By Sister Sharon Havelak, OSF
Pope Francis may be a Jesuit, but he certainly has a Franciscan heart.
I sat in the back of Queen of Peace chapel after our penance service a couple of weeks ago, taking some time to reflect and just enjoy the quiet. I had a little work to do that evening, but it could wait a bit. It was so good to have the time just to sit and be.
I had struggled coming up with an idea for my Christmas card earlier, looking for something hopeful, finally choosing a verse from the book of the prophet Isaiah: “Come, let us walk in the light of our God”, which had impressed me in the readings from the first Sunday of Advent. I paired the line with an image from NASA, sunlight breaking over the curve of our Earth. The light has come. The light breaks into our lives each and every day, just as God is present with us each and every day.
Maybe because the story of St. Francis and the first crèche is so fresh after our St. Francis, Santa and the Animals event, maybe because I’ve studied and taught one-too-many images of the Nativity paintings in my art history courses, I began to reflect on those images and the theology portrayed. How absolutely mind-bending, reality-shifting the Incarnation is!
Franciscan theology is centered on the notion that God is present all around us; everything created reflects the hand of the Creator. All is a gift of a gracious God. But God’s love for us is even deeper.
The idea that Jesus – God – would come among us is outrageous enough, but to come as a baby, a tiny, frail, human child who would need to learn how to walk and talk; that he would choose to be born into a poor, working-class family in an insignificant part of the world; it hardly makes any sense. St. Francis was so taken up with the humility and poverty of Jesus that he wanted to bring it to life. In December of 1223, he designed the first crèche, a living nativity, to make visible the extravagant love that God has for us.
As I reflected, the idea for this blog took shape: how, unfortunately, today, the Advent season is preempted by the rush of Christmas shopping and partying. But the heart of the story is still there. The consumer season of Christmas over, but Christmas is still with us. Though the store shelves now stock Valentine gifts and the carols are gone from the radio, the traditional season, the Twelve Days of Christmas, from December 25 – January 6, still calls us to reflect on the wonders of God’s presence.
And then I found out that Pope Francis has beaten me to it! On December 1st, he wrote an Apostolic Letter on the meaning and importance of the Manger scene. It’s a delightful piece, explaining each element of the crèche and its significance for contemporary life. So I invite everyone to sit with a cup of hot chocolate on a quiet evening between now and the feast of the Epiphany and read Pope Francis’ letter (http://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/apost_letters/documents/papa-francesco-lettera-ap_20191201_admirabile-signum.html) or the summary published by Vatican News (https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2019-12/pope-francis-apostolic-letter-nativity-scene-meaning.html). May it shine a bit of the light of God’s love on each of us.