St. Francis of Assisi, who began the tradition of the Christmas crèche so people could envision Jesus as a loveable baby, sent a letter to members of his Order of Friars Minor, his beloved “little brothers.” It contains sound advice and a beautiful poem in gratitude to the God who, as the Word made flesh is found also in what appears to be bread and wine. Although he was plagued by pain and would, eventually, lose his sight, Francis is typically described by his contemporaries as being “joyful”, always grateful for the Gift of Holy Communion.
Thomas of Celano, a Franciscan friar, knew Francis and wrote his biography at the prompting of Pope Gregory IX, who canonized Francis only two years following his death. Of the saint, Thomas wrote, “Francis burned with a love that came from his whole being for the sacrament of the Lord’s body.” That love, as well as Francis’ poetic skill, can be seen in some excerpts taken from a letter, written c. 1220, which Francis wrote to his “little brothers” and the Franciscan sisters led by his friend, St Clare:
In the name of the Most High Trinity and holy Unity: the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
To all my reverend and dearly beloved brothers: to the General Minister of the Order of Friars Minor, its lord, and the other general ministers who will come after him, and to the ministers, custodians, humble priests of this same brotherhood in Christ, and to all simple and obedient brothers, from the first to the last: I, Brother Francis, a worthless and weak man, your very little servant sends you greetings in Him who has redeemed and washed us in His Most Precious Blood. When you hear His name, the name of the Son of the Most High, our Lord Jesus Christ; He who is blessed forever, adore Him with fear and reverence, prostrate on the ground!
Listen, sons of the Lord and my brothers, pay attention to my words. Incline the ear of your heart and obey the voice of the Son of God. Observe His commands with your whole heart and fulfill His counsels with a perfect mind …
Therefore, and with all the love of which I am capable, I implore all my brothers and sisters to show all possible reverence and honor to the Most Holy Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ … I also beg in the Lord all my brothers who are priests, or who will be, or who wish to be priests of the Most High that whenever they celebrate Mass, they offer the true Sacrifice of the most holy Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ with purity and reverence; that they offer it with a holy and unblemished intention, and not for any worldly reason or fear or love of anyone, as if they were pleasing people.
Let all their will, as much as grace will help, be directed to God; desiring thereby to please only the Most High Lord Himself; for He Himself says: "Do this in memory of me." If anyone acts differently, he becomes Judas the traitor and guilty of disgracing the Body and Blood of the Lord …
Listen, my brothers: If the Blessed Virgin is so honored, because she carried Him in her most holy womb; if John the Baptist trembled and did not dare to touch the holy head of God; if the tomb in which He lay for some time is held in veneration, how holy and just must he be who touches with his hands, receives in his heart and mouth, and offers to others the One who has conquered death.
May He, whom the angels longed to gaze upon, be glorified. See your dignity, my priest brothers, and be holy because He is holy. The Lord God has honored you above all others because of this ministry; for your part, love, revere and honor Him above all others. It would be a great misery and a miserable weakness; if, when you have Him present in this way, you are concerned with anything else in the whole world
Let everyone be struck with fear,
let the whole world tremble,
and let the heavens exult
When Christ, the Son of the living God,
is present on the altar in the hands of a priest!
O wonderful loftiness and stupendous dignity!
O sublime humility!
O humble sublimity!
The Lord of the universe,
God and the Son of God,
so humbles Himself that for our salvation
He hides Himself
under an ordinary piece of bread!
Brothers, look at the humility of God,
and pour out your hearts before Him!
Humble yourselves that you may be exalted by Him!
Hold back nothing of yourselves for yourselves,
hat He Who gives Himself totally to you
may receive you totally!
-- Your humble servant,
And a very Merry Christmas to all in Detroit who also love Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament!
Sean M. Wright, MA, Emmy-nominated television writer and a Master Catechist for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, responds to comments sent him at [email protected].