Tag Archives: St Francis of Assisi

Thanks is due to St Francis of Assisi for the Nativity Scene

Just prior to Christmas Pope Benedict XVI reflected on
Saint Francis of Assisi’s gift to the Church in 1223 of the Nativity scene.
Then, as now we see Humility, Jesus, encountering the nihilism of the world, a
people who entranced with violence and anger now faced with the Prince of
Peace, the true king of the universe.

In homes and Churches across the world it is typical to see a Nativity scene prepared. Over the years my family has had a small nativity scene present in our home. It is not a great piece of art and it is not something we’ve done historically, but it is something that is now a regular part of our Christmas decorations. In fact, it is left out throughout the year as I move it around the house as a small reminder of the God becoming one of us.

But let’s not forget that a Nativity scene and Christmas tree is not that old of a tradition for St. Peter’s Square. John Paul II made the Nativity scene in St Peter’s Square a priority in 1982 because he felt the world needed to encounter the image of God made man, Jesus, the Eternal Word of God come into our humanity history. Thinking that the crèche still had relevance for the modern person in 2004, John Paul said of the Nativity scene,

Christmas is upon us and in many places people are setting up a crèche, like here in St Peter’s. Whether big or small, fancy or simple, the crèche is a familiar and expressive representation of Christmas. It is part of our culture and art but a sign of faith in God who, in Bethlehem, ‘made his dwelling among us (Jn 1:14). As I do every year, I shall bless the “Bambinelli,” the statues of Baby Jesus. which will be placed in the crèche on Holy Night, joining Joseph and Mary, who are silent witnesses of a sublime Mystery. With loving eyes, they tell us to wait and pray in order to welcome the Divine Savior who is coming to bring the world the joy of Christmas.

Pope Benedict speaks about Saint Francis’ gift of the Crib

St Francis & crib Giotto.jpg

With St. Francis and his
nativity, the defenseless love of God was shown, his humility and goodness,
which in the incarnation of the Word is manifested to man so as to teach a new
way to live and to love. He saw a little child lying still in a manger; the
child woke up because Francis approached… ‘This vision was not different than
real life, since through the work of his grace acting by way of his holy
servant Francis, the Child Jesus was resurrected in the hearts of many. Thanks
to St. Francis, the Christian people have been able to perceive that at
Christmas, God truly has become Emmanuel, God-with-us, from whom no barrier or
distance can separate us. In this Child, God has come so near to each one of
us, so close, that we can address him with confidence and maintain with him a
trusting relationship of deep affection, as we do with a newborn. In this
Child, in fact, God-Love is manifested: God comes without weapons, without
strength, because he does not aim to conquer, we could say, from without, but
rather wants to be welcomed by man in liberty. God becomes a defenseless Child to
conquer man’s pride, violence and desire to possess. In Jesus, God took up this
poor and defenseless condition to conquer with love and lead us to our true
identity … so that he concedes to our hearts this simplicity that recognizes
the Lord in this Child, precisely as Francis did in Greccio. Then, we too can
experience what […] happened to those present […] ‘Each one returned to his
house filled with an ineffable joy. 

Hymn to Saint Francis of Assisi, friar, deacon, founder

Faithful image of the Savior,
Poor and humble in Christ’s way,
Let us sing of good Saint Francis,
Heartfelt homage let us pay!
Leaving home and wealth behind him,
Francis heard the Savior’s call,
Serving God as poor and needy,
Trusting God to care for all.

St Francis meditating Greco.jpgPreaching Jesus and His mercy,
Francis made the Cross his boast,
Loving Christ within the Manger,
Praised His presence in the Host.
God in mercy gave him brothers
Joined in poverty and grace,
Vowed to serve Christ in obedience,
Freed by chastity’s embrace.

What was hidden from the learned
To the simple has been giv’n:
To the child-like are revealed now
All the truths and joys of heav’n.
Preaching only Jesus’ Gospel,
Francis sang of endless care
Which God, author of creation,
With each person wants to share.

Most high God, all good and mighty,
Father, Son, and Spirit blest,
With Saint Francis we would love You
And with Christ-filled lives attest:
From You, Lord, comes our salvation!
As did Francis, help us live
Lives of peace and true devotion,
That we thanks and praise may give!

87 87 D, suggested tune:  Nettleton
James Michael Thompson, (c) 2009, World Library Publications

Sonnet for Assisi

Blind Francis, waiting to welcome Sister Death,

St Francis4.jpg

though he was by ecstacies and fame,

Had heart for tune. With what remained of

He led his friars in canticles. Then came

Brother Elias, scowling, to
his side,

Small-souled Elias, crying by book and candle,

This was outrageous!
Had the friars no pride?

Music at deathbeds! Ah, the shame! the scandal!

gave him sermons and advice

Instead of song; which simply proves once more

things are sure this side of paradise:

Death, taxes, and the counsel of the

Though we outwit the tithe, make death our friend,

Bores we have with us
even to the end.

