THE FRANCISCAN SPIRIT FOR ADVENT & CHRISTMAS
EPISODE 5: GOD WITH US!
By Cliff Garvey
In the Gospel for the Christmas Eve Vigil Mass, Saint Matthew tells us that Joseph is worried about taking Mary as his wife because she is pregnant. But an angel appears to Joseph in a dream, counsels him to be unafraid, and says: “For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived. She will bear a son and you will name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:20-21).” Matthew then quotes Isaiah: “Behold, the virgin will conceive and bear a son and they will call him Emmanuel, which means ‘God with us’ (Matthew 1:23).” In the end, Joseph follows the angel’s advice and welcomes Mary into his home.
We may not be visited nowadays by angels in our dreams. But we enjoy many high-tech ways of connecting with our families, friends, and colleagues: e-mail, Facebook, FaceTime, Skype, Snapchat, TikTok, texting, tweeting, and zoom. Unfortunately, each of these communication tools lacks something important. That something is intimacy. We are all living with less and less true intimacy; less and less personal interaction with others; less and less real time spent together with friends and loved ones. There are fewer and fewer real life encounters like sharing a family meal or a friendly cup of coffee with a neighbor or co-worker. In our hearts, we know that these are the best ways to build strong and lasting relationships.
God knows this, too. Throughout salvation history, God seeks intimate connections with his children. In the scriptures, we read about how God speaks to his people: beckoning, calling, and pleading with us to return to him, love him, and love each other. In the lives of the saints, we learn about how God enters into intimate relationships with those holy men and women who experience profound conversions, make miracles, and lead lives of deep faith and holiness.
Last year, Pope Francis made reference in a homily to this passage from the Book of Zephaniah: “The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a might savior; he will rejoice over you with gladness and renew you in his love (Zephaniah 3:17-18).” The Holy Father then said: “Yes, God loves us so much that he rejoices and takes pleasure in us. He loves us with a gratuitous love, a love without limits, and without expecting anything in return. This merciful love is the most striking attribute of God.” Again and again, century after century, God reaches out to us with great intimacy — in friendship, love, and mercy. God desires to be with each and every one of us: no matter who we are, no matter what we have done, no matter where we find ourselves on the journey of faith.
Sadly, we often fail to respond. We break the commandments. We gossip. We treat each other with contempt and disrespect. We look for mistakes and shortcomings in others, then exploit them for some selfish benefit. We tear down rather than build up. We search for other gods and idols to worship like money, power, privilege, or sex. We treat addicts, orphans, lonely people, and sick people with judgment or neglect. We pollute our planet. But God is not discouraged. He continues to reach out to us. He continues to reach out to each and every one of us with love and mercy and friendship and true intimacy. God offers us his hand. He begs us to take it. He calls us to walk with him through the greenest pastures and the darkest valleys.
Matthew’s Gospel on Christmas Eve and John’s Gospel on Christmas Day remind us that God, the Creator of Heaven and Earth, the Master of the Universe, sent his Son not to condemn us and not to judge us, but to love us, walk with us, and save us. At Christmas, we are called to celebrate God’s decision to become like us (except for sin). We celebrate Emmanuel, God with us, God’s presence among us, God’s coming in the form of a child born naked and poor in a stable. At Christmas, we can truly see God face to face in the eyes, smiles, tears, and miraculous beauty of a newborn child. By becoming Emmanuel, God with us, God comes to know us even more intimately than ever before. He truly knows and understands our hopes, fears, failures, good works, successes, and sins because he is Emmanuel. He is God with us!
Saint Francis of Assisi rejoices in this Emmanuel, this God with us. Francis rejoices in the real presence of God among us — in the manger, in our daily walk of faith, and in the Blessed Sacrament. Francis rejoices in Christmas, his favorite holy day of the year, the feast among feasts, when God humbles himself to become like us. He is born like us. He walks among us. He lives among us. He suffers with us. He dies for us. And ultimately, he leads us to eternal life. Francis rejoices in the reality that God offers each of us an intimate, personal, and lifelong encounter with himself, with Jesus, with Emmanuel, God with us, the One who saves us.
On Christmas Day, God’s great gift of intimacy, love, and mercy is not meant to be unwrapped, cooed over, then forgotten, and placed on a shelf or in a closet like so many other presents. Instead, God’s gift of himself is meant to be shared with those we love: spouses, children, grandchildren, godchildren, friends, neighbors, co-workers, fellow parishioners, strangers, and even people with different faith traditions. God’s gift of intimacy, love, and mercy is meant to be shared even with those we find it difficult to love and forgive. We are called to be ambassador’s of God’s love; bearers of God’s mercy; and instruments of God’s peace — today, tomorrow, and always.
In his Early Exhortation, Saint Francis writes: “We are spouses of Christ when the faithful soul is joined by the Holy Spirit to our Lord Jesus Christ. We are siblings to him when we do the will of our Father who is in heaven. We are parents to him when we carry him in our hearts and bodies through divine love and a pure and sincere conscience; and we give birth to him through good works that shine as an example to others.” Saint Francis encourages us to look for the face of the Christ Child in the faces of those rejected by society; in the faces of those rejected by the world; in the faces of those sometimes rejected even by the church. Saint Francis encourages us to find the face of the Christ Child in the face of those we love; in the faces of those we find it hard to love; and in the faces of those we find it hard to forgive. And Saint Francis encourages us to become brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, mothers and fathers of the Christ Child by making peace, healing wounds, reaching out, and sharing God’s gift of love.
This Christmas and beyond, we give thanks for the greatest gift of all: Emmanuel, God with us! We pray for the courage to take God’s hand and walk with him. We pray for the grace to enter more deeply into an intimate relationship with him. And we pray for the gift of the Holy Spirit that helps us to share God’s gift with others through acts of charity and words of encouragement, with open arms, open hearts, and open minds. 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 Christmas and the New Year
Good and gracious God,
may the powerful intercession
of Saint Francis and Saint Clare of Assisi
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
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 Author 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 God with Us! 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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