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GRECCIO: ENTERING THE MYSTERY THROUGH THE PORTAL OF TENDERNESS

In December 1223, Francis of Assisi experienced great peace. At the beginning of the year he had crossed

the test of writing the second Rule of the Order. What a challenge to entrust an experience

spiritual to a legal text! But finally, it's done. The general chapter discussed it in June and finally, in November, the pope approved it. Endowing the Church with a fraternity of evangelical life was his life’s mission.

 

Now all that remains is for him to continue to “imitate the steps of Jesus” and to share this experience of salvation with others. And since Christmas is approaching, let’s seize the opportunity!

 

Christmas, for Francis, is the beginning of Jesus’ Easter. The Most High makes himself very small to walk with the humanity he loves so much. Francis feels this well: those who allow themselves to be moved by the birth of a God who becomes a child, fragile and vulnerable, will have the best chance of remaining attached to him until the resurrection which takes place through Calvary. So let’s organize a Nativity experience!

 



Preparations: first collaborators and guests, then the staging. As collaborators, Francis immediately thought of the brothers of the hermitages of the Rieti valley. It was in Fonte Colombo that he wrote the Rule, but Poggio Bustone, La Foresta and Greccio are not far away. In each of these places, the brothers were allowed to settle on the slopes of mountains, where the land is no longer usable. Francis invites them all to come and celebrate Christmas with him, in Greccio. And if he chooses Greccio, it is because he has a very special friend there, Jean, the lord of the place, a layman established in the world of the great and who nevertheless accepted Francis' proposal to live the minority in the name of Jesus by making himself the heart of a miner, in solidarity with the little ones of this world. This Lord Jean will take care of setting up the decor, bringing to the cave an ox, a donkey, a manger, straw, everything needed to recreate, as one could imagine, the atmosphere of Bethlehem during the very first Christmas.

 

As for the guests, they will be the local people, peasants, shepherds, loggers, charcoal burners: all a little marginal in the society of the time, living too far from the town to consider going to church from the village on a cold December night. And let them bring torches, we want to light up the world!

 




Then the party will take place as planned. People came, many in this cramped space. The brothers sang the services at length; simply, without artifice... and it was beautiful all the same. Then we celebrated the Eucharist. Francis reads the Gospel of the Nativity then “he preaches words sweet as honey on the birth of the poor king” as Thomas of Celano recounts. The whole celebration is enchanting: the harmony of the songs,

the taste of words, the scents of the earth, the peaceful communion of hearts, the light that illuminates the night like a hoped-for dawn.

 

A miracle happens; and this was to be expected since we are living together the experience of the Incarnation: John of Greccio “in fact saw in the manger a small child lying inanimate to whom [Francis,] the saint seemed to approach of God ". No doubt this Lord John himself told Thomas of Celano what he experienced that night. But his personal experience is surely not unique. Many of those who accepted Francis' invitation to let themselves be overcome by tenderness by celebrating a God so loving that he made himself small and fragile like a child to accompany humanity on its journey towards its Father will have also experienced living love embodied in Greccio as in Bethlehem.

 



This is Francis' proposal: let yourself be touched by the tenderness of Christmas and you will be faithful until the resurrection of Easter, even if its path passes through the Cross. Since 1223, Francis, in the name of the Almighty, has renewed his proposition every year: tenderness is the portal to mystery. This year, come to Greccio!

fr. A.B.Capuchin.


Greccio AB cap 2023
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