November 29, 2004

Heralds of the King

by Friar Jack Wintz, O.F.M.

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St. Francis and the Incarnation
Let all creatures join the celebration!
Sing praise to the King!


St. Francis of Assisi went about the world saying: “I am the herald of the great king!” As you probably know, a herald is the one who walks before the king and blows the trumpet and announces the king’s arrival. St. Francis saw his role as that of announcing to the world the presence of Christ the King.

“I am the herald of the great king” would also serve as a good self-description for each of us. For each of us—in our own way—is called to announce the arrival of Christ’s saving presence in our own world. This is especially true as the seasons of Advent and Christmas unfold.

But what kind of king is coming? What kind of king are we to proclaim? In the readings of the Feast of Christ the King (November 21 this year), we got a double image—a two-sided picture of Jesus—and one side seemed to contradict the other.

On the one hand, we see Christ, the glorious King, the ruler of the universe. On the other, we see the lamb who was slain. We look a short distance below the inscription at top of Jesus’ cross: “The King of the Jews.” We see the bruised human face of Christ as he is jeered and ridiculed by the soldiers and others.

The glorious king? Or the slain lamb? Yes, it seems like a riddle. But you and I know how to solve this riddle, because St. Paul already solved it for us in a famous passage from Philippians (2:6-8) that we have all heard many times. Paul tells us that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, did not cling to his divine glory or royal rank but emptied himself and took the form of a slave—to the point of laying down his life for those he loved.

In short, the Son of God and King of the Universe chose to be poor and humble. He chose to be the lamb that was slain that we might come to fullness of life. St. Francis was awestruck upon seeing the most high God being reduced—willingly—to poverty and littleness.

St. Francis and the Incarnation

Francis saw this especially in the mystery of Jesus’ Incarnation and birth—in God’s becoming a creature—born as a frail, helpless child in a poor stable in Bethlehem and lying in a crude manger. But at the same time that St. Francis saw the King of Creation becoming poor, he also saw humanity and the whole realm of creation becoming rich and elevated to a new dignity.

St. Francis never saw himself isolated from or unrelated to other creatures. That’s why he called all creatures his “brothers” and “sisters.” Francis taught us that it’s not a good idea to separate ourselves from the rest of creation.

Think of it: If you or I removed ourselves completely from the warmth of “Brother Sun,” what would happen? We would quickly freeze to death! If we were to succeed in cutting ourselves off from “Brother Air” and Sister Water and Mother Earth—well you know what would happen: Someone would soon have to write our death notices and notify our next of kin!

Let all creatures join the celebration!

In St. Francis’ mind, Christmas was a feast to be celebrated by all creatures, not only by humans. Because God entered the family of creation that first Christmas and made this earth his home, all creatures received a new glory. And Francis wanted them all to celebrate God’s coming among us.

Francis believed that all his brother and sister creatures—wild animals, birds, trees, flowers and minerals—were profoundly blessed by the Christmas event.

It is recorded in the life of Francis that on Christmas Day he wanted the emperor to instruct all citizens to spread grain on the roads so that the birds would have plenty to eat—and thus join the celebration of God’s entering the family of creation on Christmas. The beasts in the stables should also be given a feast-day meal. In short, all our fellow creatures should be included in the celebration of this feast.

Sing praise to the King!

Last week’s Feast of Christ the King reminds us that Jesus is not only the head of the Church but also the King of Creation. As Paul points out in Chapter 1 of Colossians, Jesus Christ “is the firstborn of all creation” and the blueprint, as it were, of all created things: “For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth.”

And so we come back to our role as heralds—and indeed reflections—of the Great King. We announce and praise the coming of the king of creation. And we do this along with all God’s creatures. They, too, are heralds of the Great King as St. Francis himself indicates in his great “Canticle of the Creatures.”

With Francis we sing:

“All praise be yours, my Lord, through all that you have made: through Brother Sun,…Sister Moon and Stars,…Brother Wind and Air,…Sister Water and Brother Fire.…” As our brother and sister creatures give glory to God and to the King of Creation, we join them in a universal symphony of praise!

[Friar Jack has communicated some of the same themes expressed in today’s column in his children’s book, St. Francis in San Francisco. It’s an imaginative story expressing St. Francis’ great love and respect for creation and God’s coming among us that first Christmas—and a good gift idea.]


Friar Jim’s Inbox

Readers respond to Friar Jim’s “What Is the Sacrament of Baptism?”

Dear Friar Jim: Thanks, Friar Jim, for the excellent précis on the Sacrament of Baptism. With the recent loss in our family of Hannah Nicole, a 22-day-old, prematurely born, unbaptized beautiful little girl, your reminder of the Church’s teaching of the mercy of God was very comforting. Also, although familiar with the concepts, I had not yet heard the terms “Baptism of Blood” and “Baptism of Desire.” Wonderful “handles” with which we can hold on to the Truth! They will help me dialogue with non-Catholics and non-Christians more effectively. I pray you are blessed in your labors of love, Jon

Dear Jon: I’m glad you found this topic consoling. If we remember that God is goodness, and St. Mark’s Gospel describes the children climbing all over Jesus, it is impossible to think of any child not being with God for eternity. Friar Jim


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