It happened, three years prior to his death, that St. Francis of Assisi decided to celebrate at the town of Greccio the memory of the birth of the Child Jesus with the greatest possible solemnity, in order to arouse devotion. So that this would not be considered a type of novelty, he petitioned for and obtained permission from the Supreme Pontiff.

He had a manger prepared,
hay carried in and an ox and an ass led to the spot.
The brethren are summoned,
the people arrive,
the forest amplifies with their cries,
and that venerable night is rendered
brilliant and solemn
by a multitude of bright lights
and by resonant and harmonious hymns of praise.
The man of God stands before the manger,
filled with piety,
bathed in tears, and overcome with joy.
A solemn Mass is celebrated over the manger,
with Francis, a levite of Christ, chanting the holy Gospel.
Then he preaches to the people standing around him
about the birth of the poor King,
whom, whenever he means to call him,
he called in his tender love,
the Babe from Bethlehem.
A certain virtuous and truthful knight,
Sir John of Greccio,
who had abandoned worldly military activity out of love of Christ
and had become an intimate friend of the man of God,
claimed that he saw a beautiful little child asleep in that manger
whom the blessed father Francis embraced in both of his arms
and seemed to wake it from sleep.
Not only does the holiness of the witness
make credible
the vision of the devout knight,
but also the truth it expresses
proves its validity
and the subsequent miracles confirm it.
For Francis’s example,
when considered by the world,
is capable of arousing
the hearts of those who are sluggish in the faith of Christ.
The hay from the crib
was kept by the people
and miraculously cured sick animals
and drove away different kinds of pestilence.
Thus God glorified his servant in every way
and demonstrated the efficacy of his holy prayer
by the evident signs of wonderful miracles.

–St Bonaventure, The Major Legend

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Jim McIntosh

Director, US Franciscans Communications at US Franciscans
A former missionary to PerĂº and Bolivia, I am now working half-time at a parish in New Jersey and half-time as director of communications for US Franciscans.
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