In early November, I returned from a seven-day pilgrimage to Assisi, Italy. We visited the sacred places in the lives of St. Francis and St. Clare of Assisi.
St. Francis had a very special attachment to the birth of Christ. As a result, Francis was touched by the humanity of God. Not that you and I aren’t touched by the humanity of God, but his attachment was profound. Francis loved Christmas.
It wasn’t the externals of Christmas that caught Francis’ attention. Rather, it was the reality that God became incarnate, that the divine took on human flesh, blood, bones, lungs and more, that moved him.
He understood that the Holy Trinity first created the universe, then worked the miracle of the Word made flesh and later created us — obviously with the help of our parents. What love!
History says that the first Christmas manger scene known to history was set-up by St. Francis of Assisi. He did this up in the hills in a secluded area south of Assisi, named Greccio, where he and his companions would go to pray.
From a Franciscan perspective, God sent his Son on the first Christmas to show us God’s great love of the universe. This “love” later died on a crucifix.
This love continues today in 7.5 billion people and planet earth. God lives among the rich and the poor, the young and the elderly, the sick and the healthy.
One of our directors, Franciscan Sister Kathy Osbelt, told us that, because of Jesus’ birth, you and I are loved by God just as much as Sts. Francis and Clare, and that as the 13th century was a new era in history, the 21st century also is a new era.
Another director, a Franciscan priest, the Rev. John Quigley, said that the birth of Christ happened because “God wanted to make love to the universe.” What a wonderful statement.
He also said that “God wanted to have a mother.” Now God has a mother, Mary. God took on human flesh through Mary and the Holy Spirit. As a result, according to Quigley, “Francis took the great leap into the mystery of God’s love.” I treasure this expression.
Because of his appreciation of the incarnation, Francis brought to the world of his time a focus on humanity. The world of his time and after experienced a rediscovery of the goodness of the human body, together with expression in art and music.
Thanks to his appreciation of Christmas, the spirit of Francis helped lead to the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, scientific discovery, plus a focus on education and health care.
A Franciscan theological emphasis would say that because of the incarnation (Christmas), all of creation and humanity are destined for redemption. In other words, everything in life matters. Plus, caring for our bodies as well as our spiritual dimension is critical.
What is God saying to each of us at Christmas 2018? What is our appreciation of humanity and planet earth?
The Rev. John Schultz is a senior priest of the Diocese of La Crosse and lives in the Eau Claire. area.