Blog Post - December 24th
Christmas at Greccio| The Roman Martyrology for Christmas Eve| Daily Meditation| Daily Quote by S. Padre Pio| Divine Mercy Reflection
Christmas at Greccio
What better way to prepare for the arrival of the Christ Child than to take a brief journey to Greccio, the spot in central Italy where St. Francis of Assisi created the first Christmas crib in the year 1223.
Francis, recalling a visit he had made years before to Bethlehem, resolved to create the manger he had seen there. The ideal spot was a cave in nearby Greccio. He would find a baby (we’re not sure if it was a live infant or the carved image of a baby), hay upon which to lay him, an ox and an ass to stand beside the manger. Word went out to the people of the town. At the appointed time they arrived carrying torches and candles.
One of the friars began celebrating Mass. Francis himself gave the sermon. His biographer, Thomas of Celano, recalls that Francis “stood before the manger…overcome with love and filled with a wonderful happiness…/” For Francis, the simple celebration was meant to recall the hardships Jesus suffered even as an infant, a savior who chose to become poor for our sake, a truly human Jesus.
Tonight, as we pray around the Christmas cribs in our homes, we welcome into our hearts that same Savior.
God’s choice to give human beings free will was, from the beginning, a decision to be helpless in human hands. With the birth of Jesus, God made the divine helplessness very clear to us, for a human infant is totally dependent on the loving response of other people. Our natural response to a baby is to open our arms, as Francis did, to the infant of Bethlehem and to the God who made us all.
Saint Francis of Assisi and the First Nativity Scene
Saint Francis of Assisi, the Christmas Manger
Fragments from the book Vita Prima by Thomas of Celano
The supreme aspiration of Francis, his most fervent desire and his highest purpose was to observe in all things and at all times the Holy Gospel and to follow the doctrine of our Lord Jesus Christ in all steps with the utmost attention, with all care, with all the yearning of his mind, with all the fervor of his heart. In assiduous meditation he remembered His words and with a most sharp consideration he reviewed His works. He had so present, in his memory, the humility of the Incarnation and the charity of His Passion that it was difficult for him to think about anything else.
Worthy of remembrance and celebration with pious memory, Francis did so before his glorious death, near Greccio, on the day of the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ. In that place lived a certain man by the name of John, of good reputation and an even better life, whom blessed Francis loved with a singular love, for in the place where he lived he held a noble and honorable position in as much as he despised the nobility of his blood and aspired to the nobility of spirit.
Blessed Francis sent for this man, as he often did, about fifteen days before the birth of the Lord, and he said to him: "If you want us to celebrate this festivity of the Lord at Greccio, go with haste there and promptly prepare what I am going to tell you. I wish to celebrate the memory of the Child who was born in Bethlehem and I want to contemplate, in some way, with my own eyes, what he suffered in his dis-capacity as a child, how he was reclined on the manger and later was placed on hay between the ox and the donkey. Upon hearing this, the good and loyal man, ran in haste and prepared the place that the Lord had indicated.
The day arrives, a day of joy and exultation. Brothers were called from their various places. Men and women of that neighborhood, overflowing with joy, prepared, according to their means, candles and torches to light up that night that, with its sparkling star, lit up all the days and years.
At last, the Saint of God arrived and, seeing that all things were properly placed, he contemplated them and was overjoyed. The manger is prepared, the hay is brought in, and the ox and ass are led in. There simplicity receives honor, poverty is exalted, humility is valued, and Greccio is converted into a new Bethlehem.
The night is resplendent like the day; a pleasant night for both men and animals. The people come and, before the new mystery, they savor new delights. The forest resounds with voices and the rocks respond to the hymns of joy. The brothers sing the praises of the Lord and the whole night passes with songs of happiness. The Saint of God is standing before the manger, overflowing with sighs, filled with overwhelming piety, melting in ineffable bliss. The solemn rite of the Mass is celebrated over the manger and the priest enjoys a most singular consolation.
The Saint of God is clothed with the vestments of the deacon, for he was one, and with a most sonorous voice he sings the Holy Gospel. His strong and sweet voice, his voice clear and with good timbre, invites all to the supreme rewards. Later he preaches to the people attending, and as much as when he speaks of the nativity of the poor King as well as the small village of Bethlehem, he expresses words that are felt as honey. Many times, when wanting to mention Christ Jesus, aflame with love, he calls Him "Child of Bethlehem" and pronounces it as "Bethlehem", like a sheep that is bleating, and his mouth is full of a resounding voice; and even more so of a most tender affection. When he would call Him "Child of Bethlehem" or "Jesus" he spoke as if he was tasting and savoring with his palate the very sweetness of these words.
The gifts of the Almighty are multiplied there; a virtuous man has an admirable vision. There was a child that, studiously absorbed, was reclined over the manger; the saint of God approaches and awakes him from what was like a deep somnolence. This vision does not lack sense, since the Child Jesus, buried by the forgetfulness of the hearts of many, resuscitated by His grace, through his servant Francis; and his image remained imprinted in those hearts in love. Having ended the solemn vigil, all returned to their homes filled with abundant happiness.
The hay placed in the manger is preserved so that, just like the Lord multiplied his Holy mercy, through Him donkeys and other animals would be cured. And this is what happened: many animals from the surrounding region that suffered diverse illnesses, by eating this hay, were cured. Moreover, women with long and painful labors, gave birth happily once a little of this hay was placed over them. And the same happened with persons of both sexes: with that hay, they obtained their cure from diverse afflictions.
