If you want to honour the body of Christ, do not scorn it when it is naked; do not honour the Eucharistic Christ with silk vestments, and then, leaving the church, neglect the other Christ suffering from cold and nakedness”

This echoes what the Pope said in Evangelii Gaudium: the invitation he gave us in section 3 “to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her … “. Likewise, our secular franciscan rule (article 5) invites us “to seek to encounter the living and active person of Christ …”

Saint Francis and his “Witness of Authentic Poverty”.
Pope Francis also says of the poor: “Their outstretched hand is also an invitation to step out of our certainties and comforts, and to acknowledge the value of poverty in itself.” And: “Let us never forget that, for Christ’s disciples, poverty is above all a call to follow Jesus in his own poverty.” “Let us, then, take as our example Saint Francis and his witness of authentic poverty.  Precisely because he kept his gaze fixed on Christ, Francis was able to see and serve him in the poor.”

Community Building, Fraternity Building: “Creating Moments of Encounter and Friendship, Solidarity and Concrete Assistance”.
Pope Francis says: “It is my wish that, in the week preceding the World Day of the Poor, …. Christian communities will make every effort to create moments of encounter and friendship, solidarity and concrete assistance.” And is this not also the way we may build our OFS fraternities and make them stronger, the strong foundation from which we may go out and plant new fraternities, and not only “in the week preceding the World Day of the Poor”?

“Personal Encounter with the Saving Love of Jesus”
Pope Francis also addresses this point about creating moments of “encounter and friendship, solidarity and concrete assistance” in section 264 of Evangelii Gaudium: “The primary reason for evangelizing” [creating moments of encounter and friendship, solidarity and concrete assistance, whether with the materially poor or with the spiritually poor] “is the love of Jesus which we have received, the experience of salvation which urges us to ever greater love of him. What kind of love would not feel the need to speak of the beloved, to point him out, to make him known? If we do not feel an intense desire to share this love, we need to pray insistently that he will once more touch our hearts. We need to implore his grace daily, asking him to open our cold hearts and shake up our lukewarm and superficial existence. Standing before him with open hearts, letting him look at us, we see that gaze of love which Nathaniel glimpsed on the day when Jesus said to him: “I saw you under the fig tree” (Jn 1:48). How good it is to stand before a crucifix, or on our knees before the Blessed Sacrament, and simply to be in his presence! How much good it does us when he once more touches our lives and impels us to share his new life! What then happens is that “we speak of what we have seen and heard” (1 Jn 1:3).”

Lectio Divina
Pope Francis continues section 264 of Evangelii Gaudium with a call to a form of Lectio Divina: “The best incentive for sharing the Gospel comes from contemplating it with love, lingering over its pages and reading it with the heart. If we approach it in this way, its beauty will amaze and constantly excite us. But if this is to come about, we need to recover a contemplative spirit which can help us to realize ever anew 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.” See also our OFS Rule: articles 4 and 8.
Then, in section 265 of Evangelii Gaudium, we are told: “Jesus’ whole life, his way of dealing with the poor, his actions, his integrity, his simple daily acts of generosity, and finally his complete self-giving, is precious and reveals the mystery of his divine life. Whenever we encounter this anew, we become convinced that it is exactly what others need, even though they may not recognize it … ” To echo that last expression: ” …it is exactly what others need, even though they may not recognize it … ”

Conversion, Renewal: “Our Own Constantly Renewed Experience of Savouring Christ’s Friendship”
“But this conviction”, says Pope Francis, now in section 266 of Evangelii Gaudium, “has to be sustained by our own constantly renewed experience of savouring Christ’s friendship and his message.” Our process, as Secular Franciscans, of Conversion. Our Rule (article 7) informs us that: “Human frailty makes it necessary that this conversion be carried out daily”

The Poor Christ: “The Kingship of Christ is most evident on Golgotha”
In such a way, creating moments of “encounter and friendship, solidarity and concrete assistance” there may be, says the Pope towards the end of “First World Day of the Poor” “an even more authentic celebration of the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Universal King, on the following Sunday. The kingship of Christ is most evident on Golgotha, when the Innocent One, nailed to the cross, poor, naked and stripped of everything, incarnates and reveals the fullness of God’s love.  Jesus’ complete abandonment to the Father expresses his utter poverty and reveals the power of the Love that awakens him to new life on the day of the Resurrection.”

