Christmas Blessings

– Br. Michael, ofm

This year we commemorate the 800th anniversary of Christmas at Greccio where the tradition of the Christmas Crèche (Nativity Scene) finds its history. St. Francis of Assisi had a vision to gather the people to remind them of the Bambino of Bethlehem. One of the biographies of the life of St. Francis says he desired “to enact the memory of that babe who was born in Bethlehem.” Each year as we set up our crèche (nativity scene) in our homes and churches it is a reminder for us to not just look at pretty statues or a family heirloom rather it is an opportunity to pray for our hurting world and to be reminded we are gathered in community with fellow believers trusting our God is here with us in the hurting and the harshness of life.

As we face uncertainties in the year ahead, as we listen with broken hearts about wars in our world, as we know the hurts and pains of our communities and families – we trust our God is with us equipping us with hope. This is the very message St. Francis desired to awaken in the people of Greccio 800 years ago. Their world and ours are not very different – let us be attentive to the Bambino of Bethlehem and how he is stirring us to be people of the gospel. We encourage you to pause and pray before a crèche this Christmas Season. Let us be brave enough to pray for the courage to follow Christ wherever he shall lead us in 2024.


Blessings of peace and all good to you this Christmas and all through 2024

from the Friars and Staff at Mount St. Francis Retreat Centre.


Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!

Advent 2023 – Week 3 – Celebrating 800 Years of the Nativity Scene

– Br. Michael, ofm


Eight hundred years ago St. Francis was worried the people of Greccio were forgetting the Bambino of Bethlehem and how present Christ was to them in their every day. He desired the simplicity, poverty, and humility of the Christ Child to be made known and remembered. The beautiful vision St. Francis had to enact the birth of Christ was part of the Midnight Mass. This is important to note, it wasn’t just a show it was wrapped up in the paschal mystery; it was an invitation to know the intimacy of God with us. To see the poverty of the crib leads one to see the emptying of Christ on the cross and the new life in the Resurrection.


One of the earliest photos of me is taken at Midnight Mass with my parents at the crèche. In this photo Mom and Dad are holding me to show me the Bambino of Bethlehem and the scene. They brought me into the story and mystery, from then on, I have been captivated by the scene each year. I have been drawn in and called to see myself there.  One Franciscan scholar says: “Francis’ representation did not include images, but only living beings. He wanted real protagonists.” The animals yes, but most especially the people who gathered, the brothers from various places, women and men of the area, rich and poor alike, stood side by side together. This echoes and is reflected into us and our living, by how we enter the celebration of Christ’s birth, how we gather as a community of believers. This season, a long time ago in Greccio, is not a time stamped moment rather it is a launching point for us and for our story now. It calls us to the manger to pause and calls us to the Eucharist to be nourished and share the good news as we go forth from each Eucharist.


St. Francis wrote in his Admonitions (1,16-18): “Behold, each day He humbles himself as when he came from the royal throne into the Virgin’s womb; each day He himself comes to us, appearing humbly, from the bosom of the Father upon the altar.”  As we draw near to Christmas maybe we are coming tired and hurting. Maybe we are coming holding on to a faint hope and deeper desires. Maybe we are seeking shelter from the storms. Maybe everything just feels so out of control or out of sync. Maybe all is content and coming together. Maybe we are filled with wonder and awe. No matter how we are coming to Christmas, the poor Bambino of Bethlehem meets us. As we gaze upon him, he gazes into our heart, he knows our story and loves us deeply, he meets us in each Eucharist. As we look upon our Nativity Scene, as we gather for Christmas Mass, as we connect with family and friends the longing of our heart is stirred up. “Christmas fascinates us because all of us know deep down, in some way or another, the birth of this Child has something to do with the deepest longings and hopes which even today we still have not managed to shake off” (Dominican Cardinal Christoph Schönborn).  What is burning-yearning-longing in your heart?


