St. Francis is quoted as saying: Nudus nudum sequi Christum, “Naked to follow the naked Christ.”
St. Francis once told a reticent Brother Ruffino, a rather shy and retiring monk, to preach in his hometown of Assisi, saying: “Inasmuch as thou hast not obeyed immediately, I command thee to take off thy clock and thy hood and go to Assisi, where thou shalt enter a church and preach to the people; and this shalt thou do out of holy obedience.” Having done this and being jeered at by the public: “[Francis] immediately taking off his clock and his hood with great fervor of spirit, he went to Assisi, taking with him Brother Leo, who carried his mantle and that of Brother Ruffino. The inhabitants of Assisi, seeing him thus accoutered, reviled him, believing that both he and Brother Ruffino were out of their minds through much penance…Then St Francis ascended the pulpit, and began to preach in so wonderful a way on holy penance, on the world, on voluntary poverty, on the hope of life eternal, on the nakedness of Christ and on the shame of the Passion of our Blessed Savior, that all they who heard him, both men and women, began to weep bitterly, being moved to devotion and compunction…”
The sort of “nakedness” described by Francis, in his case, is both a spiritual reality and a physical one. Conversely, in the writings of the Spanish mystic St. John of the Cross, nakedness referred to a spiritual emptying-out of the will and the dis-attachment to the material: “The poor man who is naked will be clothed, and the soul that is naked of desires and whims will be clothed by God with His purity, satisfaction, and will.” Therefore, nakedness has a two-fold effect, for as Francis went about in ragged clothes, or none at all when he famously stripped in front of his Father, the Bishop, and the entire populous of Assisi, in a visible renunciation of all that he once was and represented, it too symbolizes our divorce from all that ties us to the earthly bonds of physical yearnings and passions. And, nakedness also envelopes a sheer acceptance of humility: aligning ourselves with the poverty of the infant Christ and the complete rejection of the will – namely, when we allow ourselves to approach the Cross of Christ on Calvary and freely join our sufferings with that of the Crucified Lord. However, most importantly, at this time of Christmas, to also draw near the cave of Bethlehem, like the poor and scruffy shepherds in their tattered and itchy sackcloth: to ultimately share in the cold and misery experienced by the baby Jesus. Not surprisingly, the Medieval shepherd of Italy, St. Francis, instituted the modern tradition of the Nativity crèche. Therefore, like him, we should cast off all worldly connections to expensive fashion, over-priced and needless electronics, flashy cars, prestigious homes, and distracting and pornographic forms of entertainment; sadly, in the ultimate irony, many such items end up under numerous Christmas trees. Only then, can we come near to Jesus: in our poverty, nakedness, and humility.