Understanding the Deepest Truth of the Gospel
Pope Francis concludes his “First World Day of the Poor”: “This new World Day, therefore”, should allow us “to grow in the conviction that sharing with the poor enables us to understand the deepest truth of the Gospel. The poor are not a problem: they are a resource from which to draw as we strive to accept and practise in our lives the essence of the Gospel.”

Pope Francis further addressed these themes in his homily at mass for that Sunday, the World Day of the Poor.
He said: “All of us, none excluded, need [the Eucharist], for all of us are beggars when it comes to what is essential: God’s love, which gives meaning to our lives and a life without end. So today too, we lift up our hands to him, asking to receive his gifts.”

Gifts is indeed what the Gospel parable for that Sunday speaks of. “It tells us that we have received talents from God …” “… in God’s eyes, we are “talented”. Consequently, no one can think that he or she is useless, so poor as to be incapable of giving something to others. We are chosen and blessed by God … who wants to fill us with his gifts, more than any father or mother does with their own children.”

“And God … entrusts to each of us a mission.” “… he gives us responsibility. In the parable, we see that each servant is given talents to use wisely. But ….. the third [servant] does not make his talents bear fruit; he gives back only what he had received. “I was afraid – he says”. “As a result, he is harshly rebuked as “wicked and lazy” (v. 26). What made the Master displeased with him? To use a word that may sound a little old-fashioned but is still timely, I would say it was his omission. His evil was that of failing to do good. All too often, we have the idea that we haven’t done anything wrong, and so we rest content, presuming that we are good and just. But in this way we risk acting like the unworthy servant: he did no wrong, he didn’t waste the talent, in fact he kept it carefully hidden in the ground.” He was content to keep it safe. “But to do no wrong is not enough.” “It is sad when the Father of love does not receive a generous response of love from his children, who do no more than keep the rules and follow the commandments, like hired hands in the house of the Father (cf. Lk 15:17).”

Instead, the parable tells us, the one who adds new talents is truly “faithful” (vv. 21 and 23), because he sees things as God does; he does not stand still, but instead, out of love, takes risks. He puts his life on the line for others; he is not content to keep things as they are.

Pope Francis concludes his homily by reflecting on the poor, who: “are the ones who open to us the way to heaven; they are our “passport to paradise”. “Drawing near to the poor in our midst will touch our lives. It will remind us of what really counts: to love God and our neighbour. Only this lasts forever, everything else passes away. What we invest in love remains, the rest vanishes. Today we might ask ourselves: “What counts for me in life? Where am I making my investments?”

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Our Paula in Rome


The image shows Paula at the Chapter in Rome with delegates from France and Ireland. Paula writes this morning (Tuesday): “Really inspiring talk yesterday, lots to bring home to you. We are all included here as we talk and share our ofs life, wish others could be here too P e b”

The CIOFS website (it’s still up!) has details of the opening Mass presided over by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, and details of the opening addresses. Here is a link to the Chapter Flickr photo feed. There are a great many photos there already.

I have posted other photos from Paula in the members only National Fraternity OFSGB facebook page. We hope to present some coverage on our national Twitter page, and possibly our as yet very under utilised Instagram account. Will the Instagrammers among you please come to our aid!

The CIOFS facebook page has regular updates, and had a live video feed on Sunday and Monday. Presumably they will continue with this live feed for those who want to follow the Chapter in real time

Here is the “Definitive Programme”, copied from the CIOFS website:

Today the Chapter reflects on “Instrumentum Laboris” subtitled: “How should an Order like the Secular Franciscan Order (OFS) be managed at all its levels?” During the 2014 General Chapter, capitulars reflected on this theme and were encouraged to lead a reflection within their respective national fraternities with all professed brothers and sisters during the three years 2014 to 2017. Paula received the results of these reflections from many of us, and so Paula is able to present our views to Chapter: on the strengths, weaknesses and priorities of our national fraternity, as well as the strengths and challenges in the management of the OFS at the international level.

Finally, here you have a photo of Attilio Galimberti, our Presidency councillor. Hard at work on our behalf?

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