Nativity Contemplation

Nativity Contemplation December 23, 2010

There is no doubt that ever since St. Francis of Assisi himself, the Franciscan tradition has held a great reverence to the Nativity of Christ.  St. Francis of Assisi s said to have brought about a great revival in the celebration of the Nativity. While the legend of St. Anthony of Padua holding the child Jesus is often reflected in the statues of St. Anthony, some legends surrounding St. Francis of Assisi suggest he, too, had a special encounter with the infant Christ. In The Life of Saint Francis by Julian of Speyer, written around 1234 or 1235, we read:

Lest it be thought that these things happened without divine approval,[1] a miraculous vision was shown to a certain virtuous man, who saw Blessed Francis go up to the manger and waken, as if from a deep sleep, a child who seemed to be lying there lifeless. It is therefore believed, and not without reason, that the Lord Jesus aptly revealed his infancy in this vision to the one who reflected upon it. He who was asleep or dead in the hearts of many, owing to forgetfulness, was awakened and recalled to memory by the teaching and exampled of Blessed Francis. [2]

Will we allow Jesus to awaken in our hearts this Christmas season? Will we remember the poor, the needy, the outcast, the refuge, the migrant and help them, making room for them in our homes, in our cities, in our nations, or will we be like those who turned the Holy Family away, saying there is no room, no welcome for them? Will we, like Herod, pursue those who threaten our way of life, and try to remove them from our society? Or will we be like the Magi, and in wisdom seek Christ, and find out where he can be found, and help him by helping those who are in need this season? “`Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40 RSV).

Have we failed Christ in the past? Have we let him die in our hearts? He is easily brought back to life by acts of love. Have we forgotten the least among us? Remember them and Christ the child will show us love in return. St. Anthony of Padua reminds us that by coming to us as a child, Christ is quick to forgive us of our past transgressions:

If a child is hurt, or even struck, the hurt and pain is immediately forgotten if the child is offered a flower or a rose. In fact, it will run to embrace and kiss the one offering these gifts. Likewise, if you offend or hurt Christ by sinning grievously, as soon as you offer him a flower of repentance, or a rose of sincere confession, he immediately forgets your offenses, forgives you your sins, and hurries to embrace and kiss you.[3]

Even if we have not made room for Christ in the past, even if we have neglected the needy in the past, we are given the opportunity for metanoia. We can and must change our ways. We must embrace Christ where he can be found. If we want to be known by him, we must make ourselves known to him. We must search out and find him. Will we be accounted among the wise?

Today the Virgin gives birth to the Transcendent One, and the earth offers a cave to the Unapproachable One. Angels with Shepherds glorify Him, the wise men journey with the star; since for our sake the eternal God was born as a little child (Kontakion of the Nativity).

Will we journey with the sun of righteousness and allow the light of glory melt our hardened hearts? What will our response be this year to the child Jesus? He is waiting for a rose.

[1] St. Francis’s creation of a manger to celebrate Christmas.

[2] Julian of Speyer, The Life of St. Francis in Francis of Assisi: The Early Documents. The Saint. Ed. Regis J. Armstrong, O.F.M. Cap.,  J.A. Wayne Hellmann, O.F.M. Conv. And Willian J. Short, O.F.M. (New York: New City Press, 1999), 406.

[3] St. Anthony of Padua, Seek First His Kingdom: An Anthology of the Sermons of the Saint . ed. Fr. Livio Poloniato OFM Conv. (Padua: Edizioni Messaggero Padova, 1996), 24.

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  • Beautiful. Thank you for posting.

    • seconded, Henry. This is one of your keepers, for sure 🙂

  • Thank you, both of you.

  • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

    Henry, you beat me to it, and with a beautiful reflection! I was going to post the story of the Christmas Creche at Greccio, taken from the first life of Thomas of Celano. Julian of Speyer appears to be either a separate testimony or is paraphrasing Thomas:

    Of the manger Francis made on the day of the Lord’s birth

    Feliz Navidad a todos!

    Buon Natale!

    Merry Christmas!

    • David

      Well, I wanted to do some reflection with the story and connect it to St. Anthony of Padua (for obvious reasons). As for Julian, I think it is probably a little of both ( is a good history of him for those interested and have not heard of him — his work is quite vital for the Franciscan tradition, not just with St Francis, but also for St Anthony of Padua).

      I own all three volumes, and the index, for the early biographies of St Francis. He’s been an inspiration for me — his work with animals, for example, has helped lead me to my own theology of animals.