THE FRANCISCAN SPIRIT FOR ADVENT
EPISODE 4: THE MIRACLE AT GRECCIO
As we enter these final days of Advent, we are reminded that this is a season for prayer, penance, and preparation. It is a time to eagerly await the coming of the Lord; a time to open our hearts and minds to the nativity of the Christ Child at Christmas. This week, we reflect on a passage adapted from the Life of Saint Francis of Assisi by the Servant of God, Thomas of Celano, who lived from 1185 until 1260. Brother Thomas knew Saint Francis. He heard him preach. He watched him live the Gospel and share God’s love in both word and deed.
Brother Thomas also knew about the Poor Man of Assisi’s great love for Christmas. In his life of Saint Francis, we read: “Above all other solemn feast days, Saint Francis celebrated the birth of the Child Jesus at Christmas with great attention and devotion; the day when God took the form of a child and nursed at his mother’s breast.” Indeed, this humble incarnation of God as a child born in a stable, born into poverty, is central to the long tradition of Franciscan prayer and spirituality. Through this miracle of perfect humility, along with the cruel poverty of the Cross, Saint Francis found inspiration, purpose, and a plan for living.
During this last week of Advent, we pray and reflect on Brother Thomas of Celano’s account of how Saint Francis created the first live Christmas creche in 1223 at Greccio, a mountain village not far from Assisi. In this story, we can discover insights into the truest meanings of the Advent and Christmas seasons.
From the Life of Saint Francis of Assisi
By Thomas of Celano
Saint Francis’s highest goal,
his primary goal, and his greatest proposal
was to obey the holy gospel
in all things and through all things;
to comply with the teachings of Jesus Christ;
and to follow in his footsteps
with all vigilance and zeal,
all the desire of his soul,
and all the fervor of his heart.
Francis recalled with regular meditation
the words of Christ Jesus and his own deed
with attentive self-knowledge.
Indeed, the humility of the Lord’s incarnation
and the charity of his Passion
so occupied his thoughts
that he rarely thought about anything else.
We should remember
as a matter worthy of memory and reverence,
what Saint Francis accomplished
three years before his own death,
in the village of Greccio,
on the birthday of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In that village there lived a man named John,
who had a good reputation
and an admirable way of life.
Blessed Francis loved John with special affection
because despite being born a nobleman,
he denied the nobility of the flesh
and pursued a nobility of the spirit.
On this occasion, Francis summoned John
fifteen days before Christmas.
“If you desire to celebrate the coming feast with me,
then hurry ahead and make some preparations!
I wish to enact the memory of the child
who was born in Bethlehem
and to see as much as possible with my own eyes
the discomfort of his nativity;
how he was born in a stable,
and with an ox and ass beside him,
he was placed on a bed of hay.”
When John, the good and faithful man,
heard these words, he ran ahead
and made preparations as Francis requested.
Finally, the day of joy drew near!
The time of exultation approached!
From many different places,
the friends and followers of the saint were summoned.
As best they could, they came,
along with the people of Greccio and beyond.
They prepared candles and torches
to enlighten the night as the great star
had enlightened every night and every year.
At long last, Francis arrived
and he was gladdened by all of the preparations.
The manger was prepared.
The hay was placed inside of it.
An ox and an ass were lead there, too.
In this place, simplicity was given its place of honor.
Poverty was exalted. Humility was commended.
And a new Bethlehem was made in Greccio!
That Christmas Eve was lit up like the day!
Both man and beast delighted in it.
The people arrived; they were excited
by this new mystery of newborn joy.
The forest around the village amplified the joyful voices
and the great rocks echoed their joyful songs.
The brother sang God’s praises.
The whole night abounded with reverent celebration.
Francis stood before the manger,
filled with heartfelt sighs,
pious contrition, and wondrous joy.
Over the manger scene, a priest celebrated Mass;
and all were consoled.
Francis, the holy man of God,
was dressed in the vestments of a deacon
because he was a deacon.
With full voice, he proclaimed the Holy Gospel.
His voice was clear, pleasant,
powerful, and almost musical.
He then preached to the people
gathered around him and the manger.
His words poured forth like sweetest honey
about the poor king born in the poor city of Bethlehem.
During his homily,
Francis referred to Jesus as the “Babe from Bethlehem”
and when he said the name of that poor place,
he sounded like a bleating sheep
crying affectionately for its shepherd.
Indeed, whenever he said the words
“Jesus” or “Babe from Bethlehem”,
he licked his lips as if he could taste
and savor their sweetness.
During the saint’s homily,
John of Greccio saw a wondrous vision.
He saw a child lying lifeless in the manger.
He saw Francis approach the child
and awaken him from a deep sleep.
In the hearts of so many people,
the Christ Child had been lifeless and asleep.
But this vision was quite fitting
because he was now more alive
in their hearts than ever,
because of his gift of grace through the saint.
After much celebration and prayer,
the solemnities ended and everyone left with great joy.
Afterwards, the hay in the manger was preserved.
It was fed to sick and dying animals,
and they were cured of illness by God’s good grace.
It was used as bedding for expectant mothers,
who experienced difficult deliveries,
and many babies were born safely.
And it was used as a balm for many local people,
who experienced relief from many afflictions.
At last, the site of the manger
was consecrated by the local bishop.
And in honor of Saint Francis,
an altar was built and a church was dedicated.
Glory to the Father,
to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning,
is now, and will be forever. Amen.
