Monday, December 24, 2012

Saint Francis at the first Christmas crib

Thomas of Celano (c.1190-c.1260), biographer of Saint Francis and Saint Clare
The First Life of Saint Francis, §84-86

Saint Francis at the first Christmas crib
About two weeks before Christmas, Francis said...: “I want to call to mind the Child who was born at Bethlehem and all the sufferings he endured from his childhood on. I want to see him with the eyes of my flesh just as he was, laid in a manger and sleeping on the hay between an ox and an ass”...

The joyful day arrived... The friars from several convents thereabouts were gathered together. In festive spirit the people round about, both men and women, all according to their means, made torches and candles ready with which to illuminate the night that saw the bright star arise to light up all the ages. When he arrived the saint saw that all was ready and rejoiced greatly. A manger and some straw had been brought; an ass and an ox had been led along. Truly, simplicity held the place of honor there; it was the triumph of poverty and best lesson in humility. Greccio had become a new Bethlehem! Night had been rendered as bright as day and as delightful for the animals as for the people. Crowds had hastened along and this re-enactment of the mystery reanimated their joy. The woods resounded with songs and the mountains threw back their echoes. The brethren sang the Lord's praises and the whole night was spent in rejoicing. The saint passed the night watch standing before the crib, broken with compassion, filled with inexpressible happiness. Finally, mass was celebrated on the manger as on an altar and the priest experienced fervor of a kind he had never felt before.

Francis had put on his dalmatic, for he was a deacon, and he sang the Gospel with resonant voice... Then he preached to the people, finding words as sweet as honey to speak of the birth of the poor King and the little town of Bethlehem.

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