Day 1: Invited
Editor’s Note: To begin our Advent series “The Day of Joy Drew Near,” Associate Director Rose Hardwick shares an experience from her pilgrimage to Assisi and shows how God invited her to go deeper into a beloved Christmas tradition.
“How would you like to go on a pilgrimage to Assisi as your professional development for the year?”
It was one of the best invitations I had ever received! Just shy of a month after joining the FMS staff, this opportunity felt too good to be true. A two-week work trip to Italy? Sign me up!
Yet, I knew the offer was deeper than that. As a pilgrimage to the significant sites from the lives of Saints Francis and Clare, this experience would be one of formation in the Franciscan tradition and encounter with God.
My fellow pilgrims came from different walks of life—teachers, students, nurses, chaplains, Secular Franciscans, even those who didn’t know much about Francis at all—but each of us had been invited to encounter God through the Franciscan history of Assisi. Along the way, we would share how God was speaking to us uniquely: Healing after the passing of a lifelong partner. Clarity in the discernment of vocation. Peace and perspective on trials at home.
For me, having been steeped in Franciscan stories through my year as a DC Service Corps volunteer and my time on staff, the invitation from God was to go deeper. While I knew that Francis had instituted the tradition of the Christmas nativity at Greccio, visiting the place where it happened made the story real in a way that I didn’t anticipate. St. Bonaventure described it in this way:
“He had a manger prepared, hay carried in and an ox and ass led to the spot. The brothers are invited, the people arrive, the forest amplifies with their voices, 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 stood before the manger, filled with piety, bathed in tears, and overcome with joy.” – St. Bonaventure
As I stood there, I thought of Francis, setting up the first nativity, moved to tears. I thought of setting up my nativity scene with my family throughout my life—a tradition that I cherish, but not one that makes me cry. What kind of faith is required to be moved at the thought of the Incarnation, at the simple sight of the baby Jesus? I felt God drawing me to deeper love, inspired by the witness of Francis.
Each Advent, we are all invited to encounter God more deeply as we prepare to celebrate the coming of Christ in the Incarnation. This year, inspired by the 800th anniversary of Francis’s nativity at Greccio, members of the FMS family will be reflecting on words from Bonaventure’s description of the scene. Join us on the journey—you’re invited!
Question for Reflection: What is God inviting you to do, or how is God inviting you to grow this Advent?