Daytime Prayers for the Fourth Week of Advent
In the name of the Father,
and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come, thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil. Amen.
For our families & friends: Hail Mary…
For our parish communities: Hail Mary…
For our Holy Father, Pope Francis: Hail Mary…
For our departed brothers & sisters: Hail Mary…
For the poor, the sick, and the left behind: Hail Mary…
For all who have asked us to pray for them: Hail Mary…
For an increase in faith, hope & love in the world: Hail Mary…
For an increase in peace, justice & solidarity in the world: Hail Mary…
For our divided country, wounded church, and suffering world: Hail Mary…
Glory to the Father,
to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning,
is now, and will be forever. Amen.
A Prayer for the Advent Season
Good and gracious God,
may the powerful intercession
of Saint Francis and Saint Clare of Assisi
and the Servant of God, Thomas of Celano,
bring us closer to Christ,
closer to the Church,
and closer to each other.
May their prayers comfort us,
empower us, and protect us
as we strive to live the Gospel,
share God’s love, and rebuild the Church
during Advent, at Christmas, and always.
We make this prayer through the Poor Christ,
our merciful Lord and savior. Amen.
Saint Francis of Assisi, pray for us!
Saint Clare of Assisi, pray for us!
Servant of God Thomas of Celano, pray for us!
Our Lady of the Angels, pray for us!
The Franciscan Spirit for Advent & Christmas
- Episode 1: Saint Clare of Assisi: Pray and Be Vigilant!
- Episode 2: Saint Charles Borromeo: Live the Gift!
- Episode 3: Blessed Jacopone of Todi: Come & See!
- Episode 4: Thomas of Celano: I Wish to See!
- Episode 5: The Christmas Season: God with Us!
A Franciscan Night Prayer
Saint Paul writes: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (1 Thessalonians 5:16).” For centuries, Christians have puzzled over what it means to pray without ceasing. But one ancient practice provides an answer: the Liturgy of the Hours. Since the middle ages, the Church has used a daily practice of prayer called the Divine Office or Liturgy of the Hours to mark and sanctify the various hours of the day: morning, afternoon, evening, and night. It is a four week cycle of psalms, canticles, and scripture readings that call us together into a deeper relationship with Christ and the Church by bringing us together through prayers of praise, petition, intercession, and thanksgiving.
At ordination, our deacons and priests make solemn promises to pray the Liturgy of the Hours every day, using a book called the Breviary. But the Divine Office is not just for the clergy and those consecrated to religious life. Countless lay people around the world make the Liturgy of the Hours part of their daily prayer and worship. Indeed, when we pray these prayers, whether alone or in community, we are united in a powerful spiritual communion that helps to heal, redeem, and consecrate our sick and suffering world.
Unlike the other hours of the Divine Office, Compline (or Night Prayer) works on a seven day cycle. Every Sunday, the prayers are the same. Every Monday, the prayers are the same. And so on. According to the General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours: “Night Prayer is the last prayer of the day, said before retiring, even if that is after midnight.” About this form of prayer, Pope Francis says: “I am very attached to the Breviary…It is the first thing I open in the morning and the last thing I close before going to sleep.”
In this spirit, in solidarity with Pope Francis, and in communion with Christian disciples all around the world, all are invited to join us in offering the Assisi Project’s Franciscan Night Prayer. This version includes the traditional psalm, reading, and canticle of the day. It also includes antiphons, readings, and a Marian devotion from the Franciscan Spiritual Tradition. Our Franciscan Night Prayer can be prayed by listening to our podcast, following along with the print version, or praying silently with the print version (see links below). Each recording is less than ten minutes in length. Come, let’s pray together!
Click Links Below
Podcasts & Printable Versions
- A Franciscan Night Prayer for Sunday
- A Franciscan Night Prayer for Monday
- A Franciscan Night Prayer for Tuesday
- A Franciscan Night Prayer for Wednesday
- A Franciscan Night Prayer for Thursday
- A Franciscan Night Prayer for Friday
- A Franciscan Night Prayer for Saturday
About the Presenter
Cliff Garvey is a co-founder of the Assisi Project. He is a graduate of the University of Southern Maine, Saint John Seminary College, and the Catholic University of America. Cliff is a writer, spiritual director, retreat leader, and university lecturer. He also serves as Associate Minister of the Catholic Community of Gloucester & Rockport in Massachusetts where his ministry focuses on adult faith formation. Thank you for listening to the Franciscan Spirit for Advent & Christmas and Franciscan Night Prayer. These audio recordings are produced by the Assisi Project, Inc. For more information about the Assisi Project and our ministries and programs for adults of all ages and backgrounds, please contact Cliff at firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyright 2020. All rights reserved. May the Lord give you peace!
Founded in 2007, the Assisi Project is a Fellowship of Franciscans in Spirit with friends and followers throughout the world. We are dedicated to helping Christian believers of all ages more faithfully live the Gospel of Christ in the spirit of Saint Francis and Saint Clare of Assisi. The Assisi Project is a non-profit, tax exempt charitable organization. All are welcome to support our ministry via PayPal or AmazonSmile (links below); or by sending a tax-deductible donation to the Assisi Project, Post Office Box 3158, Gloucester, Massachusetts 01931-3158. For more information about the Assisi Project and our upcoming opportunities for formation, prayer, and pilgrimage, please contact Cliff Garvey at email@example.com. May the Lord give you peace!
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