Friar Thomas of Celano in his biography of St. Francis says of Greccio Christmas 1223: “Here simplicity is given a place of honour, poverty is exalted, humility is commended, and out of Greccio is made a new Bethlehem.” This is what was burning in the heart of St. Francis. It wasn’t just a one-time moment for him, rather it is an invitation for him and still one for us and our community. Our hearts becoming a new Bethlehem because we have opened our lives allowing in the Spirit with our hearts caught up in the mystery of the incarnation which is life for all. This season as we open our hearts and homes, let us do so with same eagerness of St. Francis in 1223. For when we do we are sure to encounter and welcome the Bambino of Bethlehem and be filled with joy.


As you pray before your Nativity Scene consider:

How does my Nativity Scene remind me of simplicity?

Where am I invited to share joy this season?

What areas in my life do I need to work on humility?

How and where is my life being made into a new Bethlehem?

Who and what intentions do I need to carry with me to Christmas Mass to present to the Bambino of Bethlehem and put upon the altar?



Simplicity. Poverty. Humility. New.

All wrapped up in a child.

St. Francis knew these gifts and the Bambino intimately.

He reminds us we do as well when make space

in our heart for the Bambino of Bethlehem.

As Christmas draws near let us do so with hope and joy.


Christmas at Greccio Christmas at The Mount

Advent 2023 – Week 2- Celebrating 800 Years of the Nativity Scene


Br. Michael, ofm

In the Christmas at Greccio 1223 text from the life of St. Francis by Friar Thomas Celano, the account includes the following tidbits of information. “Blessed Francis had John summoned to him some fifteen days prior to the birthday of the Lord. Francis said to him, “hurry before me and carefully make ready the things I tell you. For I wish to enact the memory of that babe who was born in Bethlehem, to see as much as possible how he lay in a manger, and how, with an ox and donkey standing by, he rested on the hay.” So begins the tradition of creating a place to honour the birth of Jesus known as Nativity Scenes.

Do you know where your Nativity Scene (crèche) comes from? Not so much where it was made rather was it gifted to you? Did you purchase it? Is it part of an ongoing collection? Is it a family heirloom? Are their odd pieces or unique characters?

Before I joined the Franciscans, I had collected Nativity Scenes. Some from local artists, others from around the world, others from craft sales and others from department stores. My collection began when my parents gifted me a Nativity Set the Christmas of my Grade 12 year. The collection continued to grow as friends and colleagues gifted Nativity Scenes to me. They would bring them back trips or from unique stops in their shopping. I was always amazed by these beautiful treasures and enjoyed setting them up each year. Each one unique, but like St. Francis and his friend John, each took time to set up.

When I joined the Franciscans, I needed to decide what to do with this large collection. After some pondering, I decided to gift them to a variety of people who had journeyed and accompanied me over the years. I also made sure my nephews and nieces and Godchildren would have a set to begin their Christmas traditions. It was a great joy to be able to share this tradition with others, and to honor the creativity spirit of St. Francis of Assisi and see how others set up the scene.

My now much smaller collection has had two special additions over the past couple of years. After the death of both of my Grandmothers I was gifted their nativity sets. I recall how each of my Grandmothers set up their nativity scenes in a certain way and each in a particular place. I remember as a child standing before them captivated by how they were arranged and how they looked different from the one we had at home. As an adult I stood before them grateful for the gift of Christmas and the foundation of faith my Grandparents had built.

These treasured Nativities which have been a part of my life since my childhood now find a special place in my room for me to ponder with St. Francis “the memory of the babe who was born in Bethlehem.” The simple figures remind me of the connection to my family, my faith, to the Saint of Assisi and to how the story of the birth of Christ is made known and made new for us each year.


I am grateful for how St. Francis had the idea for the crèche which invites us to focus on the true spirit of the season. Beyond the decorations, beyond the carols, the food and the gatherings we come back to a simple, harsh cave and simple crib made from a feedbox where the child was born – our God with us in all the moments of our life.


