St. Francis and the Christmas Crib in Greccio: 5 Reflections

The story of St. Francis and the Christmas Crib at Greccio focuses on what was really important to Francis –the poverty of Jesus and his mother, and the discomfort felt by the little baby. Celano also places an emphasis on the three virtues of simplicity, poverty, and humility, and leads us to understand that the poverty of Francis is in imitation of the poverty of Jesus. For Francis, the external poverty of Christ’s birth at Bethlehem is representative of the radical poverty of the Incarnation.

 

1. Reflection question: what is the place of poverty – simplicity – humility in my life?

 

The narrative stresses the importance of “memory”, which also means “ensuring that we do not forget.” Celano repeats the word memory at the beginning and at the end of the story and writes of how Francis wished “to enact the memory of that babe who was born in Bethlehem.” This is an essential duty of our faith— a faith that, according to the Bible, can be summed up as “remembering the deeds of the Lord.”

 

2. Reflection question: where do we enact “memory” in our lives? Are we able to re-read the events of our lives and perceive the Lord’s presence in them? 

 

For all Christians, the “memorial” of the Lord par excellence is the Eucharist that we friars celebrate daily. The parallel between the Incarnation and the Eucharist is often expressed in Francis’ thought and writings. At Greccio, the nativity scene does not have crib figures to evoke the mystery of the Incarnation, instead the Eucharist is celebrated as the supreme memorial.

 

3. Reflection question: what truly is the place of the Eucharist in my life, in the course of my day?

 

Making memory in this way, however, is not merely an intellectual operation. In the account of Greccio all of the senses are involved. The sight of the scene, with countless images of light; hearing songs and Francis’ own fine voice; the touch of the baby who awakes and is held in his arms; the sweet taste that has Francis licking his lips!  All this speaks of a healthy relationship with the senses, which are part of our relationship with God and part of proclaiming the Gospel. There is an interplay between the bodily and spiritual senses in the Christian tradition, and this can serve as a warning against excessive intellectualism. Franciscan spirituality sees the senses as an avenue to God.

 

4. Reflection question: what is the place of the senses in my relationship with God, and in how my faith is expressed?

 

Francis invites us to make room for creativity, which opens us up to the new. We’re invited to give space to feelings, to joy, to songs, to festive celebration. He also calls us to enjoy the beauty of poverty, which in the story of Greccio is characterized by a dignity and beauty that become a source of joy.

 

5. Reflection question: how open am I to the new and to what challenges me? How can I grasp the beauty of poverty?