Tag Archives: Francis

Morning Thoughts: Saint Francis for 4-year-olds (and you and me)

 

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“Saint Francis of Assisi”, coloring book page, colored by a “4-year-old”

 

(My wife teaches 4-year-olds in a Catholic elementary school. The school’s patron saint is Saint Francis. They call this week “Saint Francis Week” and hold various events throughout the week to celebrate the feast of this great saint (Oct. 4th). My wife and her co-teacher were looking for a short, simple biography that would be appropriate for their 4-year-old students. They didn’t find anything that seemed to be the right fit. So here’s what I jotted down for their pre-K-4 class. The kids really seemed to enjoy it. Maybe you will too. Let us “become like little children”.)


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Saint Francis, a Knight for God

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There once was a young man. He lived in a land called Italy. He lived a very long time ago. He lived over 800 hundred years ago!

He lived with his family in a small city named Assisi.

The young man was quite silly. He loved to dream and he loved to sing and he loved to dance. He loved to play with his friends all day long.

The young man’s name was Francis.

His father wanted Francis to be more serious. His father wanted Francis to be just like him. He wanted him to sell expensive fabric to people who were very rich. Fabric is what you use to make pretty things like curtains, tablecloths, and clothes.

Francis’ father wanted him to work in the family shop. But Francis was not very interested in that kind of work. Francis wanted to be a great knight!

And one day Francis went off to do just that.

Francis went off to become a knight. He began to travel to another city where he would fight with a sword and a shield. Francis thought that he would become a great hero.

But on his way Francis got very sick. He had to return to his home. His mother took care of him. And while Francis was getting better he began to dream of different adventures.

He began to spend a lot of time walking around the woods and looking at the flowers and at the trees. He began to watch closely all the animals, especially the birds that flew high up into the sky. Francis began to think a lot about God!

Francis began to dream about heaven. He began to wonder about love. He saw that there was another kind of knight!

Francis decided that he would be a knight for God.

Francis wanted Jesus to be his king and for Mary to be his queen.

Francis no longer wanted to use a sword or a shield. No, Francis wanted to teach all the world how to love. Francis wanted to sing and dance and show everyone how be more like Jesus.

He began to live very simply. He had very few things. His only clothing was an old brown robe. He lived almost like a little animal in the forest. Francis was very free. Francis was filled with joy. He was very happy.

And soon many other young men came to join him. They too wanted to be knights for God. They all lived together. They called each other brother. They shared all they had. They were kind to each other. They loved God together.

And one day, even a young lady wanted to join. She brought other ladies and they started a home of their own. They called each other sister. That young lady’s name was Clare.

A new type of family was beginning to grow. A family who lives very much like Jesus. We call them Franciscans.

We now call that young man, Saint Francis. We now call that young lady, Saint Clare.

Saint Francis and Saint Clare are now in heaven with Jesus and Mary and all the holy angels and saints. They live in perfect peace with God the Father and the Holy Spirit. They see us right now. They pray for us too.

Hey, who knows, maybe one day a few of you boys and girls may become knights and ladies of God, like our patron saints, Saint Francis and Saint Clare!


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—Howard Hain

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Broken Baby Jesus

by Howard Hain

(Note: This post was originally published on December 24, 2011.)

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We have not put up a tree in years.

For nearly a decade we have been moving—no longer than two years in any one house and no less than ten different not-so-humble abodes. Between and during the moves we were very much engaged with the world. A seemingly endless movable beast.

This December marks one year in our current house. I am happy to say it is our home. The Lord has blessed us with great peace. And with that peace comes a tree. A simple, well-shaped tree. Fittingly, a dear friend offered it to us as a gift.

Francesca could not be more ready to be initiated into the act of trimming. Before the tree arrived, her two-year-old fingers pointed out every tree, artificial or real, that graced the pages of a holiday flyer or the commercial floor of a Rite Aid or Dollar Store.

Up the stairs came the evergreen, into the old stand that has been in storage since my father last used it several decades ago. I cut off the mesh and out popped the branches.

We hung the lights and old glass ornaments that my mother-in-law washed a few days before.

The main attraction for Francesca was the Nativity.