The place of the manger was later consecrated in the temple of the Lord: in honor of the most blessed father Francis, over the manger was built an altar and a Church was dedicated so that, where in another time the animals fed from the fodder of hay, there men would continuously eat, for the health of their souls and body, the flesh of the Immaculate and uncontaminated Lamb, Jesus Christ, Our Lord, who gave Himself to us with the highest and ineffable love, and Who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit and is God, eternally glorious, for ever and ever. Amen. Alleluia, Alleluia.
(Here ends the first book about the life and acts of Blessed Saint Francis.)
Translated from the Spanish version of the work Vita Prima by Thomas of Celano; Franciscan Province of the Holy Evangelium of Mexico.
The Chapel of the Nativity Scene, which was dug into the rock. The heart of the Sanctuary is the small Chapel of the Nativity built in the grotto that according to local tradition is where Francis arranged the Nativity of Christ. A rock under the altar indicates the place where Christ’s image was placed in the manger. Above the altar a 15th century fresco depicts the Nativity. The Virgin Mary is depicted in the intimate gesture of breastfeeding the Child in the presence of Saint Joseph. On the left there is a scene representing Francis’ gift of the Nativity to Greccio. It shows Francis wearing the dalmatic of a deacon kneeling in front of the infant Jesus. Behind him the people of Greccio witness the miracle.
Exhibition of miniature nativity scenes, winter 2004-05
Prayer to Bless the Family Manger
Oh God, Celestial Holy Father,
who has loved mankind so much,
that you sent them Your
born from You before all ages.
Deign to bless this Manger,
that will be the joy
of this Christian family.
May these images of the mystery
of the Incarnation
sustain the faith of its parents
reawaken the hope of the children
and increase love, in all.
We ask you all this through Jesus,
Your most beloved Son,
Who has saved us with His death
and who incessantly pleads for us
before You. Amen.
The Roman Martyrology For Christmas Eve
In the 5199th year of the creation of the world, from the time when God in the beginning created the heaven and the earth;
The 2957th year after the flood;
The 2015th year from the birth of Abraham;
The 1510th year for Moses, and the going forth of the people of Israel out of Egypt;
The 1032nd year from the anointing of David King;
In the 65th week according to the prophecy of Daniel;
In the 194th Olympiad;
The 752nd year from the foundation of the city of Rome;
The 42nd year of the rule of Octavian Augustus;
All the earth being at peace, Jesus Christ, the Eternal God and the Son of the Eternal Father, desirous to sanctify the world by His most merciful coming, being conceived of the Holy Ghost, nine months after His conception was born in Bethlehem of Judah, made man of the Virgin Mary.
The Nativity all our Lord Jesus Christ, according to the flesh.
Gift of Faith:
Adored Lord, increase my faith, perfect it, crown it to your own, your choicest, dearest gift. keep me in your fold and lead me to eternal life. - St. Elizabeth Ann Seton
Quote by S. Padre Pio:
Let us draw near to the Child Jesus with hearts free from sin, that we may discover how sweet and delightful it is to love Him.
Divine Mercy Reflection
Reflections on Notebook Six: 327-365
We enter, now, the last of the six notebooks that Saint Faustina filled with revelations from our Lord about His unfathomable and perfect Mercy. At this point, the Message of Mercy should be clear and evoking of a deep trust in the incomprehensible love of God. All that has been shared to this point reveals that God is relentless in His pursuit of you, seeking only to love you unconditionally and to draw you into His glorious life for all eternity.
The greatest obstacle to this call to holiness is sin. But it is abundantly clear that sin is no match for the Mercy of God. His Mercy dispels your sin in an instant, disposing of your past errors forever. God’s only desire is the present moment, for in this present moment He comes to you, descending from the heights of Heaven, entering into the inner core of your soul so as to form a perfect communion with you, lifting you up to share in His divine life.
This final notebook will be reflected upon as a summary of all that has been reflected upon thus far. Just like the reflections on the first notebook, the reflections for this notebook will be short and to the point. Once you finish this chapter you are invited to return to it often as a way of quickly and easily reminding yourself of the abundant Mercy of God. The Lord’s love is perfect in every way. Allow Him to speak this truth to you with clarity and conviction.
Reflection 358: God’s Twofold Gift
Often, when we speak of the Mercy of God, we speak of the forgiveness of sins. This is the first act of God’s Mercy. He sees every sin, even the slightest imperfection, and despite the suffering these sins impose upon Our Lord, He lavishly bestows Mercy to forgive. Forgiveness becomes total and permanent. God never brings up sins that have been forgiven. But God doesn’t stop there. It’s important to understand that God bestows many graces in addition to forgiveness. One such grace is that, when He forgives a particular sin, He actually transforms it in such a way that He is able to use it for our good. Amazingly, God is even able to use sin for His glory in the end (See Diary #1745).
Reflect upon two things. First, look at the forgiveness that God has offered you for past sins. This should leave you with humble gratitude. Second, look for ways that God has used even your past sins, once forgiven, for His glory. The Lord’s Mercy is overwhelming and awe-inspiring. Allow it to leave you in eternal gratitude.
Lord, I thank You for the forgiveness that You offer me and even more for the infinite grace that You bestow after You forgive. I pray that I will always be aware of these graces and will open my heart to them without hesitation. I love you, dear Lord, and I am eternally grateful to You for all things. Jesus, I trust in You.