Bonaventure highlights the idea that the one who dwells in Christ dwells in the other, because the fullness of who we are in Christ can only be found in the other. The difference of the other, therefore, was not an obstacle for Francis in his search for God but rather a celebration of God. For he found his own identity in God and he found God in the fragile, wounded flesh of his brothers and sisters. It is prayer, according to Bonaventure, that impelled Francis to see the world with new vision, a contemplative vision that penetrated the depths of reality. The world became Francis’ cloister because he found it to be permeated with the goodness of God.
The humility that naturally accompanies such a state of living helped to create a nonthreatening space for dialogue. If one is not interested in winning, being correct, or ranking above another, then one is not a threat. The sultan had nothing to fear from Francis. The way Francis lived his life demonstrated his willingness to be subordinate to every other person for God’s sake. Francis recognized himself as a sinner and therefore knew of his own need for continued conversion, garnering a great deal of patience for those whom he encountered. While considering what was so nonthreatening about Francis, Franciscan theologian Kenneth Himes said, “It was the fact that no one ever had to fear Francis. Francis never sought to dominate, manipulate, or coerce anyone. No person ever looked into the eyes of Francis and saw a lust for power or control.”
A certain valiant and veracious soldier, Master John of Grecio, who, for the love of Christ, had left the warfare of this world, and become a dear friend of this holy man, affirmed that he beheld an Infant marvellously beautiful, sleeping in the manger, Whom the blessed Father Francis embraced with both his arms, as if he would awake Him from sleep. This vision of the devout soldier is credible, not only by reason of the sanctity of him that saw it, but by reason of the miracles which afterwards confirmed its truth.
The brethren were summoned, the people ran together, the forest resounded with their voices, and that venerable night was made glorious by many and brilliant lights and sonorous psalms of praise. The man of God [St. Francis] stood before the manger, full of devotion and piety, bathed in tears and radiant with joy; the Holy Gospel was chanted by Francis, the Levite of Christ. Then he preached to the people around the nativity of the poor King; and being unable to utter His name for the tenderness of His love, He called Him the Babe of Bethlehem.
It happened in the third year before his death, that in order to excite the inhabitants of Grecio to commemorate the nativity of the Infant Jesus with great devotion, [St. Francis] determined to keep it with all possible solemnity; and lest he should be accused of lightness or novelty, he asked and obtained the permission of the sovereign Pontiff. Then he prepared a manger, and brought hay, and an ox and an ass to the place appointed.
Torture violates the basic dignity of the human person that all religions, in their highest ideals, hold dear. It degrades everyone involved — policy-makers, perpetrators and victims. It contradicts our nation’s most cherished ideals. Any policies that permit torture and inhumane treatment are shocking and morally intolerable.
Our Holy Father, St. Francis, reminded us, through his desire to recreate the scene of the Incarnation at Greccio, that we are ONE in our Lord. The question for each of us to consider throughout this season of anticipation is, what can we, as sisters and brothers to one another, do to rekindle the spark of the Spirit’s fire and enthusiasm within each of us and within our Fraternities so that we may open our hearts to hearing, healthing and healing one another so that together, as family, we can journey into the new year with open minds and open hearts to the direction of Him who has called us? May the Spirit of the living God grant us the grace to be available as Mary was so that we may respond to His call to rekindle the fire within us not only individually but fraternally, thereby doing what is ours to do in this time and in this place.
No room! The Creator of the universe finds no room in His own creation! The God of all creation is refused a welcome by those from Whom they received life! Almighty God is born in a hovel for animals, Whose throne is a manger and Whose adoring court are a humble couple and poor shepherds from the hillside who were tending sheep! What mystery of love! Here is a total emptying! How can we question that God understands our human condition? The ecstatic praise that St. Francis of Assisi once said when he reflected upon the Mystery of the Incarnation: O sublime humility, O humble sublimity! is the awe-filled acknowledgment and prayer we offer before the greatness of such emptying of Himself! It all began with Mary’s “Yes” to the Father’s request for her availability to allow God to be born in human history.
If I pause to think about it, such a declaration is enough to take my breath away. In consecrating ourselves “to service in His Kingdom,” we change our relationship to God’s infinite and eternal creation, which in itself is something that is always changing, always new, always becoming. We are no longer simply along for the ride, as it were. We can no longer live our lives as we have, focused solely on ourselves and our families and our careers and the countless irritations that make up modern life. In making our formal and public professions, we declare that Christ is the center of our lives, the balance point, the focus, the prime mover–our “All.” In consecrating our lives, we make Christ, as He is revealed in the gospels, the measure of all that we do.
For Francis and Clare, prayer is to lead to a renewal of the “Incarnation;” God is to “take on flesh” anew in one’s life through the action of the Holy Spirit, and the birth of God in one’s life should shine before others, as a light to the world.