(Phyllis McGinley, 1950)

To live without reservation: what Francis may be pointing to

Some have called Liliana Cavani’s Francesco (1989; DVD 1998) a gritty alternative to Franco
Brother Sun, Sister Moon. And I agree. Zeffirelli, while a brilliant filmmaker, can ruin a
saint. And whatever may be said of Cavani’s work,
Francesco is neither a saccharine nor romantic portrayal of
the 13th century’s radical saint, Francis of Assisi. His sincerity is strikingly beautiful. This movie is based on
Herman Hesse’s book
Francis of Assisi. Cavani’s film won three awards and was nominated for a fourth. The
legendary actor/boxer/dog lover and practicing Catholic, Mickey Rourke, played
Saint Francis. And as a side bar, he credits his Catholic faith to saving his life.

Liliana Cavani.jpg

Cavani, born in 1933 in Capri, is the director of many television and cinematic
productions.  Her religious
tendencies are basically unknown to me but I did hear that she leans or leaned
toward a communist ideology. But I can’t help wondering what really inspired
Cavani to direct a film on such a figure as Francis of Assisi. Certainly it
can’t be the wacky-ness that often surrounds the figure of Francis!

Francesco is an interpretation of the person of the 13th century Umbrian saint, Francis of Assisi. He died in 1226 and founded what is
today called the Franciscans 800 years ago. What the Franciscans looked like in
the 13th century isn’t what they are today. The movie is a series of
flashbacks with various friends telling the story of the man who led them to
Christ. Cavani brings out several central questions that all of us have to
answer viz. our Christian faith: To whom do I belong? Do I belong to these
people, or do I belong to Christ? How do I know and why?

The period in which
the real Francis lived was a chaotic time in secular as well as ecclesial
history. His world was faced with civil strife, wars, disease, extreme poverty
in many sectors, illiteracy not to mention heretical movements tearing the
fabric of faith to pieces. And, let’s also not underestimate the wounds of the
Church faced as a result of heresy: lack of true community, negligence of the
human body, despair, lack of reasonable understanding of the faith and Truth
and no reasonable response to the human reality. Hence, the notion of Francis
rebuilding the Lord’s Church took on significant importance for many people.

Francesco? It has little to do
with the fact that his October 4th feast day is next Sunday. But it
has everything to do with the fact that in our School of Community (Communion
& Liberation’s weekly catechetic meeting) we are reading Father Giussani’
chapter on poverty in volume 2 of Is It Possible to Live This Way?  There we are confronting the real, and
truly theological reality, of possessing without possession. Giussani is
raising the concern of restraining the possibility of grace in our lives but
how we live our lives. So many of us can’t face life in the manner in which it
is given. We create escape mechanisms to mask the real life issues: pain, love,
sorrow, faith, hurt, joy, lack of happiness, etc. Francis gave his whole life
away to another person. He confused his parents and siblings; his friends and
civil authorities were shocked. All could not understand Francis turning on end
what was conventually known as “normal.” He found something wonderful among the
poor that became a contradistinction to the bourgeois normativity of Umbrian
society. Renouncing self and possessions and following Christ crucified became
his “normal.” As Saint Clare says in the movie, God spoke to him again and His
love made Francis’ body identical to the Beloved’s.

St Francis detail.jpg

Cavani deals with poverty
in a gritty manner–it is terrifically human. And she never moralizes poverty or
religious conviction. Even when the pope asks Francis “and what are you
criticizing me for” and Francis says “nothing” we can’t believe our ears. Two
men come back to Francis’ family and friends looking to explain what they
experienced and thinking that the men would point out the ugliness of poverty
and extreme raw life of Francis, they said, “there’s something beautiful
there.” You then realize that
Francis isn’t following “poverty”; he’s following someone; he’s closely
adhering to beauty. But it is not ordinary beauty–it is the beauty of believing that he promises of Christ are true.

Why Francis? Because he points to Christ. His faith,
courage and thinking he could live like Christ is what Giussani wants to
suggest is the reason for our life. Giussani asks, quid animo satis? (what can
satisfy the soul?) It has to be the Gospel at it’s word or all is rubbish. Francis, by the way, is the only person the Church calls an
among the saints.

Stigmata of our Holy Father Francis

The liturgical calendar can vary from country to country and the various religious orders may have their calendar of saints, e.g., the Benedictine, Carmelite, Dominican, Franciscan, Jesuit, etc. On the universal Roman calendar today is the optional memorial of Saint Robert Bellarmine, a Jesuit, bishop, cardinal and Doctor of the Church (see the prayer in the entry below). On the Franciscan sanctoral calendar, today is this the feast of Saint Francis’ stigmata. And so I offer these Mass prayers for  prayer.

St Francis receiving the stigmata.jpg

May I never boast of anything but the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ! Through it the world has been crucified to me and I to the world. (Gal. 6:14)
Almighty God, you renewed the marks of the sufferings of your Son in the body of our holy Father Francis in order to inflame our hearts with the fire of your love. Through his prayers may we be conformable to the death of your Son and thus share also in his resurrection.
Lord, may the humble and devout prayer of Saint Francis sustain us. Through this offering may we always experience within us the saving benefit of the sufferings of your Son. (Prayer over the Gifts)
Almighty God, in many ways you displayed the wondrous mystery of the cross in our holy Father Francis. May we follow the example of his devotion and find strength in constant meditation on the same cross. (Prayer after Communion)

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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