I’m dreaming of a white Christmas, just like the ones I used to know …
For some, that dream may come true this Christmas as more countries open up and Vaccinated Travel Lanes are established. Life appears to be normalising and we can look forward to freer movement and interacting in person a little more. I myself am looking forward to visiting the friars in Malaysia for I prefer a tactile and real encounter to meeting via virtual platforms.
Touch is the most intimate of senses, as St Bonaventure reminds us. Perhaps it was St Francis’ encounter with the leper that caught Bonaventure’s imagination. Some early biographies suggest that the leper was Christ, since the leper disappeared as Francis turned around to look for him after the encounter.
This is the human-ness of Franciscan spirituality, the continual enfleshment of the incarnation of Christ in our reality. The word “incarnate” is derived from the Latin word “caro”, meaning flesh.
This takes us to the question: Why did God become man? The divine nature took on human flesh with all its limitations and weaknesses to assure us that God does not leave us alone. He descended so that we can ascend.
God chose to come into the world in Bethlehem; to be born there in a manger, the dingy holding area for animals to rest and eat. In Hebrew, Bethlehem means “house of bread”, and manger in Italian is ”mangiare”, which means “to eat”. I hope you see this connection between the Eucharist, our Bread of Life, and the early signs revealed with Jesus’ birth. At the Eucharist, we touch the bread and we partake of it, making us one with it and one with all who partake of it: One Bread, One Body.
That’s what we, the Franciscan Friars, hope we can bring to those around us. We don’t pretend to have
all the answers, but as we move around spreading the Good News of God’s Kingdom, we hope that those we encounter may feel centred in the Lord as they move about the world with all its victories and vicissitudes. And, in the spirit of poverty and humility of Francis, we allow the Good News to be preached by all creatures to us. That’s how St Francis saw his friars going about the world, to be channels and receptacles of God’s grace, peace and mercy. I hope this is how you experience us Franciscan friars!
That said, arriving at this state of being channels of God’s peace is no breeze. Just as we had to endure multiple restrictions and lockdowns during thepandemic in order to arrive at today’s freer state, our freer state of soul requires a similar rite of passage. There is a Latin adage “per angusta ad augusta” (through trials to triumph). Our pain can lead to glory if we dare journey the descent of God becoming man at Christmas, which ultimately leads to our ascent back to the Father at Easter.
Peace and all good,
Friar Derrick Yap OFM
Custody of St Anthony