Friar Jack Muses About the Special Link Between St. Francis,
the Created World and The Feast of Christmas
Artists often depict St. Francis surrounded by animals, birds
and flowers as if they all make up one happy family. This is
not just a hyped-up picture of the saint created by sentimental
nature-lovers or by Franciscan propagandists. It captures something
very true and profound about the saint. Francis' earliest biographers,
who wrote during his lifetime, tell of his preaching to birds
and his encounters with a variety of creatures, as well as his
addressing them as "Sister Lark," "Sister Cricket,""Brother
Rabbit," and so forth.
It is, moreover, an accepted historical fact that St. Francis
is the author of the "Canticle to Brother Sun," sometimes
known as the "Canticle of the Creatures." What this
song and his many interactions with animals tell us about St.
Francis is that he did not perceive himself as isolated from
other creatures. Obviously, he simply assumed that all creaturesnot
only the humansform one family of creation. And we shouldn't
try to separate or distance ourselves from them. Even when we
pray, it's good to invite the other creatures to praise God
with us, just as Francis did in his canticle: "All praise
be yours, my Lord, through all that you have madefirst of
all, through my lord Brother Sun...through Sister Moon and Stars...through
Brother Wind...and Sister Water...and Brother Fire...and Sister
Earth, our mother."
This familial sense of oneness with all creatures is closely
linked with St. Francis' love for the feast of Christmas and
his understanding of the Incarnation. In Francis' mind and heart,
if the Word really became flesh and God really entered the family
of creation, this event should really revolutionize our thinking
about the world. Not only did the Incarnation bestow a great
value on humans, but it also blessed and enriched other creatures
as well. The whole fabric of creation took on an elevated dignity
This is why the feast of Christmas meant so much to Francis
and why he wanted the whole of creation to be part of the celebration.
History credits St. Francis with beginning the popular tradition
of the Christmas creche. The custom goes back to the year 1223,
when Francis invited the townspeople of Greccio, Italy, to gather
at a cave outside the village to reenact the first Christmas.
St. Francis asked the people to bring along an ox and an ass
and sheep and real straw in a real manger. You will search the
pages of the Gospels in vain to find any indication that an
ox and ass were actually present in the stable where Jesus was
born. The Evangelists simply do not supply such details. They
come to us from tradition or legend.
In my opinion, the presence of animals around the crib comes
as well from a deep sense in Francisand, indeed, in all of
usthat these creatures belong there because they too were
deeply affected by the birth of Christ and his saving love.
By right, all creatures should participate in the celebration
At the end of this e-newsletter, I will offer more colorful
evidence from the life of St. Francis showing the saint's desire
to include the animals in the celebration of Christmas.
THE HOLY SEASONS OF ADVENT AND CHRISTMAS
Stop by each day this month
and see ACO's new daily features for Advent and Christmas.
Check out our nifty new Advent Calendar and listen to Sunday
Soundbites by Fr. Greg Friedman, O.F.M. Consider it a moment
of peace during this season of longing and light. Send out a
FREE Advent e-greeting.
THE STORY OF FATHER MIKE, NEW YORK FIREFIGHTER CHAPLAIN
One of the heroes who fell at the World Trade Center attack
was my Franciscan brother Father Mychal Judge, O.F.M. You can
read about his remarkable lifeand the Franciscan insights
you won't find elsewherein"No
Greater Love: Chaplain Mychal Judge, O.F.M." by John
Bookser Feister and John Zawadzinski. Read it and pass it on
CLONING AND CATHOLIC ETHICS
A Massachusetts research company announced Nov. 25 that it had
successfully cloned a human embryo, reigniting the debate over
embryos, stem cells and respect for the earliest forms of life.
The Vatican joined political leaders in condemning the move.
Read more about the issues
from a Catholic perspective in our Web-exclusive feature.
SACRAMENT OF CONFIRMATION
Introduce yourself and your parish to the award-winning series,
Catholic Update Video. The latest video is "Sealed
With God's Spirit," an inspiring and instructional
video for the Sacrament of Confirmation that will assist you
in personalizing your preparation of catechists, candidates,
parents and sponsors. Also, check out three other new videos
in this confirmation series:
FREE CATHOLIC E-GREETINGS FOR THE SEASONS
Advent, Immaculate Conception, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Christmas,
Holy Family, Mother of God, Epiphany - have WE got FREE Catholic
e-greetings for you! Stop by often and send your friends and
family reminders about the reason for the season: http://www.CatholicGreetings.org/Holiday/
LET THERE BE PEACE ON EARTH
This month, columnist Susan Hines-Brigger discovers new ways
to discuss the recent tragic events with your family. Find
here an extensive list of Web addresses for further help and
THE NEW YEAR OF MATTHEW
As we start the new Church year, read the latest Youth
Update about the Gospel of Matthew and consider ordering
copies for your parish
"ASK A FRANCISCAN"
Many good "why"
questions this month: why did Jesus come, why the Immaculate
Conception, and why light candles? Also, Father Pat answers
questions about the risen Christ on a cross and the fruits vs.
the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
As always, please continue to submit your questions about the Catholic faith to "Ask a Franciscan."
FRIAR JACK'S CHOSEN SITE:
In addition to our new Advent calendar at AmericanCatholic.org,
you just have to check out the Advent
Calendar on the University of Dayton's Mary page. It's the
power of the Web at work to further the gospel message: ~//~//~//~//~//~//~//~//~//~//~//~//~//~//~//~//~//~//~//~//~//~
CONCLUSION OF FRIAR JACK'S MUSINGS
Saint Francis' biographers give us additional evidence that
St. Francis strongly believed that Christmas should extend to
all creatures. These writers inform us that St. Francis wanted
the emperor to instruct all citizens to scatter grain along
the roads on Christmas day so that the birds and other animals
would have plenty to eat. The beast in the stables, too, should
be given richer fare on the feast of Christmas and even the
walls should be rubbed with rich food.
If St. Francis were alive today, I believe he would encourage
us to include more and more creatures in our celebration of
Christmas. He would probably point out that we are doing this
already when we decorate our trees and shrubs and homes with
lights. He might even go so far as to suggest that we put ribbons
on Brother Dog or Sister Cat or serve them a special treat on
Christmas dayor at least that we toss a few
more sunflower seeds on the bird feeder.
Back in October, a reader of this e-newsletter, by the name
of Andrea, shared a wonderful idea with me by e-mail. She informed
me that on the feast of St. Francis, she "put together
small bags of bird seeds and gave them to friends, coworkers
and neighbors. I...suggested that they celebrate the day by
enjoying a few peaceful moments feeding the birds and thinking
about how they can become instruments of peace in the world."
Wouldn't that be a great idea for all of us on Christmas day!
I borrowed St. Francis' idea of scattering grain on the roads
and used it in my recently published children's book, St. Francis
in San Francisco. What else might you and I do to include animals
and other creatures in our Christmas celebrations this year?
Merry Christmas and a Blessed New Year!
As always, I welcome your comments and suggestions via e-mail:
Jack Wintz, O.F.M.
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