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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