Not since St. Francis of Assisi assembled the first Nativity in Greccio in 1223, has there been such admiration for each and every witness who Our Lord assembled to adore His Son that first Christmas two millennia ago. Francesca kissed and hugged every shepherd, sheep, donkey, angel, and king. Most of all she adored the Holy family, calling Mary and Joseph, Ma-ma and Da-da, respectively. And Jesus, He was simply called: “ba-be.”

She carried them around the apartment. I did not want to ruin her fun, but they are ceramic. I explained a few times to be very careful.

“Gentle, Francesca…gentle…”, I harked a host of times.

Boom. To the wood floor went the shepherd. Amazing, grace held him intact. I took that as a great sign to put an end to her carrying the animals, angels and representatives of mankind.

I was fixing my coffee when I turned to see Francesca with Baby Jesus in her tiny hands. But He is so small, so tiny, what harm could come from holding Him? So I let her get away with carrying the Savior.

As I stirred my spoon Christ crashed to the floor, the tile floor. Francesca immediately looked at me, as if expecting all hell to break loose. I think I sighed but that was about all. It is Christmas, right? And it is, after all, only a ceramic figure purchased at Target.

After assuring Francesca not to worry and guiding her toward a few coloring books in the living room, I bent down to retrieve the broken Christ.

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St. Francis was told by a Crucifix in an old abandoned chapel: “Restore my Church.”

In my small one-bedroom apartment, I found Baby Christ, broken into exactly three: The Head, the Torso, and the Crossed Legs.

“Restore the Trinity,” was spoken to me.

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For half of my forty years I can honestly say I have tried to pursue Truth, wherever it lie. In philosophy, in scripture, in literature, in art, in nature, in history…

Now, the entire Gospel of Christ lie naked on my kitchen floor.

We separate, we distinguish, we categorize, we breakdown. The Fall of Adam was a fall into denomination.

Christ’s body is One. His Church cannot be broken. Only mere men can get things so wrong.

I think of the great “Angelic Doctor” of the Church, St. Thomas Aquinas, who after spending a lifetime in unparalleled pursuit of human understanding, said after glimpsing a vision of what Our Lord has in store for those who love God:

“All that I have written seems like straw compared to what has now been revealed to me.”

Yes… “straw”…my brother Thomas…merely straw. Straw that lines the manger within which Our Savior is laid bare.

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It is tradition to leave the crib empty until Christmas morning. Only then do we place the figurative baby Jesus into the scene, after all until that moment he was not yet brought forth from Mother Mary’s womb.

This Christmas morning I will glue together a Broken Baby Christ. The Head, the Torso, and the Crossed Legs will again be One.

Like the world after the birth of Christ, I will never be the same.

For what has now been revealed to me, no fall can break apart.


 

Howard Hain is a contemplative layman, husband, and father. He blogs at http://www.howardhain.com

 

Friday Thoughts: Walled Garden (2)

(Please note: This is part 2 of a piece entitled “Walled Garden”. To read part 1, simply click here: Friday Thoughts: Walled Garden (1))


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Camille Pissarro, “Orchards at Louveciennes”, 1872

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And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.

—John 19:27


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On leaving the convent I came upon the friar I noticed on my way in. The little dog was no longer around. We approached each other as if we had met before. He was kind. He was middle-aged. He was simple. And then the strangest thing occurred. He took me by the arm, the way men stroll in Italy, arm-in-arm, during the evening passeggiata—the evening stroll.

But I had never met this man before.

Yes, it is certainly strange to have an unknown man approach you and link his arm in yours.

He led me toward a dirt path. We strolled. We spoke little. He didn’t speak English and my Italian was tiny. But it was nice. Peaceful. It didn’t feel strange. I only now use that word, for from a somewhat forced “objective” perspective, it seems that it had to be.

He was a man of God. And he saw I was too, before I had any idea God had undeservedly entrusted me with such a gift. The gift of loving God. The gift of wanting Him more than I could ever explain. The gift of being an outcast here in this world of time, a wanderer, a pilgrim, a crusading knight of Lady Poverty—of being—in yet again, some strange kind of way—a lady-in-waiting—patiently and painfully anticipating the exuberant arrival of the one and only eternal groom.


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He brought me to what appeared to be an old foundation. I understood from what few words we exchanged that this was the remains of an abandoned orphanage. And then we began to head back toward whence we came. I remember offering him some bread that I had in my bag, purchased that morning in the city of Assisi up above. He lightly touched his stomach with one hand and shook his head “no”—a kind, polite, gracious, and utterly grateful, “no-thank-you” kind of “no”.