The gift of the Nativity Scene is an invitation to be present to those who journey with us and those who inspire us. The uniqueness of each Nativity and how it is set up reminds us of the creativity and the gifts we share. As we pause before our Nativity Scenes in this special 800th anniversary year let us do so with grateful hearts praying for our loved ones, our neighbours and our communities.

Let us also prayer for peace in our broken world and for those who are hurting at this time of year.


Who am I being called to be present to this season?

How am I being invited to pause?

How is my relationship with the “Babe born in Bethlehem”?



Praying In The Season:


As you pause before your crèche/nativity pray in thanksgiving for those who have been a guide for in your journey of faith and those who inspire you in your faith journey now.


Turn your prayer into a message of gratitude by sending a gratitude Christmas card or email to these people.


Pray for those who share their creativity and talents by telling stories, creating art, music and places of beauty.


As you decorate your home or write cards and listen to carols be attentive to how the gifts of others bless you.



Continued Advent Blessings



Advent 2023 – 800 Years – Celebrating the Nativity Scene

Advent 2023 – 800 Years – Celebrating the Nativity Scene

Each year during the season of Advent we set up Nativity Scenes (crèches) in our homes and churches. This scene captures for us the glorious moment of Christ being born among us, telling the story of the Christ Child, Mary and Joseph, angels, shepherds, the magi, and animals. Each Nativity Scene is unique as some have cultural ties, others are creative in style, and others are passed down from generation to generation. The way we set these scenes up in our homes is also unique – some of us place them under the tree, others on the mantle and still others create full background scenes to enhance the story.

I have loved the treasure of the Nativity Scene since I have been a child. Each year I would spend time just gazing upon the scene before me. I continue to do this now, to pause before the scene and be reminded of the mystery and gift of God with us. Any church or home I visit during the Advent and Christmas seasons I try to stop in front of the crèche for at least a moment of prayer. I would encourage all of us, no matter our age, to do this during this season – let us be reminded of why we celebrate.

I have had the great privilege of seeing many Nativities over the years. Some in places such as St. Joseph Oratory in Montreal, at a Nativity Festival in Wisconsin and even at Greccio in Italy. Each time being held captive by the creativity and beauty before me.

Greccio is the birthplace of the presentation of the Nativity Scene and this year we celebrate 800 years of this gift. St. Francis of Assisi is credited with creating or further enhancing this tradition in 1223. He had a desire for the people to be reminded of the birth of Christ – the simplicity and humbleness of God born in the poverty of life. He created the scene in a cave at Greccio (a favorite place of his to pray). He had his friend John help him carry in straw and bring in a donkey and ox. He then invited the people of Greccio to come with torches and candles and light the way to the cave and manger. There on Christmas Eve 1223, Midnight Mass was celebrated in the cave and the people were filled with wonder and awe. They encountered again the Christmas story not as a story of long ago, rather as a living real story which intersected with their lives. The annual tradition took hold and from 1223 the creating of the Nativity Scene has unfolded into an annual treasured Christmas ritual.

What is the story of your Nativity Scene?

Where did it come from?

Why do you like it?


Praying in the Season:


As you set up your nativity scene or spend time in prayer before it, pray with each part of the scene. Meditating with the nativity connects us with how St. Francis and the early brothers prayed. Place your self in the bible scene of the birth of Christ. Visualize it and prayerfully enter into it. Become one of the characters. How is your heart stirred? What are you being called to do or who are you being called to pray for?


Praying with the:

Stable and Manger – giving thanks for shelter and for the Bread of Life.


Animals – consider how they aid our living.


Shepherds – praying for the poor, those who labour to make ends meet for their families.


Magi – give thanks for the treasures we have and share with others.


Angels – pray for those who share good news with you and your community.


Mary and Joseph – pray for your parents, for young couples preparing for the birth of a child, for those who have journeyed with you.


Christ Child – give thanks and praise for the gift of God with us – Emmanuel – born for us.



Advent Blessings!


– Br. Michael, ofm