Sunday, August 14, 2011

Santa Claus, SFO

Many years ago I met a holy man who loved Christmas.

Francis Bernadone of the town of Assisi in Italy.

He created the first living Nativity Scene. His hope was to help bring that Holy Night to life for people who could never travel to the Holy Land to see where it all took place.

I was not fully into my own Christmas ministry at that time. Christians celebrated the Birth of our Lord, but not with all the gifts and traditions they do today. I was not the many in the red suit flying around on Christmas Eve yet.

But Francis, how he loved the Lord, and how he celebrated His Birth!

I did not witness that first Nativity Scene. When we met, it was actually before he had created it.

He was bringing food to a family of lepers. I was there visiting them as well, bringing them some clothes.

Francis and I smiled at each other, but spent our time there focusing on the family: A mother and father and three children, including an infant. The mother and father cried at our gifts. And then they asked us to take their newborn. He was the only one not yet infected. They begged us to take him to a place where he would be safe, to a family who could raise him.

Francis knew of such a family. We left together and took the child to the couple, who longed for a child of their own but were unable to have one.

Francis told them the story of the leper family. He showed them the child.

They were understandably afraid.

The baby may not have shown any sign of the disease at that point, but what if he did have it and it manifested later? And what if he infected them?

But then the father - and I remember this well - said, "If loving a child takes us home to God sooner, then so be it."

Francis and I parted ways that night. I never met him again on earth. But I did return to that home many times over the years. The boy grew up healthy and strong, and was a joy to his adoptive parents. Years later, all three joined what was known as the Third Order of St. Francis, which Francis created just for people like that loving couple. It's now known as the Secular Franciscan Order.

I also later joined - many years later, when we finally had enough guests and elves at the North Pole to form a Fraternity.

And every time I see a Nativity Scene, I think back to Francis and his many gifts to the world.

Pax et bonum!