When we arrived at the door of the convent I understood from his gestures that he was inviting me to see something inside. It was clearly something that I had not yet seen. I motioned “yes” and we entered. We climbed a staircase and walked down a hallway. We were in an area not open to the public. The walls revealed its age. And we approached a door. A wooden door. And he unlocked it with an old large skeleton key. He opened the door and motioned for me to go inside, quietly informing me that this is Saint Clare’s cell. I entered and he remained outside. He gently pulled the door closed.

I wasn’t sure what to do. I was safe. I knew I wasn’t locked in. I was pleasantly confused. I looked around. It was small. It was literally a cell. Enclosed. All stone. A low tight arched ceiling. Bright. Dark. Cozy. Warm. Beautiful.

A tabernacle. A womb. A virgin’s womb.


 

At the end of the somewhat rectangular shaped room was a small alter-like shelf. I knelt before it. I have not the slightest recollection of what I prayed.  Of what I thought. Of anything spiritually taking place. I was just there. And I remained a few minutes. And then I left. I opened the door and I was all alone. No friar. I closed the door behind me and made my way back down from where I had come.

It seemed as if nothing extraordinary had happened. It was all so normal. So everyday. Yet it was nothing of the sort. It was extraordinary. It was an encounter. I think. Perhaps.


 

I think of little Mary. Alone in her room. I think of a gentle breeze and the sight of a bowing angel.

“Hail, full of grace…”

What a name, what a title to be given!

Gabriel holding the key that opens the door.

The young, chosen, highly-favored virgin agrees to hear his message, to walk arm-in-arm with him, to accompany him to she knows not where. She agrees to accept God’s invitation.

The Holy Spirit comes upon her simple life, her simple way, her simple manner.

The power of the Most High overshadows her daily existence.

Our Father confirms her trusting posture, her grace-filled instinct to utter the purest of prayers:

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“Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word.” (Luke 1:38)

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Jesus entered a private, off-limits room. He made His home there.

And He never left.


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“…when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret…”

—Matthew 6:6


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—Howard Hain

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What Does Christmas Mean?

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I was just reading again a piece Pope Benedict XVI did for the Financial Times of London last Christmas, which I think shows the continuity of the church’s teaching from one recent pope to another. Pope Francis’ style may be different, but the message is the same.

“The birth of Christ challenges us to reassess our priorities, our values, our very way of life. While Christmas is undoubtedly a time of great joy, it is also an occasion for deep reflection, even an examination of conscience. At the end of a year that has meant economic hardship for many, what can we learn from the humility, the poverty, the simplicity of the crib scene?

“Christmas can be the time in which we learn to read the Gospel, to get to know Jesus not only as the Child in the manger, but as the one in whom we recognize God made Man. It is in the Gospel that Christians find inspiration for their daily lives and their involvement in worldly affairs – be it in the Houses of Parliament or the Stock Exchange. Christians shouldn’t shun the world; they should engage with it. But their involvement in politics and economics should transcend every form of ideology.

“Christians fight poverty out of a recognition of the supreme dignity of every human being, created in God’s image and destined for eternal life. Christians work for more equitable sharing of the earth’s resources out of a belief that, as stewards of God’s creation, we have a duty to care for the weakest and most vulnerable.

“Christians oppose greed and exploitation out of a conviction that generosity and selfless love, as taught and lived by Jesus of Nazareth, are the way that leads to fullness of life.

“Christian belief in the transcendent destiny of every human being gives urgency to the task of promoting peace and justice for all.

“Because these goals are shared by so many, much fruitful cooperation is possible between Christians and others.

“Yet Christians render to Caesar only what belongs to Caesar, not what belongs to God. Christians have at times throughout history been unable to comply with demands made by Caesar.

“In Italy, many crib scenes feature the ruins of ancient Roman buildings in the background. This shows that the birth of the child Jesus marks the end of the old order, the pagan world, in which Caesar’s claims went virtually unchallenged.

“Now there is a new king, who relies not on the force of arms, but on the power of love. He brings hope to all those who, like himself, live on the margins of society. He brings hope to all who are vulnerable to the changing fortunes of a precarious world. From the manger, Christ calls us to live as citizens of his heavenly kingdom, a kingdom that all people of good will can help to build here on earth.”