25.12.2009 @ 17:24
Greccio: Let us go to Bethlehem
Greccio, 25 de December 2009
Br. JosÃ© RodrÃguez Carballo, ofm - Minister General
To those who have come from afar and near to this blessed place of Greccio, in order to celebrate this day of gladness and exultation of the birth of our Savior: May the child of Bethlehem, born of the Virgin Mary, make you overflow with joy and experience that singular consolation which St. Francis experienced at the foot of the manger (cf. 1Cel 85). Greccio was the chosen place by Divine Providence, where the Seraphic Father Saint Francis relived the memory of the Birth of Jesus in Bethlehem (cf. 1Cel 84); it was so unusual for the times that, in order â€œthat this would not be considered a type of novelty, he petitioned for and obtained permission from the Supreme Pontiffâ€ (LM 10, 7).
Greccio is the new Bethlehem, where simplicity received honor, poverty was exalted, and humility was valued (1 Cel 85) â€“ just like the first Christmas in history. Greccio, then, is a place consecrated to the memory of Francis. It is here where, since that memorable night of 1223, so many pilgrims from all over gather to remember this saint, who was enamored by the mystery of the Incarnation. Here, Francis wished to contemplate with his own eyes the conditions the Son of God chose to be born in as he made his entry into human history. Furthermore, it was here in Greccio where, three years prior to his death, the little Poor one of Assisi wished in some way to see with his own eyes what the child of Bethlehem suffered as a helpless babe, and how he lay in a manger upon the hay with an ox and an ass standing by (1 Cel 84).
This is the reason for the reenactment of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, that is, in order to see with his bodily eyes, but even more so with the eyes of his heart, Jesus who though being rich, became poor; first, became last; the Lord, became the servant. It is a seeing that goes beyond the mere physical gaze. Francisâ€™ gaze is a loving gaze, a gaze of the lover toward the beloved. Celano makes us see this when he states that Francis stands before the manger, filled with heartfelt sighs, contrite in his piety, and overcome with wondrous joy (1Cel 85). St. Bonaventure also states the same when he affirms that the little Poor one, filled with tenderness and love, preached about the birth of the poor King (LM 10, 7). It is precisely this gaze that opens for Francis deep knowledge and understanding of the mystery of the Incarnation. This not an intellectual knowledge, however, but a knowledge that involves having a loving relationship and a certain complicity between the Lover (i.e., God who loves man and sends his Son) and the beloved (i.e., Francis, who is transformed into the beloved by allowing himself to be loved). It is the presence of the beloved that leads Francis to be overcome with wondrous joy. Hence, there is no cause for fear, for to Francis as well as to all those who are poor of heart the great news has been revealed, namely, that the Savior is born (Lk 2:11). There are no more situations, no matter how desperate it may appear, that can snatch the joy that only God can give. Finally, God no longer shows himself in the fire nor in the cloud, nor in thunder as He did in Old Testament times. Rather, He relinquishes the heights in order to descend and embrace our wounded nature with all its consequences. Our God, in other words, is no longer a distant God, for he has become man and his name is Emmanuel, God-is-with-us.
This process of faith in Francis begins by seeing, from seeing to encountering the Word made flesh, the revelation of Godâ€™s love, and from encountering to believing. Again, it must be said that Francisâ€™ faith is not a mere intellectual adhesion, but a profound transformation of his being, which leads him to discipleship. Hence, we can say that, by reenacting in Greccio the birth of Jesus in the crib of Bethlehem, Francis wished to see in order to know, to know in order to believe, and believe in order to follow Christ.
Moreover, Francis who has seen with his own eyes the birth of the poor King, born in a small city and in a stable of a poor mother, wishes now to follow in his footsteps in the most radical form of poverty, sine proprio (without anything as oneâ€™s own), in minority and humility. If the Eternal Word of the Father chose this path to become man, Francis will then choose this same path to follow Christ. In this way, his very life will become an icon of the mystery of the Incarnation and his existence a living Gospel.
Dear Brothers, guided by the readings of this Christmas celebration, we, too, are invited to go to Bethlehem to see and contemplate with Joseph and Mary, the new born, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger (Lk 2:12). Like the shepherds, let us then go in haste, running (cf. Lk 2:16), for something marvelous and totally unexpected awaits us there, namely, he who in the beginning was with God, for he was God himself through whom all things were made and in whom is the source of life, who in the fullness of time has become man to dwell among us (cf. Jn 1, 1ss; Gal 4, 4). Then, our eyes will see the return of the Lord (cf. Is 52, 8) and contemplate his goodness and love for all humanity (cf. Tt. 3, 4).
Let us go to Bethlehem! And once having seen and contemplated, like the shepherds, the prodigy of the love of God for humanity, let us then return to our houses and work. There, in the ordinary course of daily life, let us tell what we have seen and heard of that child, the God-is-with-us. In this way, Christmas will be transformed into a feast of bearing witness and of mission. Then, like the angels on Christmas night, like the Shepherds who ran to see the newborn, and like Francis, who here in Greccio relived the memory of the mystery of the Incarnation, we, too, will become evangelists, heralds, and missionaries of the Good News for all peoples, for in the city of David, the Savior is born (cf. Lk 2, 10-11).
Yes, Brothers, our Christmas cannot be reduced to just any other feast. It is not enough to adorn our houses and cities nor even to place on them beautiful Nativities scenes. Jesus comes and asks instead to dwell in our hearts and lives. He wants to be born in them. John said, â€œHe came to his own and his own did not receive himâ€ (Jn 1:11). â€œHis ownâ€ were too distracted or had other interests. Perhaps, the hearts of many were dull at the time. Shall we be the same?
We need Christmas! We need that helpless child, who brings the salvation of our God (cf. Is 52, 10). We need that child wrapped in swaddling clothes, for he brings peace and is the source of true happiness. Yet, our world also needs men and women who proclaim and witness by word and deed the presence among us of Emmanuel, the God-is-with-us. â€œHow beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of those who bring glad tidingsâ€ (Is 52:7). This is our mission, therefore: to be messengers of him who has made it possible for us to become children of God (Jn 1:12) and to be sons and daughters in the Son. This is the vocation to which we have been called. Then, like on that Christmas night in Greccio in 1223, Christ will rise in the hearts and lives of those who have forgotten him (1Cel 86); and joy will reign in everyone because for everyone it will be Christmas.